Growing up on his family’s 8-acre farm in Ferndale, Washington, Tory McPhail knew he wanted to be a chef even when he was only 5 years old. “As a kid, when you plant the seeds and watch them grow, you tend to have a greater appreciation of the final product.” After graduating high school, McPhail went straight into a culinary program at a community college in Seattle. Then, only 19 years old, McPhail moved into a Bourbon Street apartment in New Orleans and began the first steps of his career in the Crescent City.
“It [Commander’s Palace] was the one and only place I applied for and I got the job.” McPhail confides. Hired at the lowest level, he quickly ascended through the various positions in the kitchen at the historic, Garden District restaurant. McPhail took a break from New Orleans for a while and garnered experience in different places all over the world including Florida, London, the Caribbean and even Nevada when Commander’s Palace asked him to work at their Las Vegas restaurant.
“New Orleans has a center of gravity.” McPhail admits. It seems the city wouldn’t let him go, because McPhail returned and in 2002 was hired at the Executive Chef of the original Commander’s Palace. His respect for local farmers and their product is a heavy influence on the dishes at Commander’s Palace where their “dirt to plate within 100 miles” policy means that most of the restaurants foodstuffs are sourced nearby. The chef has become a great champion of his adopted city, which he has proved on numerous occasions including staying put during Hurricane Katrina. McPhail admits he’ll do anything in his power to help “shine a greater spotlight on New Orleans.”
Just last month, McPhail brought even greater accolades to the city of New Orleans when he won “Best Chef – South” from the prestigious 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony in New York City. Being the modest, magnanimous person that he is, McPhail explained that “though the award says ‘Best Chef,’ it should say ‘Best Kitchen,’” claiming he owes his great success to the amazing work and dedication of his staff. McPhail believes that the food and hospitality is better at Commander’s Palace than it has ever been. He wholeheartedly loves New Orleans and loves his work, “There is nothing in life I’d rather do.”
*Article originally published in the June 2013 issue of New Orleans Living Magazine