She might have been voted the best chef in the west, but Jess Murphy has no time for food snobbery.

“You’re not God,” she laughs. “You’re cooking somebody’s dinner.”

No chance of this New Zealander-turned-honorary Galwegian getting carried away with herself then; indeed, she admits she’s more comfortable preparing a wild rabbit stew – which is so lip-smacking that some customers demand to be texted when it’s on the menu – than at an awards ceremony.

Though since she and husband Dave opened Kai cafe and restaurant in a converted two-up, two-down on Galway’s Sea Road in 2011, those accolades have come thick and fast for their ever-evolving menu that changes daily, their passionate support of local suppliers and service, with an extra serving of soul.

And as we sit down over lunch (Irish Country Living samples the “Sea Road fishfingers”: buttermilk and panko crumb haddock with cucumber salad, wild garlic ranch and brown bread) we learn that these values are deeply rooted in Jess’s rural upbringing in North Island, New Zealand.

Her greatest influence to this day remains her grandmother, Jean, who, as a child, would tell her stories of feeding the shearers who worked on the family’s first farm, which was so remote that they only went to town for supplies every six months.

“That just made me want to cook for people and take care of people,” says Jess.

And despite briefly flirting with the idea of becoming a butcher at 16, Jess left school and washed dishes for two years until she was accepted into chef training college.

“And when I turned 20, I asked mum and dad for a suitcase, and I moved to Western Australia,” she says, laughing that as a “blinding optimist” she did not worry about not having arranged a job in advance as she had $1,500 saved up... until it started to run out, that is.

Needless to say, she soon found work – though perhaps she did not expect to meet her future husband Dave, an engineer from Carlow who was backpacking in Australia.

The pair moved to an island off the coast of Freemantle – and later, Wales – before deciding to relocate to Dublin as Jess wanted to train with a Michelin-starred chef; in this case, Kevin Thornton.

“Kevin was definitely one of my food heroes from the start,” she says of her induction into Irish cuisine. “Who else marinates pigs’ heads in poitín and turns them into a sausage?”

However, after deciding that fine dining was really not her style, she and Dave relocated to Galway – “Fiat Brava packed to the hilt”– after Jess became intrigued by a Fáilte Ireland ad, with her first job in the award-winning Ard Bia at Spanish Arch.

Further roles included working as a cheesemonger in Sheridan’s and as head chef at Bar 8. But driven by the desire to do what she wanted – be it to change the menu every single day or splurge on wild Connemara blueberries – she and Dave opened Kai, investing everything to the point that, on opening day, they had just €3.10 left in their bank account – but, eh, no till.

“But I knew once I had a kitchen, I could fight back with the food and start getting people to talk about us,” says Jess.

Indeed, hardly a wet week after opening, The McKenna Guide proclaimed that Kai boasted the “most singular, delicious cooking from one of the great talents on the west coast”, and today, the restaurant supports 24 jobs as well as suppliers including Connemara Smokehouse, Gannet Fishmongers, Castlemine Farm, Lough Boora Farm, St Tola, Sheridan’s and The Friendly Farmer.

With Jess directing proceedings in the kitchen, Dave looks after front of house. While some combinations might seem unfamiliar to some diners (for example, Brady’s dry-aged striploin with young buck butter and sprouting broccoli or Roscommon hogget with harissa and yoghurt), they don’t want anybody to feel daunted by the menu and can talk through or offer tasters if people are unsure of what to choose.

“What I love about Dave is he’s unassuming,” says Jess. “He’s the ultimate host that you want in an Irish person because he doesn’t intimidate anyone, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what an aubergine is; it’s not a big deal.”

Most recently, Jess has teamed up with Meadows & Byrne as their resident chef, sharing recipes and tips, while her next project will be a Kai cookbook, which she hopes will have a strong focus on game. In the meantime, however, Kai continues to clean up in award ceremonies, with accolades including best restaurant and chef in Connacht at the 2015 Irish Restaurant Awards.

Though there’s no room for notions on Sea Rd.

“You’re in a fancy dress and then you’re peeling spuds,” laughs Jess.

“But when you have decent spuds... it’s unreal!”

Kai, 20 Sea Rd, Galway. Tel: 091-526 003 Web: