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Ariana’s Moves Down the Road to Lyme

  • Chef Martin Murphy of Ariana's restaurant at the Lyme Inn puts entrees out at the restaurant in Lyme, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chef Martin Murphy uses an assortment of sauces at his restaurant Ariana's at the Lyme Inn in Lyme, N.H. on Feb. 1, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chef Martin Murphy explains the menu to staff before the dinner crowd starts to arrive at Ariana's restaurant at the Lyme Inn on Feb. 1, 2018 in Lyme, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The finishing touches are put on an entree at Ariana's restaurant at the Lyme Inn in Lyme, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Martin Murphy, the new chef at the Lyme Inn, has opened a number of restaurants up and down the East Coast during his 35-year career. Each new venture is exhausting and exhilarating — and the opening in mid-January was no different.

Murphy essentially transplanted his restaurant Ariana’s, formerly located on a farm in Orford, to the inn, and brought his staff with him.

In an era of celebrity chefs and culinary schools, Murphy’s path to running a restaurant was old-fashioned. He calls himself a journeyman who moved from job to job, learning every aspect of the trade along the way, in restaurants on the East Coast and in California. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up through the ranks to chef.

Murphy’s vision of fine dining is not impossibly high-concept: The food isn’t treated or presented as if it were intimidating architecture, and there is no long parade of courses.

And context is everything.

“You have to understand where you are and what you’re doing,” Murphy said in an interview last month at the inn. “The tuxedoed waiter and white table cloths atmosphere has gone by the wayside. I realize to be successful, I have to be open-minded. I would love to do tapas, I would like to try a multi-course tasting menu. I am going to listen to the customer.”

For 6½ years Murphy operated Ariana’s at the Bunton Farm in Orford, which is now called the Bickford Homestead. It was an epitome of farm-to-table dining, and a labor of love, he said. He grew produce in fields right outside the restaurant. The idea and the place were romantic, and he loved it. But it was a trek for diners, particularly in the off-season.

“We did well in summer but we gave it all back in the winter,” he said. “We saw how challenging it is to run a farm in New England. It always was a struggle.”

When Jack Elliott, the Lyme Inn’s owner, approached him about taking over the restaurant, Murphy jumped at the opportunity.

“You always want to have a Plan B,” he said. Ariana’s, named for Murphy’s daughter, opened on Jan. 18. Murphy and his wife and son live in Orfordville; their daughter is now in college in Washington, D.C.

“The Upper Valley is a beautiful place to be a chef. It’s easy for me to be farm-to-table here,” he said.

Murphy, born in 1957, grew up in Teaneck, N.J., across the Hudson from New York City. His father was first-generation Irish and his mother a Dutch immigrant who came to the U.S. after World War II. Murphy grew up on standard 1970s American fare, Swanson’s TV dinners and Shake ’n Bake.

In fact, food wasn’t really on his radar. He went to the University of Southern Maine to study geology and earned money by working at the Black Point Inn in Prouts Neck, one of the oldest inns in Maine. He left college and began studying the restaurant trade by working at a number of high-end inns and restaurants on Cape Cod, in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and California.

During this odyssey, Murphy realized, he said, “Hey, I’m a very good chef. I want my own restaurant.”

After moving to Florida, he helped to create menus and run kitchens at a number of restaurants, and acted as executive chef at Cafe Chardonnay in Palm Beach Gardens. He also helped open a gourmet food market in Fort Myers, on the state’s west coast. He and his family lived in Florida for 10 years.

They moved to the Upper Valley in 2007, after tiring of life in Florida and looking for better schools for their children. (Murphy’s wife had a family connection to the area.) Before opening Ariana’s in Orford, Murphy was the head chef at Stella’s in Lyme.

Murphy calls his food New American cuisine. He is classically French-trained but also cooks in Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean styles.

“I focus on making it true. I keep the cultural integrity in place,” Murphy said.

Making all the foods from scratch, he focuses on locally grown and raised produce and meats and poultry. Taste is important, of course, but so is health. He uses no processed foods.

Seafood is a specialty, and he wants to bring in such fish as sea robin and monkfish, both familiar on European tables but lesser known in the United States than the usual salmon, swordfish and haddock.

“I want to make it 100 percent sustainable,” he said.

The restaurant business is grueling but there are a few cardinal rules: the customer always comes first, stay loyal to your purveyors and respect your staff.

“I’m just very thankful to have  this opportunity,” Murphy said.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.