Jess Murphy was always going to get there.
We knew she was going to get there the very first time we met her, and we knew for a simple reason: she reminded us instantly of Bernadette O'Shea, the creator of Sligo's greatest-ever restaurant, Truffles, and also of Maura Foley of Kenmare, and also Georgina O'Sullivan of The Ballymore Inn.
Ms Murphy, like Ms O'Shea, Mrs Foley and Mrs O'Sullivan is quietly bolshie, brash, and brilliant. She is single-minded to an almost unimaginable degree. And today, with her cooking in Kai, we can say that she’s arrived. She is in that zone where her creativity is unrestrained and is wildly exciting, where all the lessons of her life and work and travels have been assimilated into a cuisine that is hers, and hers alone.
She is pushing the envelope, and not just with ideas and flavours, but with presentation also, for her plates have a painterly quality that dazzles the eye even before the flavours zonk you. There is nothing she can’t cook to its zenith of flavour and texture, no ingredient that doesn’t make her mind race with a furious creativity - Silke’s halloumi; goat’s curd; Brady’s striploin; sea buckthorn and apple sea beet hogget chops; her own labneh with dukkah; West coast crab with Green Goddess dressing. The food in Kai is not just elemental, it is instinctual, it broaches no argument in its total confidence and philosophical sureness. It is a thrill, a Kandinsky riot of colours, a Frida Kahlo weave of unlikely flowers and dried fruits, a conception of how everything can be art. That’s what it is, art spun from beautiful ingredients. She was always going to get there.