Marc Murphy's Best Tips To Elevate Your Pasta And Steak Dishes - Exclusive Interview

If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that we are dying to try Marc Murphy's cooking. The chef specializes in Italian and French cuisine, having grown up in the company of Europe's most decadent food offerings — the most obvious being pastas, seafood dishes, and wine (which all sound pretty good right about now). Murphy has since branded himself a television personality as a longtime judge on "Chopped," bringing his lively energy and honest kitchen advice to the show for both contestants and viewers alike.

Tasting Table spoke with the celebrity chef at the Sun Wine and Food Fest about his childhood upbringing, how you can incorporate canned seafood into pasta, and why you should use leeks in the kitchen. Murphy is also hosting a beefsteak dinner in the Big Apple in early March, so of course, we had to get the menu details on that as well.

Restaurants in Italy are much more relaxed

You mentioned in your demo that you grew up in Europe, mostly France and Italy.

Yes — I was born in Milan. My mother's French; my father's American. He was an American diplomat. We moved every two or three years. I lived in Milan, where I was born; then we moved to Paris, and then Villefranche in the south of France. I lived in Rome. I lived in Genoa. I've bounced around a lot.

What do you think is the biggest cultural restaurant difference between Europe and the U.S.?

When you eat in Europe, it's more of, "You're dining." It seems to be about the food, but it also seems to be more about the company you're with. The dining experience is more of a ... In America sometimes, you feel like you're being rushed. Sometimes, you have to get two seats in. Over [in Europe], they take their time a little more.

It's the experience.

It's the experience. They take their time. Sometimes here, we focus very much on the ingredients and getting everything right, but over there, they are right to start with. You get the right prosciutto and it's like, "Oh, of course, this is what we have. What do you mean?"

It's going to be good no matter what.

Exactly. You don't have to go out and hunt for it.

They never pushed me out — never once.

I know. It's totally chill, totally relaxed. That's what I like about it. Also, there is regional cooking now in America, but over there, it's centuries old.

Your tomatoes in the summer ... The seasonality is more pronounced over there sometimes. Here, I feel like we can get everything all the time. Over there it's more, "Well, those aren't in season, so you're not having them," even if you came to this region for that.

Incorporate canned tuna into your pasta

Seafood is a large part of both French and Italian cuisines. If you don't have access to fresh seafood, what is the best way to incorporate canned seafood into pasta?

If you go to Spain, they're putting all sorts of great stuff in cans. I've had octopus, sardines, all that seafood. That stuff lasts a long time and is absolutely delicious. There's some very high-end brands that cost quite a lot of money, actually. But there's great canned seafood. In Italy, they do all that tuna. They put it in olive oil — it's preserved in olive oil. It's gorgeous.

Also, for me, eating is about being varied. A lot of people [eat] like, "Chicken, beef, pork, chicken, beef, pork." You have to vary your diet. You have to have different things. You have to have duck, quail, fish — all different fishes. Varying your diet keeps it interesting.

Say you're grabbing canned tuna. What are the first other ingredients you would grab to make a spaghetti dish?

I'd go for capers. I always want a little acid in there, maybe a little chili flake. Pasta al Tonno is a thing. You can actually, if it's tomato season, chop up a couple tomatoes, stew them down, and fold them into it. We were doing a big event somewhere, and I made a family meal and we had a bunch of tuna lying around. I made Pasta al Tonno, and everybody was like, "What is this? I've never had this before. It's really good."

It sounds good. I saw on Instagram that you recently cooked spaghetti with leeks, which I thought was interesting.

Yes, I did. Spaghetti ai Porri. It's literally stewed-down leeks, a little bit of butter, a little olive oil ... You fold it into leeks and [add] a little lemon zest. It's an awesome dish.

How to cook with leeks

How would you recommend cooking with leeks if someone's grabbing them?

First, you've got to wash them very well. Leeks grow in the dirt. You've got to wash them well. I always say that you have to wash them at least three times. The last thing you want to do is eat something and get dirt — it messes up the dish.

Oddly enough, I saw somebody on Instagram do this. They took leeks, washed them, and kept them pretty much ... They cut them in half [and] left them whole, and baked them with garlic and olive oil in a dish covered with tin foil in the oven. They were delicious like that to serve. I also sauté them a lot and finish it off with Dijon mustard. I use them all the time. They're great. Basically, it's in the onion family, and it's like a softer onion. I use them a lot.

I've never used them in cooking, so I'll definitely have to try that.

Oh, do it. They're great. They're not that hard.

I saw you're hosting a steak dinner in the city in a couple of months, which is exciting.

I am. My friend, Waldy Malouf — years ago at Beacon — did these beefsteak dinners, and I always used to go with my friends. I wanted to recreate that — beer, beef, and bourbon. It's a lot of fun. It's awesome. It's a good time. I'm using this great beef from a farm out in Long Island called Acabonac Farms, all grass-fed. They make really good stuff.

The cocktail to pair with steak

What's your favorite cooking method to prepare steak?

It depends on the cut. If I'm going to get a tougher cut, I want to braise it for bourguignon [or] something like that; I'd go the old French school way. If it's a New York strip, I want that rare. I want a green peppercorn sauce on there. It's a classic — my old-world, old-school steak au poivre is one of my favorite dishes.

What cocktail, wine, or spirit suggestion would you have to pair with steak?

I like cocktails before dinner. I like wine with dinner. I don't understand people [who] can drink a martini throughout their whole dinner. It doesn't pair well. It's weird. [For] the beefsteak dinner, we're going to do a Manhattan, and steak as a fast appetizer when you get there. Big, bold flavors go together.

Do you have a favorite steak side? What do you normally pick?

I don't know. It's tough because I like to cook vegetables. I love cooking vegetables. Roasting cauliflower is one of my favorite things. There's so many vegetables. Anything will go with it.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects that fans could look forward to?

Nothing I can talk about.

For more information about the Sun Wine and Food Fest, visit Mohegan Sun's website. Keep up with Marc Murphy's latest projects on his Instagram page.

This interview has been edited for clarity.