On the Line / Andrew Murtha
Meet the general manager, partner, and executive chef at Hamburg Hospitality Group
Photo by kc kratt
His favorite animal is the liger. He’s in not one, not two, but three fantasy football leagues. He ties his shoes in bunny ears and loves to fish—though he rarely has time. His name is Andrew Murtha, and his personality shines both behind the stove, and at the table. The general manager, partner, and executive chef at Hamburg Hospitality Group hates the phrase “livin’ the dream,” but with his pair of restaurants in the Southtowns earning rave reviews, he must be feeling it. The mostly self-taught culinarian learned at the elbows of Stephen Wambach and Aksel Theilkul before working as executive chef at Buffalo fine-dining mainstay Tempo and Brick Oven Bistro in South Buffalo.
Today, Murtha brings his mix of upscale flair and playful cuisine to Carte Blanche and JuiCy Burger. The fine dining and fast casual spots, respectively, let him stretch his inventive muscle while satisfying a broad range of clientele with fresh, often locally sourced, carefully crafted dishes that express his commitment to food, flavor, and a sense of fun.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?
I would be a Walmart greeter, and creep everyone out. Everyone would have to answer three questions before they pass.
Ingredient you’ll never tire of and why:
Eggs. They are so versatile. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life working with eggs and never fully understand their potential.
What dish most evokes strong memories for you? Why?
Pot pie. We had chickens growing up, and, once in a great while, when she wasn’t working two nursing jobs, Mom would make pot pies. She’s a saint.
The one culinary trend you wish would die:
Microgreens. It’s time to move on, and find new ways to make our food look beautiful. Microgreens are the new chopped parsley. Radishes, too.
Trend, technique, or ingredient you are most excited about right now:
Fermentation. The process changes and enhances flavor so much. The technique is so basic in its principles. It just makes so much sense.
Is there anything you cannot bring yourself to eat?
Broccoli. It just tastes like farts to me.
Chef whose style you really appreciate:
Marc Vetri at Vetri Ristorante. His simple approach to food leaves him with nowhere to hide behind garnishes or frills on the plate. He puts himself and his food out there. It’s very difficult to cook with that level of simplicity.
Favorite after-work beverage:
Least favorite request from the dining room:
Entrée-sized salads. There’s a whole world of vegetables out there to cook with.
Food no chef should love, but you do anyway:
General Tso’s Chicken. I eat it out of a bowl with a huge spoon and stuff the chicken inside the egg rolls. It’s a little messy, but I commit to the challenge and come out victorious.
Other than your own restaurant, what’s the first place you’d take an out-of-towner?
It’s a tie: Nine-Eleven Tavern and Imperial Pizza.
The most exciting thing about Buffalo’s restaurant scene is:
People underestimate our city, but there are some really gifted chefs here. I feel like we are on the verge of getting national attention. I also feel like it’s overdue.
If you were to eat at Carte Blanche or JuiCy Burger as a guest, what would you order and why?
JuiCy is a slam dunk. Get the Chuck Norris Roundhouse, and take it to the face.
Carte Blanche is so seasonally driven, and changes so much, but the mushroom toast will always be on the menu. It features Flat 12 mushrooms, which are available all year, as is the First Light goat cheese and the boule from Butter Block.
What do you wish people knew about food, restaurants, you, or your approach?
I just have such a long way to go. The more I learn, the more I realize that I know nothing. I am trying to get my food closer to nature and leave the culinary scene better than I found it.
Lizz Schumer teaches in the Canisus College Journalism Department and contributes to a number of publications.