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A Cut Above the Rest

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Chopped champion chef Matt Murphy extends a warm Irish welcome.

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Born in Dublin, Ireland, Matt Murphy, and his brother and sister, grew up with the knowledge that work was the way to get what they wanted. “There wasn’t as much wealth in the country at that time,” Murphy remembers. “If we wanted to spend money, we had to earn it.” At the age of 14, Murphy began working in kitchens. Food was a family business; his grandfather owned restaurants and bakeries, while his aunt was a chef.

Murphy earned a culinary school scholarship to Cathal Brugha College in Dublin. When looking for experience in his home city and in London, he took a hands-on approach: “I had the courage to just show up in kitchens at the back door, finding opportunities like that,” he says. Sometimes, he would work for free until a cook’s position opened up. “I got a great idea of what it takes to have a successful kitchen,” he says.

Now, he finds his best cooks the same way — instead of judging by experience, he looks for a good attitude and strong work ethic. “You can see it in their hands,” he says. “How they put plates together, how they hold the knife, how they work.”

Murphy met his American wife, Alicia, when they worked at the same Dublin restaurant. Like him, she loved to travel. The pair’s first cooking collaboration took place while they toured Asia: Murphy revamped a Chinese restaurant’s boring dishes, and Alicia wrote the menu out “in perfect English” and illustrated it.

Eventually, the couple came to New Orleans, where Murphy honed his skills as sous chef at Commander’s Palace and executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. Renamed for Murphy, who survived a life-threatening illness during his tenure at The Ritz, the hotel’s M Bistro is a testament to his influence.

Murphy and his wife opened The Irish House on St. Charles Avenue in 2010. While he handles the kitchen, she takes charge of other aspects of the business. “She knows the hospitality side of the Irish culture,” he says. “You might not have a cup to serve tea, but you’re serving tea in a jam jar.” Along with craft beers and a large Irish whiskey selection, the gastropub serves what Murphy describes as “Irish comfort food,” including shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and variations on seafood stews — but the chef also incorporates a plethora of ingredients and influences into his dishes.

The Irish House also serves as a gathering place for New Orleans’ large Irish population, often hosting events and informal get-togethers. “The community is proud of us, [proud] to have a meeting spot — something that’s not just painted green with an Irish name,” Murphy says. “We focus on the fact that it’s a family establishment.” Patrons come to the restaurant for lunch, dinner or just to drink a pint and watch a rugby match, and Murphy encourages all to stay as long as they want.

Along with running a family establishment, the Murphys know what it takes to run a family. Their partnership includes raising their five daughters: quadruplets and a “plus one,” who arrived two years later. “It was unbelievable,” Murphy remembers of having four babies at once. “I always look back at our first six or nine months as ‘baby boot camp.’ I got us dog tags. We said, ‘We’ll take the dog tags off when we’re through.’” These days, the dog tags are off — and the Murphy quadruplets’ favorite place to be is The Irish House.