by Andrew Coppolino | October 2021
From Brisbane, the capital of southeastern Australia’s Queensland “Sunshine State,” and several points in between to Waterloo’s The Bauer Kitchen (TBK), chef de cuisine Tyson Murr describes all his cooking jobs as being pretty much similar when it comes to satisfying diners.
“The technical aspects of cooking, virtually anywhere in the world I’ve worked, are pretty much the same, no matter where you go. Guest expectations are similarly high for what they see delivered on the plate, whether it’s value in the food itself or how it’s prepared and presented. That’s everywhere I’ve ever worked,” says Murr.
Having moved to Canada in November, 2018, Murr, 31, says his love of food and his cooking career were spawned from the family kitchen at home. “Mom and dad cooked at home a lot, and he would play around with different recipes,” he says. “They were always excited by food, but it was mainly about gathering together around food. And I’ve always loved going to restaurants, so that’s probably where my love of food started.”
It’s the love of food but also the rush of cooking: responsible for a kitchen crew of about 25 currently, like many cooks – perhaps all cooks – Murr says he thrives in the fast-paced kitchen environment that characterizes restaurants. “It’s a natural fit for me.”
And it pretty much has to be, for it to work as a career. Culinary training in Australia is slightly different than here in Canada, Murr explains. At age 26, he jumped into an apprenticeship at Brisbane’s Moo Moo restaurant, what he describes as “an old-school” steakhouse. “You work full-time and study part-time with a couple of contact days a week at school.”
A three-month stint at Fäviken, Magnus Nilsson’s now-closed restaurant in Jämtland, Sweden, which received two Michelin Guide stars in 2016 and was renowned for its Nordic cuisine, gave Murr a further unique perspective. “It was really fun but challenging,” he notes. “Trying to get our foraging in before the sun went down at 3 p.m. was interesting.”
Closer to Waterloo Region, Murr’s wife is from Guelph, and that helped make a decision about settling down in the area. “When I got here, I was looking for a job and tried out Toronto, but that was always going to be a commuting challenge with hospitality hours,” he says.
With his credentials, he found himself part of the Charcoal Group as Wildcraft’s chef de partie. A few months later, he moved to TBK and after a year became chef de cuisine, a role in which he supports his team of cooks. “I’m working on the line with them because right now it’s a challenging environment with staffing and skill-sets. Otherwise, my job is to set them up for success, give them what they need and provide general oversight here at the restaurant.”
Needless to say, the pandemic was a shock – and would have been whether you were cooking in Australia, Sweden or southwestern Ontario. “I think when it first started, everyone thought it would be two weeks and we’ll get past it. Then it got longer and the fear grew, but as a group we got through it. The openings and closings were always quite a balancing act though,” Murr says.
If you ask him, he pauses a moment: it’s hard to pin down cooks on a particular favourite style of food, but Murr says his first love for cooking likely would fall to southeast Asian flavours and techniques – not surprising given the geographic proximities, though it’s still about 7,000 kilometers from Brisbane to Bangkok.
“We ate a lot of that style of cooking and that’s where a lot of my training is. But it’s also where my mind goes to when creating menus. Seafood too, of course, being Australian. Here, we don’t have the warm-water fish we had there, but that’s an easy learning curve. I was happy to have found the Fogo Island cod (currently on the menu), however. We’re now trying to get in an excellent B.C. sablefish,” he says.
The higher technical skill and knowledge of creating a southeast Asian dish that balances sweet, sour, salty and bitter gives way to Murr’s candid disclosure about working hard and calling it a day when the shift is done: if he heads out after closing down the kitchen, he says he’s looking for something quick to eat. “Something I can get down fast and get to bed,” he says with a laugh. “Probably a cold beer and a burger or fried chicken. A handheld, usually.”
The next day, however, means being on the top of his game when he returns to the TBK kitchen – where his experience reminds him that diners in Waterloo Region have those high expectations.
“They know what to expect, and they know what’s good,” says Murr. “That makes our jobs challenging, but it keeps us on top of things and putting out good food. You can’t bluff your way through it.”
Quick-fire questions for Tyson Murr
Explore Waterloo Region: What’s always in your fridge at home?
Tyson Murr: Soy sauce.
Coffee or tea?
Murr: Coffee until about 5 p.m. And then tea.
Personal culinary “mentor” you’d like to visit and eat with?
Murr: Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm (New York). I like his food philosophy and where we should be going when it comes to food. Probably also Australian seafood chef Josh Niland (owner of Saint Peter and Fish Butchery).
Do you have a big cook book collection?
Murr: After three years of travelling, it’s smaller but starting to grow again. One book I will always have is Sean Brock’s “Heritage: Recipes and Stories” (2014).
What do you think of the local craft beer scene?
Murr: I love all beer! I’m not terribly picky, but I do have my favourite Australian ones that I do miss. However, the selection here is good, I think. Including at Beertown. I have to mention that.
Australian rules football, rugby or soccer?
Murr: Rugby always. I played rugby as a hooker and blindside flanker for 15 years.
Can you sing Monty Python’s “Bruce’s Philosophers Song?
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.