Celebrity chef Marc Murphy launches Grey Salt in Tampa tonight

After Thursday, Seminole Hard Rock's new Grey Salt restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner.

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click to enlarge Grey Salt's stylish interior incorporates a room for private dining and parties. - Nicole Abbett
Nicole Abbett
Grey Salt's stylish interior incorporates a room for private dining and parties.

With French heritage and Italian roots, New York celebrity chef Marc Murphy's Grey Salt, the new restaurant he's partnered with Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on, opened its doors for dinner on Thursday.

The diverse menu at the 250-seat restaurant, which replaces the Green Room at the casino, features artisanal flatbreads and handmade pastas, as well as rotisserie and grilled meats, with a focus on fresh, locally sourced seafood. At a VIP preview of Grey Salt Wednesday night, executive chef Chris Hine said he recommends the wood-grilled prime skirt steak that's served with ash-roasted carrots and romesco, a nut- and red pepper-based sauce.

Murphy, who owns Benchmarc Restaurants and Benchmarc Events by Marc Murphy, chose Tampa because the restaurant's Mediterranean fare reminds him of his childhood and pairs well with the gulf beaches. He complements the food with a world-class bar lineup of local craft beer, barrel- and bottle-aged cocktails, and international wines driven by the Mediterranean region. The wine's served by the quartino, half and full bottle.

After its opening service, Grey Salt will operate seven days a week, offering lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

click to enlarge The Mediterranean theme extends into the space with a wall of 2,592 lemons. - Nicole Abbett
Nicole Abbett
The Mediterranean theme extends into the space with a wall of 2,592 lemons.
During the preview party, more than 250 people, including Joe Maddon and his wife Jaye, celebrated with Murphy. The chef sat down with CL for a quick Q&A, too.

CL: What inspired you for this restaurant?

Murphy: When we started talking to the Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe, and we were trying to figure out what type of restaurant it was going to be, I really felt the more time I spent here being next to the gulf that Mediterranean would work out nicely, and it’s my background. I was born in Italy, my mother is French and I grew up in both places. As a kid I did a lot of traveling to Morocco, Spain and Greece, which created my palate. I try to use a lot of food out of the gulf, including the lemons and the oranges here. They can’t be beat.

click to enlarge Owner-chef Marc Murphy and executive chef Chris Hine. - Nicole Abbett
Nicole Abbett
Owner-chef Marc Murphy and executive chef Chris Hine.
How did you decide on the name Grey Salt?

The name Grey Salt, which is a sel gris, is a salt used a lot as a finishing salt in France. As the restaurant progressed, everything just started clicking together and things got clearer and clearer. We started talking about design and knowing where the space was; I wanted to build an oasis in the middle of a casino. Sixty-five to 70 percent of the menu comes out of the open concept of wood-burning rotisserie and grill. The evolution of Grey Salt has been fantastic.

Who designed the menu?

Myself, mostly with my vision of what I think a Mediterranean restaurant should be. Executive chef Chris Hine, who will be in charge while I’m not here, also collaborated on it. As a chef, I’m lucky. I just get to cook things I want to eat.

Did you eat all of your veggies when you were a kid, or were you a picky eater?

No, I’ve never been a picky eater. When you grow up in France and Italy there’s no language of I don’t eat this, or I don’t eat that. I was always the one who ate everything. People normally rate restaurants by stars, and I was always the kid who said it was a one-glass or a two-glass or a three-glass restaurant. The more glasses on the table, the better the meal. My brother was a picky eater and didn’t like seafood, so I would sit next to him and just take over his plate.

Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?

I went into cooking because I’m extremely dyslectic. Growing up my whole life, I was told I was stupid and that I wasn’t smart because I was terrible in school and no one ever realized why. When I got out of high school, I moved to New York and crashed on my brother’s couch. I saw a lot of homeless people and said to myself that I have to figure out what to do with my life. I knew I wanted to eat and didn’t want to be hungry. After a few odd jobs and cooking for my brother and his girlfriend all the time to help out, my brother suggested I go to cooking school because he saw that I loved to cook. So I went to cooking school, I got my first job and I literally tell people that I got addicted to it. It found me, I didn’t find it. I always imagined being a line cook and cooking my whole life, and as things progressed, I got better at it, moved up, and the next thing you know I was a chef. My career kept going, and I’m loving it. I wake up every morning and I don’t go to work — I just love what I do.

What's your favorite kitchen gadget?

The Japanese mandoline, and I love slicing garlic on it. I love garlic in my food and seeing it in my food. People make the mistake of chopping garlic on cutting board. Have you ever looked at the cutting board after? All the oils and juices have come out of it, leaving the flavor on the cutting board.

If you were to choose a last meal, what would it be?

(Laughing) I would probably say one of my favorite dishes is carbonara, so that’s what I would make.

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