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Thu January 28, 2010
A Chef's Second Chance
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, LA –
Last summer, New Orleans chef Matt Murphy was on death's door, brought to the very limit of his fortitude by a rare and extremely severe blood condition. Now, the 41-year-old is training to run a half marathon. He's there for his family of five children, which includes an infant and two-year-old quadruplets. And he's opening the doors to a new restaurant, M Bistro, which is named in his honor.
The incredible turnaround is a testament to Murphy's personal grit and determination. It's a tribute to the medical team at Ochsner Medical Center that believed he could beat the odds. And it's also a credit to the diverse cross section of the New Orleans hospitality industry and food community that rallied for the chef in his darkest hour.
Matt Murphy is the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, where he is in charge of culinary activities all over the750-room hotel. A native of Dublin, he left home as a young man for a cooking career that would take him to England, China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Hawaii. He turned up in New Orleans in the late '90s, believing then that he'd stay for just a few months. But while cooking at Commander's Palace, he developed a network of friends and soon the city took hold. He became chef at the Ritz-Carlton, and in 2007 he and his wife Alicia made headlines when they became the parents of quadruplets.
Last May, however, a seemingly minor slip and fall spiraled radically out of control. Within a day, Matt was in an intensive care unit, battling an invasive bacterial blood infection. He spent a month in a coma, and even when revived the prognosis was grim. He could not so much as move his fingers initially. Amputations were discussed to stanch the virulent blood infection. But Matt and his doctors agreed on another path. It entailed some 19 grueling operations and a regimen of expensive medication. His condition remained touch and go for months. All the while, the Murphy family was expecting another newborn to join the toddler quadruplets.
But the Murphys soon found they were not alone. The Ritz-Carlton organized a benefit that generated extraordinary momentum as news of Matt's struggle spread. People chipped in from all quarters, including chefs Matt had worked with around the globe, local peers and former colleagues from the great culinary family tree that is Commander's Palace, and farmers and other restaurant industry suppliers. It was a huge practical and emotional boost for a family on the ropes, and it also planted the seed for a new idea.
Matt and the Ritz-Carlton read the outpouring of support as an endorsement of the power inherent in the area's tight-knit food community. Recovered from his ordeal, Matt and the hotel developed the plan for M Bistro as a new restaurant that would draw heavily on those connections and relationships, using small batches of vegetables, crabs and oysters harvested from local waters and even cheese churned out by local dairies.
During Matt's struggle, small contributions made a huge difference. The chef is returning the favor by using the purchasing power of a large hotel to make a difference for small, local producers. As the Ritz-Carlton honors Matt Murphy in the name of M Bistro, this grateful chef is honoring those who supported him by putting them on his menu.