Chef Interview: Ben Murphy, Launceston Place. (October 2019)

This article is in a series designed not to
provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of
increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will
analyse three of their signature dishes against aspects of the five criteria
used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria
were explained under interview by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of
Michelin Guides) and are given below as he described:-

“The first and most important
criteria is the provenance of ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great
product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality,
flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking
technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours… The
fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and
dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent
over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

[Chef Ben Murphy of Launceston Place]

Ben Murphy’s first love was sport, football
in particular, indeed he was on the verge of signing professionally for QPR when
a broken collarbone brought a premature end to that fledgling career.   Leaning
on school experience of an enjoyment of food tech and history of art, Ben had
the opportunity to take a three year course at high-end catering college Westminster
Kingsway. 

Fresh from graduation, Ben grasped the opportunity of a role as a commis at the opening of Koffmann’s at The Berkeley.  With over twenty-six chefs in the kitchen, Ben started on pastry and over a three and a half year period developed his skills across the sections under the watchful eye of his mentor, Pierre Koffmann.  With Pierre’s assistance, Ben moved to Les Prés d’Eugénie under the legendary Michelin three star chef Michel Guérard, before a year spell at the likewise Michelin three starred Épicure at Le Bristol in Paris.  When Ben returned to London it was to be under Michelin two starred chef Arnaud Bignon at The Greenhouse.  Ben also enjoyed brief stagiaires in New York with Per Se and Eleven Madison Park as well as at Michelin two star Sat Bains in Nottingham.

The first Head Chef role was to come about
at the Woodford in East London, where Ben earned the accolades ‘chef to watch’
in the 2016 Waitrose Good Food Guide and ‘Breakthrough Chef of the Year’ at The
Food &
Travel Awards.

Since joining D&D’s Launceston Place as
Head Chef in January 2017, Ben has further developed a signature consistent
throughout the menu, that compromises a pleasing on the eye approach with
apparent simplicity.  This style, like
most top end restaurants, belies the complexity of the multi-stage cooking
techniques and processes that sit behind each dish’s production.

[Launceston Place Restaurant]

The
three signature dishes to be reviewed by Ben Murphy are the ‘Egg and Soldiers’
from the tasting menu, the ‘Lobster’ from the dinner à la carte and the ‘Presa Ibérica’
dish.  Each will be discussed in terms of
cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate.  This will be supplemented by a general
overview of how consistency across the menu and over time is achieved. The
method of quality and consistency of provenance is also considered.

The
egg and sourdough ‘soldiers’ dish is based on a childhood memory: Ben would
invariably be cutting the top off an overcooked egg and eating shell at the
same time with his slices of white bread. 
At Launceston Place, Ben has an egg cutter that removes the top of the
egg shell, the remainder is washed and readied as a vessel for a heady mixture
of luxury.  Firstly, a foie gras royale
provides the initial layer – a sublime taste, temperature and texture seduction.  The warm foie gras custard is steamed for
five to six minutes and set.  Scrambled
egg is blended into a mousse and put into a syphon gun so it is aerated and
fluffy and provides a second layer. 
Sourdough bread is made in house and cut into slices and fried.  In fact, as Ben makes his own bread in house,
the restaurant may rightly take credit for the production of dishes on the menu
from canapé through to petits fours and everything in between.  There’s textural balance and harmony through
the smoothness of the foie gras Royale, the fluffiness of the egg and the
crunch of the bread.  The webbed foot
crockery presentation of the dish further appeals to the sense of sight on top
of the flavour, texture and temperature impact.

Ben talks about
consistency as a key mantra of his kitchen. 
There are folders for recipes and everything is weighed to ensure the
same results each time a dish is produced, to the extent that even the salt and
pepper seasoning is measured out.  Prior
to each service Ben will personally taste every gel, foam or purée as well as tasting through
service.  The kitchen is small and
compact so Ben sees everything that goes past him. This helps reaffirm the
quality standards found in the dishes sent out by the kitchen.

In
terms of the lobster dish, Ben likes to use the whole of the crustacean.  The restaurant receives live lobsters that
are then cooked in a lobster bouillon.  The
claws are cooked for two or three minutes depending on size, as are the
knuckles, the tails are tied and cooked for three minutes.  Ben lets the meat cool naturally, not putting
it on ice.  A celery gel is produced
using kappa, which is a skill Ben learned while at the Michelin three star
restaurant Épicure at Le Bristol.  In the finished dish, the richness of the lobster meat is
cut by the freshness of the yuzu cream and garnished with lobster oil. Ultimately, customers get the full rounded lobster taste and texture
experience with coriander to further lift and enhance the flavours.

The Presa Ibérica dish has been on the menu for two and half years but in different
forms – it originated as two separate dishes. 
The protein first came with aubergine and the carrot was a separate
vegetarian tasting dish.  Ben realized these
would work so well together that he  amalgamated the dishes.  A medium sized carrot is coated in a carrot
crumb then from the green top of the carrot an emulsion is produced.  The trimmings make a carrot purée and further a carrot infused pork sauce
provides a finishing touch.  The pork is
cooked in a pan for four minutes seasoned with timut pepper – nothing is sous
vide in the kitchen.  The large potato
chips take four minutes to fry and the carrot garnish will be ready in unison,
Ben will orchestrate plating to ensure immaculate timing in dish creation.

There are five chefs covering the service
although Ben gets one more chef in for the busiest services.  The same suppliers over three years have seen
and tasted the food, so Ben has a great relationship that helps with
consistency of provenance.  There’s no
pressure on the kitchen to use the D&D Group suppliers so to a
degree the restaurant stands independent as a destination restaurant.  Indeed, Ben can’t fault the level of support
the Group has provided in aiding the evolution of the offering at Launceston
Place.

Overall Ben Murphy strikes the diner as a
chef that has completed a form of journey to deliver a consistent theme of his
personality on a plate.  They say that a
great chef’s protégés can achieve one Michelin star by producing, to a high
standard in a subsidiary restaurant, a subset of their mentors’ creations.  For a dozen years from the millenium, Gordon
Ramsay Holdings were a great example of this observation and exemplified a
comment made by then editor Derek Bulmer in a fine dining guide interview of 2005.

There is another set of chefs who work in
independent restaurants who assume their first head chef role and produce
tasting menus that in part are their own creations but also display dishes that
are an homage to mentors of their past. 
The first star is perhaps a hurdle on the path to displaying a full repertoire
in line with these chefs’ own consistent creative instincts and personality.  “Wherever I ate this dish I would know it was
Michael Wignall’s food” is perhaps a compliment befitting a chef that reaches
two Michelin stars as opposed to one Michelin star.

Ben Murphy has his own distinctive
signature and although there are the five criteria by which these standards are
measured, he is surely knocking on the door of a first star and with his
playfully themed consistent offering on full display, he must enjoy the
significant potential to go further. 
Fine dining guide senses that if there are gains to be made they are at
the edges of touch rather than the search for anything fundamental.  The full dining room and growth in customer base
year on year are testament to that fact.  No doubt under the watchful eye of the likes
of Michelin, long may his career continue to blossom and fine dining guide
looks forward to following Ben’s career with interest.

from Fine Dining Guide