We were very happy to speak with Chef Martin Murphy of Ariana’s Restaurant in Orford, New Hampshire. Ariana’s is one of the region’s premier restaurants offering delicious meals made from fresh, seasonal high quality ingredients. The setting is simultaneously casual and elegant and the menu offers a variety of foods to fit every palate. In addition, Ariana’s offers the extremely popular Cooking Classes with Chef Martin and the equally popular Wine Dinners with Chef Martin. Visit them at www.arianasrestaurant.com or call them at (603) 353-4405.
Q. Is your background in restaurants? How did you come to own a restaurant in Orford?
A. Well, I have over 30 years in the Food Service industry. I am basically self-taught but have worked for many great chefs and have attended programs including the School for American Chefs in California and being asked to present a dinner at the famous James Beard House in New York City. I actually studied Geology at the University of Southern Maine and originally wanted to get involved in alternative sources of energy. At that time, I was told that there were not a lot of opportunities and I could get a job with the Department of Defense or one of the oil companies which really didn’t appeal to me. It was at that time that I started working as a line cook at the Black Point Inn in Maine.
From there, I traveled around the country, working in the industry as a sous chef. At that time, I worked in Florida, Wyoming, Montana and California. I then took a position on Cape Cod and met my wife there. I lived in Boston for a while and then on Cape Cod for a number of years, working in several fine dining restaurants as chef. Then, in the 1990’s, during the recession, I moved to Florida for opportunities. I was a partner for a time in a gourmet food store similar to Dean & Deluca. I then ran a Culinary Center in Florida that was a partnership between Robb & Stucky and Kitchen Aid, teaching classes and hosting wine dinners and private events. We eventually decided to sell our house and return to New England. My wife’s family had retired to this area and we loved the small town feel. We moved up here but I still had a job in Florida and commuted between Manchester, New Hampshire to Fort Myers, Florida for a time.
My biggest challenge here was that I was an unknown entity. I interviewed with a number of restaurants and finally hooked up with Stella’s in Lyme, New Hampshire. I worked with the owners to develop the menu and open the restaurant. I then returned to Florida to run the Culinary Center for a final season. When I returned, I took a position as chef at the Canoe Club in Hanover. While there, we purchased cheese and butter from Bunten Farm. One day I happened to walk into this restaurant, which was then Bunten Farmhouse Kitchen, to pick up cheese. The owners at the time, Bruce and Chris, said we really need someone like you to take the place over. It was fate! We signed a lease on July 15, 2011 and opened on August 3, 2011.
Q. I have heard that the restaurant is named after your daughter. Does she work there? How about the rest of your family?
A. Ariana is my daughter and the restaurant is named after her. At the time, everyone said I should call it Chef Martin’s. I went to Concord to apply for that DBA. I was told there was already a Chef Martin Catering in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and the name was too similar. After that, I decided to call it Ariana’s. The name has a certain appeal to it. Also, it is an old Celtic tradition to name things after your family for good luck.
Ariana is not working at the restaurant right now, although she did during high school. She is currently attending college in Washington, DC. My son, Ryan, does work here. Ryan is a writer and is very creative. He is also really great with customer relations at the restaurant. My wife, Nancy, was more support for the first few years. She worked at Rivendell Academy until the kids graduated. This year, she has joined us full time. My sous chef, Maggie, has been with me since day one. She also worked with me when we opened up Stella’s. We also have had other great employees over the years as well as some students who have worked for us and come back in the summer and over vacations. We have been very lucky to have great employees. Owners sometimes don’t understand how costly it is to get new employees and have a constant turnover. Customers are most important but employees are second.
Q. What is your favorite food to cook and/or eat?
A. To me, being a chef is such craftsmanship. There is an art form but we are mostly craftsmen. I really enjoy seafood because you can be very diverse. You can go so many ways and directions. Fresh fish is so much fun to work with and so beautiful. I also enjoy braising and slow cooking. I love when I create something, like transforming a piece of chuck into something different and delicious. Finally, I love making sauces. I never get bored making stocks and sauces. It is frustrating when I go out to eat because very few people put sauce on a plate!
Q. How important is local and sustainable food to your business?
A. I really care about local and sustainable food. Although we cannot be 100% local, especially this time of year, we are about 80-90% local in the summer months. I also make sure my proteins are sustainably raised. We have our own beautiful garden at the restaurant and pick some of our food from it. I love to show people the diversity of things that grow here. The soil here is some of the richest in New England.
Q. What surprises people about your restaurant?
A. When we read reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor, we are sometimes referred to as a “diamond in the rough.” Others have said it looks like a chicken coop from the outside, but they are pleasantly surprised when they come in. People also view us as being kind of in the middle of nowhere and don’t always expect much. They sometimes come in with lower expectations and we exceed their expectations. The key is quality ingredients. Everything is fresh. We focus on balance.