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While so many restaurateurs struggle to launch and maintain businesses in New York City, Chef Marc Murphy appears to have found the secret to success. When this Chopped judge isn’t joining his fellow panel members at the table in reviewing contestants’ best attempts at basket dishes, he’s busy running restaurant kitchens at his five Manhattan restaurants: two locations each of Ditch Plains and Landmarc, plus his newest venture, Kingside. Having opened just last month, Marc’s Kingside is the first of his restaurants to reside in a hotel, and it is his only “new-American” menu, featuring a list of offerings with French, Spanish and Italian influences. FN Dish caught up with Marc at Kingside, located in midtown Manhattan’s Viceroy Hotel, to chat about his latest project, learn more about his goals in opening the restaurant and find out how he manages his busy schedules, both in the kitchen and on Chopped. Read on below to hear from Marc, then browse exclusive snapshots to take a photo tour of Kingside and see some of Marc’s most-popular dishes at Kingside.
What are you most excited about in opening Kingside?
Marc Murphy: I haven’t done a new concept in about five years, and in those five years, I think I’ve gotten a lot more popularity on Chopped, and I think a lot of the times people are like, “Oh, those chefs on TV kind of thing,” and I’m like, “Well, yeah, I’m still a working chef,” and I love doing what I do, and I’m excited to be able to produce new food and [a] new concept to my beautiful city.
How is Kingside different from your other restaurants, Ditch Plains and Landmarc?
MM: I guess I’ve opened myself up to be able to do different cuisines here, in the sense we’re calling it “new American,” where I can really sort of branch out and pull different influences from other countries, like Spain. You sort of let loose a bit with new-American cuisine, I feel. I can have a little more liberties, because Ditch Plains is really a New York-style fish shack, so I kind of have to stay within that vocabulary, and Landmarc is a bistro with some Italian influences, so you can’t start making sushi if you’re doing a bistro. I feel as though if somebody is going to come to your restaurant, you have to sort of keep true to what the concept is.
What were you hoping to offer at Kingside?
MM: There are two dishes that I think really represent it … really fancy grilled cheese, which is with aged pecorino, with ricotta cheese, truffled honey and shaved truffle, which is a simple little bite, but that is, to me, new American. And … we have a dessert. We have a caramel pudding and … we’re layering it with a pretzel crumble. That is, to me, the definition of where we’re going with this restaurant. That is, to me, the definition of where we’re going with this restaurant. It’s fun. And the other thing is, we’re in a hotel.
We’re in the Viceroy Hotel. We’re also doing the room service 24 hours a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, here. I feel like I’m trying to define what I think hotel restaurants should be in a certain sense …. You don’t have to sit down and have an appetizer, main course, dessert — be all so buttoned up and formal. So it’s not just the food. It’s the ambiance; it’s the whole ensemble of what this restaurant is representing. We’re on 57th Street, and we don’t have tablecloths. We’re really trying to create a downtown feel in midtown. And I think a lot of people are appreciating that …. One thing we’ve done is we’ve created this sort of counter in and around this finishing kitchen upstairs. It’s done two things. It’s done a visual something to bring people into the restaurant, but not only that … people that are single travelers, who are staying in the hotel, they are all eating here. It’s just more comfortable to eat here than it is in a bar.
What was your hope in designing the interior? What look and feel were you aiming for?
MM: We worked with a great company — Roman Williams — that really helped us define this space. They sort of already had an idea when they were building the hotel of what this would be, and Scott and I came in here and really sort of said, “Ah, no.” We got to do something different. We got to make it casual. We got to make it New York. We got to make it fun.
Tell us about the chalkboards hung on the walls.
MM: We’re putting up different definitions of things, and it’s turning out really nicely. They’re culinary definitions, and we’ve thrown in a couple chess terms, because the name Kingside comes from the checkered floor. And we couldn’t come up with a name, and we were looking up chess terms, and we really liked the name Kingside. And since Scott Gerber came together to do this venture, we’re two kings on the same side of the board!
What are some of the challenges and privileges of opening a restaurant in a hotel?
MM: The challenges are when we opened, they wanted us opened all the way, so we opened with 24 hour room service — breakfast, lunch and dinner on day one. It almost killed us. But, anyway, we’ve gotten through that. That’s definitely the challenging thing, ’cause you’re just running it all day and it just never stops. And the positive and the great thing about it is you’ve got 220 rooms above your head that need to eat, and you’ve got built-in customers. It’s just fantastic. You know, it’s great sometimes at the end of the day, it’s 10 o’clock at night or 11 o’clock at night, and we’re winding down here, and I’m finally maybe going to go home, and you just see people that are staying in the hotel, like groups that are just coming back from another event, and they all come in and belly up to the bar and have another drink or two. It’s just great. It’s like a great sort of living room for them to be able to come to at the end of the night before they go.
What do you think someone should order on their first visit to Kingside?
MM: If I were to come here [for the] first time, I’d sit down and I’d probably have one of the barrel-aged Manhattans, because I like my Manhattans because it’s that time of year. We’ve switched from the lighter to the brown drinks. And then I would probably order myself a Serrano ham to start with — after my cocktail. I like to have my cocktail, then I go into my dinner. Then I would order myself a nice bottle of red wine. My beverage director, David Lombardo, has put together a fantastic list here, and I would probably just say, “Hey, David, what are we drinking?” But there’s something for everybody on that list, which is great. Maybe even start with a bottle of white wine, something with a little bit more body to it, so you can start with the jamon de Serrano with the focaccia with the tomato jam on top of it …. Then after you’re done with that, maybe move into some red wine and in between get a little salad or something. I’m loving the Caesar salad we’re doing here. We’re using escarole instead of romaine and making a nice Caesar dressing. And what we’re doing is we’re making like a panini of anchovy and Parmesan instead of doing croutons, so it’s like this little anchovy sandwich, and we use a sandwich press for it. If I want some red meat, I’d definitely go for our large rib eye, which we’re doing for two people. Or else, one of my other favorite meals, which is also my wife’s favorite meal, is a beautiful roast chicken.
How do you balance running restaurant kitchens and judging Chopped?
MM: It’s a little tricky sometimes. We’re shooting Chopped right now. We’re in the middle of the season, so I had to call my fellow Chopped judges and ask them to switch a couple of dates with me because I was actually just doing the opening, so now I’ve been relegated to doing five Choppeds in a row, but I will be back here for dinner service, which will be good, because once we’re finished shooting I can come right back to the restaurant, make sure we’re here for dinner service and things are going well. The great thing about Chopped is always seeing these inspired people coming on that just absolutely love food and you get some great energy from some of these contestants. They’re so into the food and so into the show. It’s nice to see that that kind of passion is out there in our country for our industry, really. I started cooking many years ago when I was hoping someday to become a sous chef. I thought I was going to be behind the stove all my life cooking, which I still love to do. That’s why I love opening restaurants, ’cause right now we’re deep in the thick of things, but it’s truly a great industry and I love to see it flourish the way it is. And I think Food Network has helped that a lot, created a lot of jobs in our industry and made it more accessible to a lot of people.
Do you ever bring ideas from Chopped or some of the oddest basket ingredients from the show into your restaurants’ menus?
MM: Absolutely, and actually I can talk about a dish I put on the menu here at Kingside. There’s an ingredient that I had never actually worked with before and that’s sea beans. I always sort of had my nose up to sea beans. I was like: “What the heck are those things? Some new fad thing, right?” And I had them on Chopped, and three contestants made different dishes with them, and I really got to enjoy them. And I was like, “Wow, this is actually a good product.” My first thought was, “This is the perfect ingredient for a potato salad.” So at first when we were doing recipe testing for the new concept here, I was just driven to put these sea beans in a potato salad, and it just wasn’t working out on the menu, and then they kind of fell by the wayside, then they came back in the last couple weeks before we opened, when I was doing a tuna dish with wild mushrooms, and I was like, “Sea beans in the wild mushrooms!” And the crunch and the saltiness of the sea beans are just perfect in that dish.