Chef pursues culinary dreams despite blindness

April 24, 2011 6:55:58 AM PDT
Those who have a strong passion for cooking often become chefs, and a young chef who is legally blind has earned her place at one of the most renowned restaurants in the country.

While many dream of eating at Charlie Trotters, 26-year-old Laura Martinez says she has the best of both worlds.

One year ago, Martinez started working at Charlie Trotters in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"i do everything. I help with the bread, the meat. I mean, whatever everybody needs, I do pretty much anything," she said.

Martinez's love for cooking started at home with grandma.

"I love knives. So, I was like, 'I love food. Why not compromise those two and create something awesome," Martinez said.

She became blind from cancer at age 1, but she requires very little accommodations.

"The only accommodation I had was an assistant, and she worked and read whatever the chefs wrote on the board, or describe the dishes for the demo. And then, I just had to replicate them. So, that was pretty much how I was expected to do the same thing. You know, no easy stuff," said Martinez.

"It's a lot of concentration, but I mean, a lot of people when they cook, they're also focusing on what they're doing. They're not actually looking a lot of the times at the food," she said.

Martinez trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. The Illinois Dept. of Rehabilitation Services helped with tuition and job placement.

But Laura's job at Trotters came when she was doing her internship.

"They brought him, and he came, tasted my food and offered me the job, and I was a big shot," said Martinez.

Team leader Chef Michael Rotundo says Laura is one of the hardest workers.

"Great attitude, very positive. She, you know, handles these tasks. Whatever we give her, she, you know, conquers them, and, you know, we're very impressed with her work," said Rotundo.

Despite the fact that she is blind, Laura Martinez wants people to focus on her skills.

"Because you know, my blindness doesn't help me cook, it's myself, it's my stubbornness that brings that together," the chef said.

"You know, we try to give her tasks that she hasn't done in the past before, and she'll work on that until she gets it down. And it usually takes, maybe it could be two days, could be one day, could be a week. And once she gets that task done, we'll move to something else until she masters that," Rotundo said.

This is just the beginning for Chef Laura.

"To be better and to start my business and to please people and create delicious dishes," she told ABC7 Chicago of her future plans.

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