Award-winning chef Tamara Murphy serves earth on a plate.
STORY BY KIRSTEN TELANDER
PHOTOS BY AUDREY KELLY
Tamara Murphy was walking the seasonal-farm-to-table walk before it was in vogue, and she’s one of the most influential chefs in locavore dining in the region.
Murphy was the James Beard Foundation’s 1995 Best Chef: Northwest/Hawaii, and a Food & Wine Best New Chef, in 1994. This year, she’s celebrating her seventh year with Terra Plata (loosely translated as earth to plate), which occupies the pie slice–shaped anchor of Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market.
Murphy and partner Linda Di Lello Morton were able to see through the former auto body shop in need of an entire build-out. “When I saw it from the street, I knew this was Terra Plata’s home,” says Murphy, who moved to Seattle from New York in the mid-’80s.
Murphy and Di Lello Morton, known for their social, political, and community activism, host countless fundraisers at Terra Plata. But it’s the longtime work bridging the gap between chefs and farmers that Murphy is most defined by. She created both An Incredible Feast and Burning Beast — events that pair chefs and farmers — to grow those relationships.
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t conversation between chefs and farmers,” Murphy says. “People would just call up their produce company to get their stuff.” And, there was no local meat. “To get a pig from a farm, are you kidding? Or lamb? None of that was happening.”
Now, Tamara works extensively with freshly-harvested produce, sometimes learning what’s available at the last minute. “I’ve been known to text Tamara at 11 o’clock at night with photos of what I have,” says Amy Dietrich of Frog Hollow Farm, who grows Peruvian peppers, honeynut squash, and other produce for Murphy. These close relationships with farmers mean Tamara’s food is always of-the-moment, creative expressions of what’s just been pulled from the earth.
Terra Plata’s farm-to-table menu, with hints of Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences —think big, bold flavors — changes daily, though you’ll find Murphy’s signature dish year-round: roasted pig with manila clams, chorizo, sofrito, hot smoked paprika, bay-scented potato, and chicharron.
“It’s the only thing I’ve tried to take off and people say something,” she says, laughing. The pig comes from Heritage Meats, an artisan butcher shop in Rochester, Wash., that sources meat from small producers. She also occasionally buys a whole pig from one of the local farmers markets, including the Phinney Ridge market near her home. Another source, particularly for lamb, is Ninety Farms in Arlington.
In addition to the “land & sea” selections on the menu, the veggie-centric “earth” section is extensive. “We sell a lot of vegetables,” says Murphy. Her go-to sources specifically referenced on a first-name basis include farmer Jason Salvo from Local Roots Farm and farmer Georgie Smith of Willowood Farm. Murphy also relies on herbs from Terra Plata’s rooftop garden, where seats are hard to come by when it’s open in the warmer months. “It’s pretty special up there,” says Murphy. “And it allows us to say, ‘Here, try this pineapple sage.’”
Earth to plate indeed.
Brussel Sprouts with Serrano Ham, Rosemary, and Lemon
Serves 2–4 | 10–15 minutes
- 1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup grape seed or canola oil
- 6–8 thinly sliced prosciutto or serrano ham
- 2 sprigs rosemary leaves, minced
- dash lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- salt to taste
Cut Brussels sprouts in half, then cut a “V” in the root. This helps the sprout “flower” when it hits the hot oil.
Heat a 10-inch or larger saute pan to medium heat. Add oil. When just under smoking, add raw sprouts. They will spatter, so be careful. Cover with a lid until the spattering settles down if you like.
Fry for about 4 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the sprouts to a bowl. Add ham, rosemary, lemon, maple syrup, and salt to taste. Toss and serve immediately.