- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - It all started with a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Thomas Murtaugh, the executive chef for Juliet’s in downtown Joliet, grew up in an Italian household, where “food” equaled “love” and guests were greeted with, “Are you hungry? What can I get you to eat?”

“If you said, ‘no,’ my mother kept repeating everything she could whip up in 20 minutes,” Murtaugh said, “just to make sure she fed you.”

One day, when Murtaugh was 12 years old and no one was home, he found a recipe for cookie bars on the back of a can of sweetened condensed milk. He made a batch - and a mess - but the family enjoyed the cookies, and Murtaugh discovered his calling.

It’s this sense of sharing and caring that Murtaugh hopes to impart at Juliet’s, an Italian/steakhouse restaurant and sports bar, recently opened by Frankfort native Carmen Rossi. Every menu item was developed in-house from Murtaugh’s own recipes, Murtaugh said.

“None of our recipes are out of a book,” Murtaugh said.

The most exciting part of Juliet’s, Murtaugh said, is its “small plate share,” designed to coax people’s attention away from their cellphone and back to the great food and the people sitting at their table.

The stack of small plates at each place setting - instead of a single dinner plate - and the smaller-than-average meal sizes are designed to encourage patrons to order multiple entrees and share with fellow diners.

“Everyone can taste a little of everything,” Murtaugh said. “It gets people talking about what they’re eating. If they like something, they’re going to get excited and want to share it.”

Rossi said he interviewed quite a few candidates for head chef, but Murtaugh’s passion for Italian food - along with his experience and background as an area native - made him outshine the rest.

“We didn’t find him until the end of the interview process,” Rossi said, “but once we did, the interviews were over.”

Murtaugh brings plenty of experience, starting when he was a Romeoville High School student. He continually signed up for home economics and eventually became a home economics aide.

When Murtaugh was 17, he attended Wilco Area Career Center to study underwater welding, since he had earned his scuba diving certificate at 15. But the instructor wasn’t excited about the class, so Murtaugh transferred to culinary arts, where he said he bloomed under the mentorship of Michael Legler.

“From there, I went on to (Joliet Junior College), where Michael followed me, so he could continue mentoring me,” Murtaugh said of Legler’s former teaching position at the community college. “When I graduated, he opened up a restaurant in Shorewood and hired me.”

Later, Murtaugh went to the Bolingbrook Golf Club and then Trump International Hotel and Tower, where he eventually became lead cook, he said. One day, Murtaugh hopes to open his own restaurant; but for now, he is thrilled about using his skills at a restaurant close to his hometown.

“I really love cooking high-end food,” Murtaugh said, “and I wanted to bring higher-end food at blue-collar prices.”


Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, https://bit.ly/1sS9Bsv


Information from: The Herald-News, https://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews

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