Dinner on the Beach with Marc Murphy
by ted allen
Dinner overlooking the beach in Bridgehampton
Three hours before guests are set to arrive, chef Marc Murphy announces, “I’m in great shape!”
All he has to do is cook dinner for 20: grill foil bundles of clams with garlic and wine, grill shrimp and steak, warm tortillas for tacos, make scallop ceviche, thread sea bass onto kabobs, grill corn, whip up compound butter, and toss together a salad of grilled asparagus and scallions... and make the smoked shallot vinaigrette... and finish smoking two huge racks of pork... and keep the tunes playing. He’s not even breaking a sweat.
Of course, Murphy is accustomed to such flurries of culinary activity. The maestro behind Benchmarc Restaurants by Marc Murphy, the restaurant group he runs with five wildly successful New York spots: the Landmarc modern bistros in Tribeca and the Time Warner Center; Ditch Plains, the New York–style seafood shacks on the Upper West Side, in the West Village, and in Brooklyn Bridge Park; and the catering company Benchmarc Events by Marc Murphy.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s wife and partner in Benchmarc, Pamela Schein Murphy, is busy with stylist Carlo Geraci. “I like this one, but Pam likes the other one better,” Geraci tells me sotto voce as he refers to a cursive version of the dinner menu he has painstakingly printed, tea-stained, tied to a string and corked inside what seem to be washed up bottles. Schein Murphy, acknowledging the beauty of both, chooses the Times New Roman. The bottles join a gorgeous tablescape of shells, driftwood, and candles.
Stylish entertaining seems to come effortlessly to the Murphys. It doesn’t hurt that they count among their close friends people like Geraci—whose client list includes Diane Sawyer and Elizabeth Taylor—and Gabrielle Palay, who works for one of New York’s top wine importers (Frederick Wildman & Sons) and keeps the rosé flowing. Nor does it hurt that their beach house—complete with a Dutch-style windmill—nestles on some seriously beautiful real estate, directly on the beach in Bridgehampton.
The couple—who met when Murphy proposed writing a food column for a magazine for which Schein Murphy was an editor—have two children: a daughter, Campbell, 9, and a son, Callen, 5. The industrious pair’s schedules also include involvement in organizations like City Harvest’s Food Council and the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry task force and campaign for which Murphy is a spokesperson. After successfully battling breast cancer in 2006, Schein Murphy also founded the R.E.S.T. Initiative, a nonprofit service offered at the NYU Cancer Institute, which works to reduce the stress and fear of chemotherapy by offering free massage therapy to patients inside of their chemotherapy treatment rooms. Because they’re so busy, days spent out East are particularly sacred. “Life slows down, and we get real time with our kids,” says Murphy. “And I love cooking out here better than anything else,” he adds, as he goes to work on his grill, a standard no-frills Weber, which looks out over the Atlantic.
The vibe of the day is easy breezy. A late-afternoon thunderstorm ruffles nobody, not even Geraci, who has to break down his table display until the wind dies down, dry everything off, and then rebuild the whole thing, which he does perfectly. The evening turns into one of the most beautiful of the summer and the guests sit down to enjoy the spectacular feast Murphy has prepared. Linda Lea—a good friend and the executive producer of the Food Network’s Chopped, where Marc sits behind the judges table and I host—jokes that she’s never actually had the chance to taste Murphy’s food. “We know you’re a great judge,” she deadpans, “but can you cook?”
It turns out he can, and the menu perfectly sets the tone for the casual-yetelegant way in which the Murphys like to entertain. “I believe that the best way to host a dinner party is to make your guests feel like they’re part of the process,” Murphy says. “I don’t like keeping the food in the kitchen and the guests in the dining room. People want to see what goes on behind the scenes, and it makes for a much more laid-back evening, which is how I like to do things. Plus, it’s a whole lot more fun for me if my friends are with me while I’m preparing the meal. And a few extra hands never hurt!”
With dinner finished, Murphy takes his wife’s iPod out of the stereo (“This is where we disagree,” he confides), flips on some Lil Wayne, and sits back. And it’s clear that this is really what he loves more than anything—great food, great friends, and a great party. Pam, Gabrielle, and my partner, Barry Rice, dole out the s’mores. And we’re all in great shape.
photography by eric striffler