It’s not about titles for National Pork Board’s Chef Jim Murray, although the pork industry is elated that he was just named a Worldchefs Certified Executive Chef. For Murray, it’s much simpler than that. He’s motivated by helping farmers.
“Serving farmers is what my job is all about,” says Murray, national channel marketing and innovation manager for the National Pork Board. “I get up each day looking for ways to help farmers who invest in the Pork Checkoff realize success through the wise, judicious use of their investment dollars.”
At the end of the day, it always comes back to the pig farmers and their families, Murray adds.
“The farmers are the rock stars,” he says. “People want to make a connection with how their food is grown. When farmers talk with consumers and passionately explain what they do and how they care for pigs, it’s a powerful story that can’t be beat.”
Murray’s role in advancing the pork industry is somewhat unique and probably a little hard to understand for those who have not crossed paths with this award-winning chef and leader. No, he’s not formulating feed rations or breeding a better pig, he’s the guy inspiring the world to eat more pork and showing them how to do it better.
More Pork on the Plate
Murray spends the majority of his time motivating people to either purchase more pork, sell more pork, or add more pork to the menu. And he gives them the tools and information to be able to do that.
“We do a lot of educational outreach to industries that we work with,” Murray says. “We provide research to our clients in the form of consumer insights, menu insights and data. Most of our chains and retailers are very holistic in their approach. They want complete transparency from one end of supply chain to other. My job is to help tell pork’s story.”
Since his career started, Murray’s experienced a variety of positions from working in fine dining to running his own barbeque restaurant to serving as a corporate chef. When the idea came up to work for the National Pork Board and directly make an impact on farmers’ lives, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m not working for a for-profit company that is always associated with a product,” he says. “I’m here as an unbiased resource to help you with your business. There aren’t many jobs that allow you to do this.”
Since he started six years ago, he has seen a higher level of product awareness across the National Pork Board’s customer base.
“Our clients want to know where their food comes from. The level of transparency they require has dramatically increased,” Murray adds. “There is greater awareness and more access to information online. Along with that comes a lot of misinformation, too, so we take the academic approach and explain the facts. We let people then make their decisions based on that.”
Murray offers a unique blend of pork fabrication understanding and culinary experience. He works closely with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to develop pork promotions to take around the world. He looks forward to opportunities to get involved with pork fabrication demonstrations when USMEF brings guests to the U.S.
Elizabeth Wunderlich, USMEF Caribbean representative, said she met Murray when he helped present a trend program for her team. Since then, she’s leaned on him for other events where she has needed food service presentations on pork and “re-branding” pork.
“He has been so gracious to share his time and talent at a variety our USMEF venues from trade shows to cookbook testing to processed meat teams to charcuterie demonstrations,” Wunderlich says. “We have particularly tapped into his knowledge of recipe testing, charcuterie and barbeque. He also has provided great resources for a variety of USMEF chef and retailer teams and has been a super resource for USMEF in answering industry questions and providing research.”
National Pork Board president Steve Rommereim says he’s not surprised because Murray’s approachable and friendly manner puts people at ease immediately.
“Jim knows his business well,” Rommereim says. “He is very friendly and approachable which makes him a great fit for his position with the National Pork Board. He works hard to create perfect presentations of pork products and is very innovative in creating new pork dishes and ways to utilize all of the products available.”
No Two Days Are the Same
Murray enjoys his job because no day is the same. One day he’s presenting on value-added pork products, then he’s going on store visits and then he’s back working in the kitchen.
“I don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as I did in former roles,” Murray says. “We have three chefs actively engaged with the National Pork Board’s clients, so that allows me to focus on other initiatives from time to time to advance marketing and innovation efforts.”
He admits that learning new things keeps his job interesting.
“The more you get exposed to new ideas and perspectives, the more you can really step back and see that you don’t know everything,” he says.
In addition to reading a lot and eating out as much as he can to stay relevant, Murray says he is inspired by the many chefs he interacts with in his career.
“I’m fortunate that my jobs have allowed me to work with an incredibly broad set of chefs through professional affiliations, competitions and networking events,” he adds.
Ahead of Industry Issues
Growing up on a small farm in Buffalo Center, Iowa, provided Murray a unique perspective of animal agriculture. His family raised Aberdeen Angus cattle, purebred Hampshire and Duroc hogs, horses and chickens.
He says those experiences help him share pork’s story with others. And when it comes to questions outside his scope of education, he says he’s fortunate to be surrounded by subject matter experts in nearly every aspect of pork production from what the pigs eat to how they are housed.
“A lot of what I do is act as an insider person in terms of commercialization – trying to understand packer/processor capabilities so when our team has a question, they can call me and I can give them a shortlist of packers and processors who have the capabilities they are looking for as well as could handle the size of their business,” Murray says.
Rommereim says Murray’s ability to know what’s going on outside the kitchen makes him a unique chef.
“I consider Jim to be successful because of his professionalism and his ability to be an advocate for the entire pork industry,” he says. “He’s a very valuable asset to the National Pork Board.”
A Worldwide Honor
Recently, Murray was awarded the coveted title of Worldchefs Certified Executive Chef by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) in Paris.
“This designation is the result of Jim’s 30 years of working as a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and possessing the desire to pass that expertise to future culinarians,” said Jason Menke, director of marketing communications at the National Pork Board.
Murray has held the CEC designation from the American Culinary Federation (ACF) since 1986 and has maintained that designation through required continuing education requirements that focus on supervision, nutrition and sanitation, Menke says. A minimum of 90 CE hours is required every five years to maintain the certification from the ACF.
“This certification gives an employer, or in our case, a customer we are working with, an understanding these people have achieved a certain level of culinary proficiency,” Murray says. “It brings together experience, education and skill set with practical exams and written exams at every level of certification that need to be passed to move on to the next level.”
What does this mean in the big scheme of things?
“I’m not at the highest level – global master chef – but I’m the next one down. I look at it as a combination of over 30 years of being certified here in the U.S. and spending a lot of time being involved in mentoring programs, teaching at culinary schools, doing a lot of those things within an organization to help raise the ship,” he says. “This helps me with my everyday business to better meet the needs of our customers.”