Veteran Chefs Keeping It Fresh: Philip McGrath of Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville


Philip McGrath

Restaurants: Iron Horse Grill and Pony Express in Pleasantville

Born: Dec. 2, 1957, Bronx

Grew up: In the Riverdale section of the Bronx

Culinary School: Culinary Institute of America

Experience: Opening executive chef at the Castle at Tarrytown, and its Equus Restaurant. His resume includes positions at the Doubles Club, Prunelle, Tavern on the Green, the Sign of the Dove, Glorious Foods, the Ritz Cafe, The Carlyle Hotel and Jean Jacque Rachou’s Le Lavandou and La Cote Basque, all in New York City. He also trained in France at the famed Restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, Chef Marc Meneau’s L’Esperance in St-Pere-Sous-Vezelay, and Restaurant Michel Rostang in Paris.

Cooking style or philosophy: We rely on the freshest and highest quality ingredients that reflect the seasons, using as many locally sourced products as possible, in combinations that we feel work well together. In cooking there is really nothing new under the sun. Classic bedfellows like tomatoes and basil, a great piece of beef with well aged Bordeaux or juicy California cabernet, even peanut butter and jelly, all are time tested and true. Our philosophy of cooking is to try and take those natural flavor pairings from a variety of cultures and cuisines and put our own updated spin on them.

Why we chose him: In Iron Horse, McGrath was one of the first chefs to have a hot-ticket restaurant that wasn’t also super-fancy. His well-balanced dishes are made with high quality ingredients, but he serves his menu in a casual-but-elegant setting in a renovated train station in Pleasantville. At the time, that was revolutionary.

How he keeps it fresh: Inspiration comes from a walk through the farmers market on Saturday morning, from eating a grand meal at a bastion of classic cuisine or sampling what the cutting-edge restaurant of the moment is dishing up. It jumps up at you from a street vendor along the silk route in Kashgar, a spice shop on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, or a local supplier of goat cheese who knocks on the kitchen door one day offering samples from her fledgling farm. Inspiration is everywhere as long as you have the will and vision to feel and recognize it.

Advice for the new chefs: You have to have the stamina of an athlete, the mathematical acumen of an accountant, the artistic gifts of a painter and sculptor and the managerial ability to oversee and supervise a highly diverse group of employees. The restaurant world is immediate. Our clients have to be served expediently, at the correct temperature, in the appropriate vessel, prepared to the customers’ specifications by a pleasant and professional staff in well outfitted and clean surroundings. If one thing goes even slightly awry it could spoil the experience. That pressure of delivering perfection in everything that we do at every meal period to a savvy dining public is our greatest challenge. If a baseball player gets a hit three out of ten times at bat he is a candidate for the hall of fame, if a restaurant doesn’t go ten for ten, they have struck out.

Chris Serico contributed. Photo by Joe Larese/TJN.


About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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