William Murray: ‘The Irish food scene owes everything to the incredible producers around the island’
Fervent foodie, Currabinny co-founder and Ballymaloe-trained chef William Murray on everything from the first meal he learned to cook to treading the fine line between making something absolutely delicious and burning the kitchen down.
From sharing recipes and mealtime inspiration galore on social media to producing the Currabinny cookbook with his other half, William Murray’s unwavering obsession with food in all its manifestations is utterly apparent.
Having launched the Currabinny Caravan back in August of last year — now residing at the National Museum of Ireland in Collins’ Barracks — it’s all systems go for this Irish foodie. Luckily, he spared a few moments to chat with us about everything from his favourite dishes to his culinary inspirations.
What are your earliest memories of food?
I grew up in a house which, to me, always seemed to be full of food. I don’t recall having one specific earliest memory of food but more of a sense of the staples that always seemed to be abundantly present, things like dried spaghetti in a tall glass jar, butter in a blue ceramic dish, crosshatched toast from a neighbours aga and tins of lemon syrup to be diluted in water brought back by my father from his many trips to France.
How would you describe your relationship with food?
I was lucky to have been brought up by a mother who could cook well, she was inventive, resourceful and had that special knack of always seasoning her creations to perfection. I like to think that I have inherited at least some of her talents when it comes to making food. Food ultimately excites me, not just for the eating of it but for the process, the chance to experiment, the opportunity to please and give pleasure and also the ever-present risk of failure to keep you on your toes.
What was the first meal you learned to cook?
From quite a young age, I could scramble an egg no problem, but I guess my first proper meal I learned to cook was probably a sort of carbonara type pasta dish except with cut up bacon instead of pancetta and cream instead of egg yolk.
How did food become a part of your personal brand?
Having always loved making and experimenting with food growing up, my mother was always keen for me to improve my skills in a more formal way. I left college with a degree in sculpture and no idea what to do next, so I was sent down to Ballymaloe by my parents as a sort of last-ditch attempt at giving me a useful skill that I could find employment in if I needed. It was a huge investment for them and maybe unlike my time in college I was more determined to make the most of it. Art could always be there, but it was far less clear to me at the time how I could use it to find employment, food seemed to be the obvious other love of mine to try forge ahead with. After Ballymaloe, I moved to Dublin to work in kitchens but quickly became disillusioned in that environment. After returning to art to do a masters and meeting my partner James, I finally found space to realise myself as a passionate home cook and recipe creator.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
Without hesitation, boiled eggs and soldiers.
If you’re impressing friends and family at a dinner party, what are you serving up?
Something which at first seems homely and simple but ultimately leaves the guests wholly satisfied and happy, like my mother’s incredible fish pie or if it’s a summer affair freshly caught mackerel, barbequed and served with a waxy new potato salad, garden leaves, spicy cucumber pickle and thick homemade Bretagne sauce.
Who is your culinary inspiration?
My mother, Darina Allen and of course Nigel Slater.
What would your last meal on earth be?
My mother’s Bolognese
What’s your go-to comfort food?
Crumpets from the supermarket smothered in salty butter
What’s the go-to quick meal you cook when you’re tired and hungry?
Nothing could be tastier or more simple than Quesadillas, served with some hot sauce, sour cream and maybe a quick smashed avocado guacamole with plenty of lime juice.
What is one food or flavour you cannot stand?
Possibly controversial, but I hate pineapple.
I generally can’t eat much when I am hungover but years ago, a Lithuanian colleague told me of her method, where she puts eight teaspoons of sugar into a cup of tea (yes eight!), drinks it and then immediately goes for a 30 minute nap. I have to say, it actually works!
Sweet or savoury?
Fine dining or pub grub?
Hard to choose, I like food that is simple, seasonal and local. Luckily there are a good few restaurants and some pubs that hit this mark.
Favourite restaurant in Ireland?
This changes a lot, but currently I really like ‘A Fianco’ in Stoneybatter, which is more of a wine bar really but their meatballs are life changing.
Best coffee in Ireland?
Soma in Cork, specifically their Currabinny blend.
Go-to beverage accompaniment?
What are your thoughts on the Irish foodie scene?
I really think the Irish foodie scene is incredible. At its absolute best is a sense of supporting and helping one another. The Irish food scene owes everything to the incredible producers around the island. We have some of the absolute best dairy, meats, ferments, preserves and produce in the whole world. Without their amazing work, chefs, writers, recipe developers and food-retailers couldn’t do nearly as good a job as they are able to do.
What’s your favourite thing about cooking?
My favourite thing about cooking is the challenge of making something great and the risk of it all going wrong. I think this tightrope between making something absolutely delicious and burning the kitchen down is incredibly exciting. I have learnt so much from my many, many, many mistakes and mishaps.
What does food — sitting down to a meal with friends, mindfully preparing a meal, nourishment, etc — mean to you?
I definitely feel the same as many others who enjoy the process of making food for yourself and others, which is, that through food, you show love. Me and James might have terrible rows but at the end of the evening, after the frustrations have passed and the last candelabra has been thrown across the room, we will sit and eat together and everything will be ok.
Food for thought — Is there room for improvement within the Irish food/restaurant/hospitality scene?
Although it has gotten a lot better in recent years, I still think working in the hospitality industry is fraught with unhealthy working conditions, toxic and manipulative behaviours that go unchecked and a culture where you have little agency to ask for help, call people out or even take a sick day.
Chef’s kiss — Tell us about one standout foodie experience you’ve had recently.
On a recent trip to London I popped into one of my favourite lunch places in Soho called Kiln and had an outrageously good bowl of crab clay pot noodle soup.
Compliments to the chef — Now’s your chance to sing the praises of a talented chef, beloved restaurant or particularly talented foodie family member.
Someone who I think is absolutely killing it in the industry is Jess Murphy of Kai in Galway. Although New Zealand born, she really embodies what is it to be a modern Irish chef, always using the absolute best in Irish produce to make dishes that excite but also which honour tradition, the purity of good ingredients and a wholly seasonal approach.
Secret ingredient — What, in your estimation, makes the perfect dining experience?
An abundance of side dishes, sauces and wine.