Growing up on his family’s eight-acre farm in Ferndale, Washington, Tory McPhail knew he wanted to be a chef even when he was only five 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,” he said. After graduating from high school, McPhail went straight into a culinary program at a community college in Seattle. Then, at only 19 years old, he moved into a Bourbon Street apartment in New Orleans and began the first steps of his career in the Crescent City.
“Commander’s Palace was the one and only place I applied to, and I got the job,” McPhail confided. Hired at the lowest level, he quickly ascended through the various positions in the kitchen at the historic Garden District restaurant. He then took a break from New Orleans to garner experience in Florida, London, the Caribbean and at the Commander’s Palace outpost in Las Vegas.
Like so many others, McPhail was drawn back to New Orleans, and in 2002, he took the helm at Commander’s Palace as executive chef. His respect for local farmers and their product is a heavy influence on the dishes at Commander’s Palace, where a “dirt-to-plate within 100 miles” policy means that most of the restaurant’s foodstuffs are sourced locally. McPhail has become a great champion of his adopted city, which he has proved on numerous occasions, including staying put during Hurricane Katrina. McPhail admitted 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” at 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.’” He emphasized that he owes his great success to the amazing work and dedication of his staff. “There is nothing in life I’d rather do,” he said of his job. He wholeheartedly loves New Orleans and his work and believes that the food and hospitality is better at Commander’s Palace than it has ever been.