Seaside – Jan/Feb/March 2018
Olympia – Jan/Feb 2018

Chef Neil Murphy, Merriman’s, Waimea, Hawaii

Chef Neil Murphy using tongs to pick up food from dish

Chef Neil Murphy

Neil Murphy blends classical French cooking  with the freshest local produce and artesian food products from Hawaii to produce some truly amazing dishes. Before rediscovering the aloha spirit on the islands, Neil spent 23 years working in some of the finest restaurants in New York, including the Park Avenue Cafe.

Neil began his food career literally underwater as a cook on a U.S. Naval submarine. After his tour, he enrolled in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America where he was exposed to foods of the world and honed his cooking techniques.

In New York, Neil worked at the some of the best foodie haunts — the River Cafe, Aureole, La Cote Basque, Synmmphony Cafe, and finally at Park Avenue Cafe. Four years ago, tired of the hustle of the big city, Neil asked himself where he was last happy. It was when he was in Hawaii. He quit his job, packed his bag, and the rest is culinary history for the islands.

At Merriman’s Waimea, a restaurant that features Hawaiian regional cuisine, Chef Neil is able to unleash his creativity on the best local ingredients. “Farmers bring me the best they have,” he says. “They show up to my door with four pounds of produce, picked that morning, or fish right off the boat.”

He uses ingredients like beef from the Big Island’s Parker Ranch, Kalua Ranch Lamb, and Big Island Goat Cheese. “The ingredients are so incredible, I don’t like to do too much to them,” he says. “I like to let them take center stage.”

His cooking is fresh and richly flavored. We sampled his Filet Mignon with carmelized onions cooked in bone marrow; Kaua Lamb Shoulder with Savoy Cabbage and Coffee BBQ Sauce, Aloha Waimea Cowboy Chili with tenderloin beef and Portugese Chili, and his Hearts of Palm Puree with Lemon Essence (move over mashed potatoes!). Each dish made us groan and want more.

In his spare time, Neil catches the waves on his surfboard and he recently got engaged. Is he happy in Hawaii? Yes, indeed. the man has re-discovered his aloha spirit. When RFT met up with him recently at a Hawaiian cooking demonstration, it was the first time he’d left the islands since his arrival– and we noticed that he couldn’t stop smiling.

Next time you visit the Big Island, visit Chef Murphy at Merriman’s Waimea

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Bobbie Hasselbring

RFT founder and the website's former editor-in-chief, Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. She's been an award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook.