Around 2009-2010, Jessica Murray decided to combine her passion for cooking with her charitable interests and offer dinner parties as an auction item for various organizations she supported. Since then, Murray estimates she and her husband, Rob Nassau, have generated over $9,000 in charitable donations and created many fond memories and new friendships.
Hosting a dinner
Serving on the board for the Center for Youth for more than 15 years, Murray donated a dinner package to the silent auction at one of their annual galas. It was so popular, she was asked to repeat the donation each year since.
“I like feeling like my involvement makes a difference for the organization,” Murray noted regarding her current role on the Center for Youth Advisory Board.
She also provides dinners that are auctioned at the Ad Council of Rochester’s annual golf tournament. Murray is on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Ad Council and chairs its Board Development Committee.
“I’m not good at asking people for money,” she said, “but I don’t mind encouraging them to incre
ase their bids for a good cause if I am confident they’ll have a good meal and a nice evening.”
She has also provided dinners benefitting Volunteer Legal Services Project (Art of Lawyering), Rochester Area Community Foundation (An Evening Out at Home), and Syracuse Public Interest Network (SPIN) at Syracuse Law School.
“The SPIN dinners generate lots of bids since Rob has been at the Syracuse Law School for nearly 20 years and is very popular with the students,” Murray added. “The bidding definitely reflects an interest in time with an entertaining professor, in addition to a good dinner. Truth be told, our Syracuse guests also stay for breakfast the next morning.”
The evening begins
Murray typically consults with the guests about menu options, emphasizing what is seasonal and local, but the choices are all upscale.
The evening typically starts with a social hour with drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the living room. The selection might include Asian dumplings, Asiago stuffed potatoes, smoked trout pâté, and homemade baguettes with cheeses, olives and cornichons.
The evening may also start with a house cocktail, such as a “Cranberry Champagne Cosmopolitan” or “Kir Royale.” A selection of wines is offered with dinner and after-dinner offerings include an orange-flavored home-made liqueur she calls Sunshine ™, complete with trademark symbol — a reflection of Murray’s expertise as a trademark attorney.
Dinner is served
Murray makes her own pastry, her own baguettes, ice cream — everything from scratch. One of her personal favorites for entrées is bo ssam, a Korean pork dish served with rice, kimchi and several sauces that the guests wrap in lettuce rolls. Made popular by David Chang at his Momofuku restaurant in New York, Murray says it is different, delicious, easy and fun for a group.
Side dishes might include shaved Brussels sprouts sautéed in duck fat or roasted okra and garlic. She often incorporates ingredients from her CSA (community supported agriculture) share of locally grown produce. And, there is always dessert, such as crème brulee (torched tableside), profiteroles or chocolate molten cake, perhaps after a prelude of a cheese course.
One of the hardest parts of the dinner parties seems to be finding dates that work for everyone. Because February and March tend to be quieter community-calendar months, she said that they’ve had dinner parties almost every Saturday between Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day.
“Once we’ve settled on a date,” she said, “I enjoy every part of the dinners, from planning the menu and shopping, to preparing, serving, and eating with the guests. Even cleaning up is OK, other than washing the wine glasses. My husband probably gets stuck with more than his share of that part.”
Murray’s husband, Rob Nassau, is a tax professor at Syracuse University College of Law, where he serves as director of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and teaches several tax classes.
He serves as the sommelier for the charity dinners and is in charge of all beverages, which Murray said is really the most important aspect of their events.
Together they have four sons: Tim (23), a paralegal at Cleary Gottlieb in Manhattan; Adam (21) a senior at Lehigh University; David (20), a junior at Earlham College; and Max (18), a freshman at Cornell University.
“I am very proud that our kids will try pretty much anything,” she said. “It is especially fun when one of them emails me a request for one of my recipes that he is going to make.”
Murray enjoys traveling and typically takes a warm weather vacation in the Caribbean in January. Before the kids were in college, she had a tradition of taking them new places on February break, seeing Peru, Iceland and Puerto Rico, and always seeking out local foods native to the geographical area.
Murray and her husband enjoyed a driving trip through the Maritime Provinces of Canada, seeing Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The trip was originally inspired by their love of oysters and other seafood, and interest in eating them at their source.
Nassau and Murray are life time members of The Little Theatre and see lots of movies every year both at the theater and via Netflix at home.
Murray reads a lot of food magazines and other food writing, but you won’t catch her watching any cooking shows on television.
“I’m not sure why I haven’t ever gotten interested in them; probably because I don’t control the television remote in our house,” she explained. “I do enjoy a public radio program called ‘Splendid Table.’”
A native of Erie, Pa., Murray graduated from Cornell Law School in 1988 and came to Rochester to join the law firm Mousaw Vigdor Reeves, LLP. A few years later, the firm merged with Boylan Brown Code Vigdor & Wilson, and Murray (now Boylan Code) and Murray served as a partner there for another 15 years. She later moved to the Rochester offices of Hiscock & Barclay (2010-2013).
While at Boylan Code, she provided trademark and copyright advice to students in a law clinic at Syracuse University College of Law on a part time basis for a number of years. She is now co-director of the Community Development Law Clinic at Syracuse, supervising student attorneys who work with nonprofits and low-to-moderate income people who are starting businesses.
“I’ve always loved the corporate and intellectual property work I did in private practice, and now I also get to do that work with law students, which is great,” Murray said.
Murray has been active in the Monroe County Bar Association, serving as past-chair of the Business Law Section and on the Diversity Committee. She’s served on the board of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys several times over the years. She is also currently a member of the New York State Bar Association Intellectual Property Section Executive Committee.