She does seem out of place in this palace of opulence and order. After all, chef Patrick O’Connell’s well-documented perfectionism and exacting taste have made the inn a culinary destination for more than three decades. But now in her second growing season as the inn’s first farmer-in-residence, Murphy, 32, is the yin to O’Connell’s yang. His world is elbow-deep in preparation, control and precision, while hers is knee-high in rain, shine and cucumber beetles.
In the dining room, their worlds happily collide: on a plate of mild shishito peppers eaten with your fingers like candy — the skin smoky and blistered black after time in a scorching hot pan, and in the cranberry-size currant tomatoes from Murphy’s hanging baskets in the garden that O’Connell scatters like summer rubies around a plated soft-shell crab.
When the inn opened in 1978 and few major food-service companies would deliver all the way out to little Washington, the chef turned to area farms to fill his cupboards and enable his cooking philosophy, which favors seasonality. Over the years, sourcing locally eventually led to O’Connell’s desire to grow on-site.
With the hiring of Murphy in January 2011, he has taken his vision to the next level. What began as a small garden adjacent to the kitchen has matured into two gardens over a half-acre, an orchard of dwarf French sour cherry trees, an apiary of honeybees, more than a dozen Rhode Island Red chickens and a flock of sheep (just decorative, a visitor is told). The farmer earns a salary comparable to that of a sous-chef at the inn. She rents an apartment on the property with her dog, Blue, a Catahoula leopard and blue heeler mix who heads up critter control and has been with Murphy since she started her agrarian career 10 years ago.
“I chose him because as soon as they took him for a walk outside of the shelter he rolled in the mud,” she says. “I love dirt, too, and we have been a good pair ever since.”
A restaurant with its own garden is hardly a novel idea. For years now chefs in the Washington area have tapped into the convenience and cost savings that growing their own can provide. Before coming to the inn, Murphy worked at Ayrshire Farm in nearby Upperville, which supplies ingredients to its restaurant, Hunter’s Head Tavern, in addition to other ventures. The Local Food Project at the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton has tended a kitchen garden on-site since 1998. In 2010, Michael Babin, co-owner of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, founded the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Alexandria, which in addition to community outreach programs, sells approximately 25 percent of its harvest to NRG’s restaurants.