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M Bistro 

After a brush with death, a chef brings new life to a hotel kitchen

M Bistro

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 921 Canal St., 670-2828; www.ritzcarlton.com/neworleans

Last summer, New Orleans chef Matt Murphy was at 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 back home with his family of five children, which includes an infant and two-year-old quadruplets. And he has opened 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 team od doctors and health care workers 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 to support him.

  Murphy is the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, in charge of all culinary activities at the 757-room hotel. As a young man, Murphy left his native Dublin for a cooking career that took him around the world, and in the late 1990s, to a sous chef position at Commander's Palace. He joined the Ritz-Carlton staff in 2002. In December 2007, he and his wife Alicia made headlines when they became the parents of quadruplets.

  Last May, however, a seemingly minor fall spiraled radically out of control. Within a day, Murphy 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 bleak.

  Initially, he could not so much as move his fingers. Amputations were discussed to stanch the virulent infection. But Murphy and his doctors agreed on another path. It entailed 19 grueling operations and a regimen of expensive medication. All the while, the Murphy family was expecting another newborn to join their toddler quadruplets.

  "It was literally day to day in the beginning," Murphy says. "It was one operation after the next, and it was like you could see my battery running down, going from green to red, almost out, you know?"

  But the Murphys soon found they were not alone. The Ritz-Carlton organized a benefit that generated extraordinary momentum as news of the chef's struggle spread. People chipped in from all quarters, including chefs Murphy had worked with around the globe, many former colleagues from 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.

  As Murphy recovered from his ordeal, he and the hotel managers developed the plan for M Bistro. It would replace Melange as the Ritz-Carlton's flagship restaurant, and it would draw more closely from relationships in the tight-knit local food community that had done so much to help him.

  Corporate purchasing rules were relaxed or waived, allowing Murphy to deal directly with local farmers and artisanal producers too small to supply the entire hotel. His menu features original dishes and interpretations of Gulf standards using local harvests, seafood supplied by local fishermen and even cheese and butter churned out by local dairies.

  During Murphy'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 Murphy in the name of M Bistro, this grateful chef is honoring those who supported him by putting them on his menu.

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