Interview

A Life in the Kitchen

Marty McElroy talks New York, the Food Network, and Turtle Soup, his Narragansett restaurant

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Marty McElroy is a lifer: when he was young, he worked in his uncle’s bar in upstate New York, and he’s been cooking in kitchens almost continuously ever since. He first came to Rhode Island to study restaurant management at Johnson & Wales, but after some years in the Big Apple, he came back to settle in Narragansett. Today, McElroy owns Turtle Soup, a seaside restaurant housed in the Ocean Rose Inn, and lives in town with his family. We got to talk with McElroy about his background and perspective on dining trends.

How did you cut your teeth in the industry?
New York is where I really learned. I was still a little green – they teach you that awful quick. I ended up at the same place for years, a catering company that did Northern Putnam County down to Wall Street. That was an adventure. I loved that job. A couple of times it almost killed me, but it was so exciting, the logistics of it all. It was very different than just a restaurant. One day you’re doing hot dogs and hamburgers after a golf tournament, the next you’re doing a pig roast on a beach.

How did you decide to go from being a chef to owning a restaurant?
I kind of grew up thinking I would own a restaurant some day and do what Uncle Joey does. But then I started to get into management positions high enough to check out the books, and I saw the profit margins, and I thought, “You gotta be kidding me. I will never own a restaurant.” I even tried to get out of the industry for awhile. I worked as a contractor for a couple of years, but I missed the restaurant industry, and it kind of sucked me back in. I worked as a chef for the original owners [of Turtle Soup]. I worked there four or five years, and we became friendly with each other. Then the owners said they were moving to Florida, and I bought it.

The menu at Turtle Soup is often described as “American,” but I’m impressed by its variety.
That’s kind of been the trend. American means different things. It’s not just prime rib. They call it “Modern American,” if you will. Just like America itself, it has many, many influences from many different places. There’s a lot of French, there’s some Asian going on. You can’t just stick a grilled salmon on a plate, like they used to. That was kind of boring. Creatively speaking, there are things I want to do. Sometimes I present [a dish] to people and they’re like, “What the heck is that?” But that’s where The Food Network has helped. People are getting more adventurous, and I’m glad. I don’t want to flip salmon all day.

If the Food Network is changing people’s understanding of fine dining, how do you think their tastes will change in the future?
I wish I knew the next big trend before it happens. We close every January for a spring cleaning, to start over. This year we changed the menu as well, using more local farms, more organic and all-natural [ingrediants]. We put in all new lighting, new tables and chairs. We gave it more of a beachy vibe. The white linen restaurants are slowly fading away. I’m okay with it. You go out to dinner, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be stuffy. The feedback’s been pretty good so far.

Turtle Soup
113 Ocean Road, Narragansett • 792-8683