INTERVIEW: In the kitchen with chef Jess Murphy

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    Over the years, New Zealand native and renowned chef Jess Murphy has made quite a name for herself on the Irish food scene thanks to her hugely popular Galway restaurant, Kai, her philanthropic endeavours, supporting the UN Refugee Agency, as well as winning many culinary accolades, including, most recently, the Cookery Writing Award.

    Recently, we chatted with Jess about all things food, including her home cooking hacks, her go-to speedy dinners and what she envisions for the future of Irish cooking.

    As a professional chef with an abundance of culinary expertise, how do you go from cooking in a professional environment to casual home cooking?

    It’s actually really hard… because as much as you try, and I try all the time, you can never size it down – you always cook too much food. So obviously with food waste awareness, you try to be aware all the time not to waste anything. When I go to the farmer’s market on a Saturday I’ll get loads of stuff, and then I actually batch cook. When you work in a restaurant as well, a lot of people think you have all of these amazing dinners every night. But you can’t actually eat restaurant food every night – you know, restaurants are made to be a treat. I always try to eat a really balanced diet, so I would make a curry with brown rice or I’ll make a dhal or something like that, because I’m batch cooking and freezing everything down anyway. We eat at such odd times, because we’ll finish work at 12 o’clock at night, so you won’t really want a piece of steak or anything like that at that time. It is really tricky – that’s probably the trickiest part of having a career as a chef.

    Have you developed any cooking hacks in the professional kitchen that might help home cooks?

    When it comes to food waste, try making chutneys or preserves and chuck them in anything. You could make things like carrot top pesto, or if you’ve got green tomatoes that aren’t ripening, make a green tomato chutney. It all goes along with trying to live with no waste.

    What are your favourite dishes to make for your family?

    I’m quite traditional, so I would always cook a roast. A proper Irish roast beef with dauphinoise potatoes, watercress, Gruyère and blue cheese salad is my go-to in the winter. I might buy some really good meat once a week and then for the rest, there’s nothing wrong with having poached eggs for dinner. I know it sounds boring but you don’t have to eat meat for every meal. Save your pennies and buy a really good piece of beef and then highlight that as the true food hero of the week, and look forward to it.

    If someone else is cooking for you, what would you like them to make?

    The Cupcake Bloke makes a tea brack that is absolutely phenomenal. There’s just something about someone who can make a tea brack, because not many people can make it. It’s a real mummy thing – everyone thinks their mum makes the best tea brack. For me the Cupcake Bloke makes the best one!

    If you’re in a time crunch, what’s your go-to speedy dinner?

    It would have to be something with lentils. I would do a quick braised lentils, with Puy lentils and dried mushrooms and stuff like that. Especially at this time of year, if you have any leftover red wine you could glug that in with sage and make it really savoury. The thing is with adding red wine to green lentils or dark lentils, is that it actually makes it quite meaty. So you can use those lentils to stuff anything. Put mashed potatoes on those lentils and you have a vegetarian cottage pie. Or, roll them in filo pastry and you have little lentil rolls.

    Is there any condiment, in particular, you’re loving right now?

    Holly Dalton has a range called conbini condiments. I love their katsu curry ketchup, I love the fermented hot sauce, which is absolutely fabulous, and then she does a teriyaki sauce. I’d use them in everyday cooking. Even if you just make a rice bowl, you can always add those bits to it. The teriyaki sauce is amazing because you can marinate anything in it – pork, chicken, tofu – then fry that up, put it in your rice bowl and dig in.

    What do you think the future of Irish cooking will look like?

    It’s really hard to tell, but because of the way that we’re going I think it’s going to be predominantly vegetarian heavy, but also we’re going to pride the bits of meat that we do buy, which is going to be phenomenal. I also think it’s going to have to be more sustainable.

    Sustainability is a big thing for you when it comes to cooking. Do you have tips for home cooks who want to be more sustainable in the kitchen but have no idea where to start?

    Well there’s the real basic things that your mother would have told you, like ‘never go and do the grocery shopping hungry,’ because you’ll buy twice the amount of food. In kitchens we’re really good at writing preparation lists of what we need everyday, so that we’ll know what we need to order. So I would then bring that restaurant ordering system home to help cut down on food waste.

    You wrote the Blasta Book, United Nations of Cookies in aid of UNHCR – what was it like to work on that project? Any highlights?

    A big highlight was working with Kristin Jensen, the publisher of Blasta Books, who I think has won every award in the country this year! So she was really phenomenal, as was Eoin Clusky of Bread 41, who worked on the recipe testing side. And then obviously working with every immigrant and refugee in Ireland was absolutely amazing. Everyone brought something to the party and it is a celebration of the modern changing face of Ireland.

    You’ve created such an exciting menu of decadent delights to celebrate the new Neff Inspiration kitchen at Airfield Estate – what was the inspiration behind this creative, mouth-watering menu?

    The inspiration was the estate itself – so we used jersey milk off the estate, we used honey off the estate and used it to make a burnt honey ice cream, all of the greens which we used in our main course and served with whole turbot, were off the estate. So the estate was the big draw for us as chefs. To have that in the middle of Dublin, being sponsored by Neff, it’s absolutely amazing. It’s such an amazing, creative hub and studio in the heart of Dublin, surrounded by an urban farm – you can’t even write it! You know, it’s a dream job!

    Check out airfield.ie and neff.com to stay up to date on the exciting classes taking place at the Neff Inspiration Kitchen.