Jenifer Murray experienced her own version of Eat Pray Love – without the conflicted soul-searching – during her travels to Italy, Spain, and Greece, where she discovered the power of nourishment and love, and indulged in the local cuisine. Off the coast of Portugal, in one particularly memorable moment, she picked out fresh fish, just off the boat, grilled in the open flames of a cut barrel, simply seasoned with olive oil and herbs.
For Murray, 38, cooking and relishing the companionship and joy of preparing fine cuisine, has been a lifelong pursuit, whether acting as a personal chef for a family of four in Brookline or teaching classes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA). Her carefully created specialties, often shared during the Cooking Couples classes at CSCA, include Grilled Swordfish Skewers with an Apple Slaw; Mediterranean Cous Cous with figs, almonds, and goat cheese; and Sirloin Tips with a Cherry Pepper Glaze, but she’s not above laying out a tray of homemade hummus and vegetables to feed a film crew during a shoot. Although she says it’s a big misconception that cooking is glamorous, she has been within elbow-rubbing distance of celebrities like Tom Brady and Hilary Duff, while catering during commercials or movie shoots. “For me, the joy of cooking is using fresh ingredients to create something new, and giving joy not only to myself by preparing it, but also watching others enjoy eating it,” said Murray.
With the advent of popular cooking shows like Iron Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, it might seem that a culinary career is just a chop, filet, and slice away. But although cooking school can get you started, Murray, who earned a Certified Culinary Professional certificate from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and is Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, said “One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can go to culinary school and get any job you want, but it’s all about gaining experience in the field. People don’t really understand how much work, repetition and prep work that goes into cooking, whether restaurant or catering.”
Q: You’re a culinary arts teacher – what sort of lessons do you try to impart to your students?
A: As an instructor, I don’t show every step but rather point out key techniques or ingredients.I circulate through out the kitchen going from student to student to make sure they’re using the right bowl size, using enough oil, or cutting with the proper technique. At the end, we all sit down and enjoy a family style meal and everyone gets an opportunity to taste the food.
Q: What should culinary arts students try to get out of their education?
A: In addition to doing well in school, put yourself out there and network. Get involved on a charitable level, with such events as Share Our Strength or Taste of the Nation. For work experience, some restaurants allow you to go in and do a trial run in the kitchen, although many will not, because of liability.
Q: Do your “chef whites” stay white most of the time?
A: They do, unless I’m teaching about chocolate.