Braille Monitor                                                 April 2011

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Totally Blind Chef Makes it in Chicago

by Anita Padilla

From the Editor: The following story aired on Fox News in Chicago on Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Clearly Laura Martinez is holding her own in a career that most people, even blind people, would consider impossible for a totally blind person. She is one more example proving that we should never say no to a blind person’s dreams. Here is the story:

World travelers know Charlie Trotter's restaurant is a culinary experience like no other. What arrives on the table is virtually a work of art. It all starts in the kitchen, where chefs like Laura Martinez put their heart and soul into their work. Martinez is just like everyone else, only she is totally blind. "We're like family; no one is like, `You can't do this because you can't see,’ or anything like that. They treated me like anyone else," Martinez said.

"It is really quite fascinating to see her in action," said owner and chef Charlie Trotter. "To see her make a plate of food, you would say, `Oh my God!' you really wouldn't even dream this was made by someone who is blind."

Trotter hired Martinez a year ago while she was still in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. He was impressed with not only her cooking--but what he witnessed, a determined student who lacked sight, but exuded passion. "I was watching her cook and touch food, very delicate with sensitive, tactile awareness to what she was doing,...literally touching boiling oil to get temperatures right,” Trotter said. “She was touching things, seasoning things, even putting together a plate that included fried chicken and layered potatoes au gratin."

Martinez remembers the moment too. "He came in, he tasted my food, and he offered me a job,” she said. “I was in kind of a big shock. He was the first person to offer me an opportunity to work in a real industry like this."

Anyone who has spent time in a working kitchen knows it can be a little dangerous because of the fire and the knives you are using. Martinez is not afraid of anything in Trotter’s world-class kitchen, and in fact she likes to live life on the edge. Her hands are her eyes. And she uses them to roll dough, make pasta, place food on the fire, and chop vegetables with large knives--her favorite kitchen tool.

"I just love the danger, the way you play with them,” Martinez said. “You have to control the knife, not the knife control you. I got used to them. The more I used them, the more I liked them."

Being blind was only part of the challenge Martinez faced growing up. She comes from humble beginnings and is the youngest of five siblings. Her family thought a culinary career was impossible. Now she knows better. Martinez says being blind or challenged doesn't mean you can't envision a better life. "Stop using an excuse; whether it's your money, disability, laziness, or whatever," she said. "You can do whatever you want to do; it's up to you. No one is going to come up to you and say, `Hey you, wanna do this?' It's up to you."

For many, working alongside Chef Trotter would mean they have reached their goal. But Martinez says the next thing she wants to do is open a restaurant of her own. Hers will feature a fusion of Asian and Mexican fare. She's got a big supporter in her corner--Chef Trotter--who has no doubt she'll be great. "In the meantime she is contributing. So that's the win-win for everybody," Trotter said.

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