How Breda Murphy became a part of Lancashire foodie culture
PUBLISHED: 10:35 17 July 2017
The Ribble Valley is better off for having the culinary influence of Breda Murphy. Emma Mayoh reports.
There aren’t many people who would admit to putting a bar in their daughter’s bedroom. But for Breda Murphy-Purves, the talented cook behind the hugely successful Food by Breda Murphy in Whalley, it is something she is proud of. But before anyone scrabbles for a number for social services, the bar in the newly-renovated restaurant in the Ribble Valley town was built in her former family home where she lived with husband, Guy and their children, Sorcha, ten, Mairead, nine, and six-year-old twins George and Orlaith. The bar was once a bedroom.
‘It’s strange to think now,’ admitted Breda, who reopened her extended and newly renovated restaurant, deli and bar just a few weeks ago. ‘It’s hard to think we all used to fit in here. The kitchen for the private dining area was our home kitchen. There have certainly been some changes.’
Breda, born in County Carlow in Ireland, grew up on a small farm with four siblings. Breda loved to help her mother Sally – a professional cook – prepare fresh, homemade dishes. Immersed in the culinary world from a young age, Breda learned more than most about the art of creating great food, and its journey from field to fork.
Following school, Breda took a food and beverage management course, before successfully applying to study at the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork. The school teaches both classical and contemporary cooking from all over the world, and her studies there proved to be a life-changing experience for Breda. The initial 12-week intensive course, where she met culinary heavyweights including Madhur Jaffrey and Sophie Grigson, led to a three-year stint teaching at the school.
Breda first came to the UK in 1995 working in some of London’s top kitchens. But it was when a former lecturer recommended her for a job at the Inn at Whitewell, a beautiful inn in the remote Lancashire countryside, she made the move up north.
‘I didn’t know what I had let myself in for,’ remembered Breda. ‘I loved the place, it was spectacular. But it was so isolated. I had no car and even Clitheroe felt like such a long way away.’
But it was a good move for the talented cook. Within six weeks of entering the inn’s kitchens she was promoted to head chef. The Inn gained several awards, including Hardens Top UK Restaurant, Les Routiers Hotel of the Year, Egon Ronay Pub of the Year, and AA Four Stars. In 2001 Breda took the plunge and set up her own catering business, also producing preserves for Booths supermarket chain before putting down roots in the Ribble Valley and opening up her Whalley business in 2006 – Sorcha was just two weeks old. Gareth Bevan, who she had worked with at Whitewell, is her head chef and has worked for the food business since day one.
The business was launched long before the likes of the Ribble Valley Food Trail put the area on the culinary map. And she has been flying the flag for Lancashire produce since those first days. It didn’t take long for the awards to start coming at Food by Breda Murphy either, with accolades from The Michelin Guide, Hardens, The Good Food Guide and a Lancashire Life Food and Drink Award for Restaurant of the Year.
Now, she has taken the next step to extend the restaurant and deli as well as now opening on some evenings. The extension has doubled the size of the restaurant as well as providing a new kitchen specifically for the delicatessen and outside catering, a glazed floor dining area for 20 guests, a luxurious private dining area as well as Reilly’s Bar which celebrates Breda’s heritage with Irish spirits on the menu. A standalone delicatessen, with a separate street level entrance, is run by Breda’s sister, Theresa.
‘Our reputation has been built on our consistent levels of high quality food and service,’ she said. ‘The Ribble Valley is blessed with a plethora of great restaurants so it is important we keep investing and innovating.
‘We are delighted to have completed the project and look forward to welcoming our loyal followers. This is an exciting new chapter in our story.’
Breda has already set her sights on her next venture – her own cookery school at Thorneyholme Hall in Dunsop Bridge. The new facility, set to open next year, will echo some of the influence and knowledge she gained at Ballymaloe Cookery School with an aim to pass on simple, but all important, principles of cookery.
‘It’s something I’m very excited about,’ said Breda. ‘And it’s something I’m looking forward to. After my mother, Ballymaloe was the place I learned most of my stuff. I would love for people to have a slice of what I experienced.
‘If I can teach people to cook and they can take away some of the tricks I’ll be happy. I want to teach the building blocks and foundations of cookery. It’s so important.
‘I love being here in the Ribble Valley. I always thought I would go back home but I have a family here now. This, here, is as close to home as it gets. I’ve been so fortunate to have people’s support and build my own little family here in the business too.’