The Grounds Café cookbook marks Murray’s longevity
Posted on August 16, 2023 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
After approximately two centuries, the Murray family has developed a community hub in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Since planting themselves in the town, the Murrays have ventured into agriculture, horticulture and even food service via their onsite The Grounds Cafe.
Now, a younger generation is sustaining the diverse lines of business, with plans to add even more to the family legacy. Their latest offering is The Grounds Café: Seasonal Dishes from Murray’s Century Farm, a new cookbook published by Boulder Books.
“What separates us from other restaurants is that we grow locally, we supply locally, and we are probably, I think, one of the most local farm-to-fork restaurants … probably in Canada,” restaurant manager Cameron Murray told Atlantic Business Magazine. He’s one of three brothers leading the family’s operations.
Cameron said he wants more people to have the farm-to-fork experience but also sees related ecotourism opportunities going forward. The Murrays already run forage tours and farm tours featuring Murray family property, meant to allow people to see things in situ and absorb, “why the food tastes good,” he said.
Chef Nick Van Mele is credited as another reason things taste the way they do at The Grounds, which features recipes that connect to the land. It’s an appealing menu that suits the brunch and lunch diners who’ve been coming to the café since 2017, looking for quick meals that are still fresh and elevated. In the new book, the results of Chef Nick’s thoughtful planning shine through in photos by Geoff Pevlin, with additions from Kara O’Keefe, Ritchie Perez, and family.
At the café, Van Mele said, menus are tailored, in part, to the workspace (no attached walk-in freezers, limited storage and worktops). It’s not unusual to find dishes on the menu that share an ingredient or use pickles and preserves to add a new layer of flavour without gobbling up square footage. That same approach is evident in the recipes in the book, filled with lessons like how to make pickled fennel or apple butter, in addition to whole meals of snow crab salad, or an eggplant-and-chanterelle pizza. There’s a spring salad recipe, sure, but it also includes a description of how to make a rosemary-infused oil that gets paired with a honey vinaigrette for a next-level salad of freshly grown greens.
“I picked recipes that I knew worked well and highlighted the produce that we’re growing here, and showcased the seasonality of our farm,” Van Mele said.
At the book’s launch at the café on Aug. 10, on a warm, late-summer night, it was hard not to think about the tomatoes for sale in the Garden Centre (another part of the same building where the café is housed), then flip to a recipe on how to create a tomato tart with basil pesto and mozzarella.
Produce from Murray Meadows Farm is carted directly into the café each day, including fresh greens like kale, kohlrabi and arugula. It’s no accident there’s not much of the traditional potato, cabbage, turnip or rutabaga in the café’s ingredients most days. Although they do produce a small amount, it’s not what the Murrays’ farm specializes in these days.
“We don’t grow a lot of traditional crops … it’s meant to be high turnover, a lot of leafy greens,” explained Evan Murray, one of the drivers behind the launch of Murray Meadows Farm in 2012. He is also general manager of Murray’s Horticultural Services.
The roots of all the Murray businesses are chronicled in the cookbook, with a timeline running back to the arrival in Newfoundland of Murray brothers Patrick and Michael in 1820. Five years later, Patrick was starting on a homestead that would become Murray’s Pond Farm. Speeding ahead to 1978, after the Murrays had been selling produce and provisions for more than a century, husband-and-wife team Michael and Susan Murray set up a roadside vegetable market that soon became a local landmark. In the 1980s, the couple side-stepped into landscaping. They developed in horticulture, replacing the small vegetable market and opening the Murray’s Garden Centre in 1990. Today, the family’s core, corporate entity is Murray’s Horticultural Services Ltd., featuring Michael and Susan as directors but with their sons Cameron, Evan and Timothy.
That said, the Murray name is not the only one involved in the different businesses over the years. Others—particularly on the restaurant and agricultural side—are acknowledged throughout the book. One such example is Brian Kowalski, who even now is essential in operations, making headway with experimental crops and more. And there was repeat praise at the book launch for Nazar Khalif’s leadership on the farm.
Restaurant, garden centre, professional services, farm, budding agri-tourism… it’s not without its pressures. In the restaurant business, Cameron Murray said staffing is a well-known challenge. The family is also actively monitoring land use in their area, as development proposals creep closer to the farm and garden centre operations.
“We have a subdivision in the back of us, and we have a high school that’s been proposed on the other side of us,” Evan Murray said, mentioning changes to land designations. “So we’re under land use pressure. That’s a big concern for us… But we’re excited about the prospects that lie ahead.”
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