Chattin' with Chef Louis By Deb Glasser, MS, RD
Executive Sous Chef Louis Martinez spent hours upon hours watching Frugal Gourmet as a kid and running to his local library to scour cook books searching for recipes he could handle at age 8. A couple of decades later, he’s knee deep in creating and developing recipes for SNP and was instrumental in the production of SNP’s soon-to-be-released cookbook “A Chef Walks into A Cafeteria…”.
I had an opportunity to tear him away from his kitchen duties and interview him. He’s a surprising person and funny.
Deb Glasser: Where’d you get your start?
Louis Martinez: My mom’s kitchen and I loved Frugal Gourmet. I’d try out simple recipes I learned from watching the show. Or I’d go to the library. I spent a lot of time at the library with my head in cookbooks looking for recipes that weren’t too complicated that I could make at home.
DG: So, you’d cook with your mom and geek out on food TV and cookbooks? Sounds fun. And then where to?
LM: I finished high school and joined the Marines, Infantry for 4 years.
DG: You’ve got that intimidating thing down. Where to after the Military?
LM: Then I get out and decide to go to culinary school at the Art Institute. I started doing pastry and actually envisioned making wedding cakes because it was easy and profitable but once I got my first job…that just changed.
DG: How? Why?
LM: Basically, the Executive Chef said, “pastry isn’t for tough guys, you gotta get to the savory side”. So, I went to work for hotels…on the savory side. I learned more working than I did in school but I did those simultaneously. From 2005 to 2011 I worked for The Standard, The Roosevelt, Chateau Marmont, and the Beverly Hilton (among others).
DG: How did you get to SNP after working in hotels?
LM: I took a year off to be with my newborn son and when it was time to go back to work, I saw an ad on Craigslist, the position was close by and I was curious. I met with Brandon and Emily and there was a connection.
DG: You’ve worked your way up?
LM: I was a Chef Manager at a school, then went to Santa Monica Boulevard Charter for a few years and then helped open the Bell Gardens corporate office and kitchen. My big promotion (to Executive Sous Chef) came over the summer.
DG: What was the most challenging part of moving to Bell Gardens?
LM: BG transition was tough, steep learning curve, trying to establish a routine without enough time to plan due to construction delays. Especially with new staff, everyone was on a learning curve. Everybody was learning new routes, new recipes.
DG: You looked pretty worn out last Fall.
LM: A lot of early mornings, 3am, even some 24-hour days.
DG: But clearly it got better?
LM: Routine became easier, we established a system and the operation got smoother.
DG: Tell me something fun about your job.
LM: The cookbook was exciting, I liked developing recipes on a smaller scale since we’ve been cooking for thousands. And I love seeing the kids eat, especially the APT (Alphabet Produce Train), they taste different veggies and like, no love them.
DG: What’s your favorite recipe in the cookbook?
LM: Strawberry Tomatillo Salsa is my favorite, because it’s unexpected.
DG: For the record, I drink your strawberry salsa. It’s hands down my favorite food you make. So, what’s the hardest part of your job?
LM: The monotony of the work. Kids want specific food and the guidelines can seem restrictive at times. It’s tough getting the kids to eat the food, especially the veggies. Kids are our toughest critics.
DG: Tell me about it.
LM: My son is my guinea pig, if he eats it, chances are thousands of students will see it on their trays in the weeks and months to come.
DG: Does your son spend time with you in the kitchen?
LM: Absolutely. He’s learning to chop right now. I’m teaching him proper knife skills.
DG: What’s your favorite food to cook for your family?
LM: Our favorite cuisine at home is California. We have the best produce and variety and it’s local and fresh, the possibilities are endless.
DG: What’s your favorite food to eat?
LM: Steak: rib eye, black and blue and a potato. And I like street tacos too.
DG: What do you like to do when you’re not in the kitchen?
LM: I read history, science, and molecular gastronomy books and love to play baseball with my son.
DG: Thanks for hangin’ and Happy Veterans Day, thank you for your service Chef.
To all the Veterans, thank you for your service. At SNP, we truly value our Veteran employees.