Leeds restaurants: How a pot of tomato soup inspired chef Lee Murdoch's glittering career - from Saudi Arabia to Chophaus
It was a pot of tomato soup that inspired chef Lee Murdoch's love of cooking.
After dropping out of school, Scottish-born Lee got a job as a kitchen porter at the world-famous Turnberry hotel, where his brother worked as a chef.
Lee has since won established awards, worked for princes in Saudi Arabia, set up groundbreaking Leeds restaurants and launched a consultancy and high-end delivery business.
And it all started with soup.
Lee, 35, said: "I watched my brother make a big pot of tomato soup and I couldn’t get my head around it, I only knew soup from the can and I was baffled by it.
"The next time he made it, he showed me and we made it together. I remember coming home and shouting to my mum that we didn't need to buy it from the can anymore.
"Seeing a real product and the end result sparked my imagination, it seemed like something almost magical. I fell in love.”
Lee moved to Malta when he was still a teenager, before working at a Michelin-star restaurant in Germany and then moving back to Turnberry - where he won the Award of Excellence from the Academy of Culinary Arts in 2010.
Lee went on to open a luxury five-star hotel in the Middle East, before being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set up a chain of bespoke restaurants for princes in Saudi Arabia.
"People think of Saudi as being a very difficult, hard place," Lee said.
"But I had great fun there, I really enjoyed it. The war then broke out with Yemen and things got scary, so luckily I got out of the country."
Lee joined Leeds-based restaurant group D&D, where he has become renowned in the city for his work redesigning the menus at Crafthouse and Angelica.
His love of flavours from around the world brought a new style of cooking to Leeds as he helped to set up Japanese restaurant Issho and New York-style eatery East 59th.
“Yorkshire and Leeds were dominated by big-tasting meat, potatoes, veg and big portions," Lee said.
"We’re not forgetting that, but I brought a lot of influence from the chefs I worked with in the Middle East. I like south-east Asian food and Middle Eastern spices. Understanding those levels of flavour really helps elevate dishes."
After setting up a restaurant in Harrogate, Lee ran into problems with his business partner and took out his investment to set up Fior Alba - a restaurant consultancy and bespoke food delivery service.
Lee added: “When I start up a kitchen we do the recipes and cooking methods, 80 per cent of the preparation. We’ve just adapted that for people’s houses, it's high-end restaurant quality food that you get a chance to create at home.”
His latest venture has been to redesign the menu at steak house Chophaus in Oakwood. It's been a busy week for Lee and the team as they welcome back customers to the outdoor terrace.
"Chophaus has a beautiful location, it's a great restaurant and it can be one of the best restaurants in terms of its cuisine", Lee added.
"The menu offers cuisines from around the world but keeping the predominance of being a steakhouse. We’ve got some other exciting projects coming up and this is just the start."
What's on Lee's new menu at Chophaus?
Lee has joined forces with Oakwood steak house Chophaus, creating a collection of dishes from around the world in its new Terrace Menu.
Diners can feast on the new menu in the 80-seat heated terrace, which has been redesigned by award-winning architects Nanu Soda.
Taking inspiration from Europe, Asia and beyond, the lighter plates section includes Truffle Puffs with black garlic sauce and smoked sea salt and Fior Fries with aged Parmigiana.
Larger plates are split across four sections - Raw & Sushi, Salads & Seafood, Signature & Charcoal and Sweet & Savoury.
Highlights from Raw & Sushi include the refreshing Salmon Tartar Tacos with grapefruit and a lime crème Fraiche, California Crab Rolls, Spicy Tuna Gunmaki and Kumamoto Oysters with yuzu and galea apple.
The Signature & Charcoal section offers mouth-watering meat dishes, including Highland Wagyu Ribeye, Grilled Native Lobster with yuzu, shallot and seaweed, and Korean Chicken Sliders with pickled kohlrabi, Fior sauce and a sesame milk bun.
The adventurous dessert section includes Moji by Murdoch with honeycomb, raspberry, and milk chocolate, Coconut Edible with mango sorbet and tropical salsa, and a Foie Gras Crumpet with manuka honey and pink pepper.
Lee said: "I caught up the Chophaus directors for a meeting and the idea sparked from there. They were wowed by the dynamics of the menu that I put in place.
"We’ve got stunning meat from Australia, some of the best Wagyu beef from the Orkney Islands in Scotland and wild free range-pigs from Spain.
"We’re showcasing the produce you can get locally and outside of the UK, using only the best ingredients."
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