The executive chef/partner gives us a peek into the crossroads of culinary fashion.
With almost 20 years of experience and training from three-star Michelin restaurant Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, Chef Anthony Martin moved to Chicago on September 1, 2008. That same year, within 30 days of taking over Tru, he “got rid of every item on the menu.” Diners and critics alike have taken to his flair, and he was named Chicago Tribune Chef of the Year in 2011.
Chef Martin’s culinary and fashion journeys are intertwined. “It’s more like a lifestyle,” he explains. “You’ll see pops of color in the food and what I wear.” He then smiles as he confesses that incorporating art into the plating of his dishes is the most fun aspect of his job. He brings creativity to a whole new stratosphere and draws inspiration from trying to bring the star of the dish back to its natural surrounding. “We try to take it to the extreme,” he explains. “If we’re using salmon, where did the salmon come from? Can we recreate a small, elegant river scene? The artistic side is based on the ingredients, so everything works together in harmony.”
Three words that describe Chef Martin’s personal style are versatile, polished and comfortable. “I want to be noticed, but I don’t want to be the guy wearing the neon green suit,” he jokes. “I add personal touches. If I had destroyed jeans on, over one of the holes there’d be a bandana patch that my dad passed down. If there’s a custom suit, I’ll wear a lapel pin that I’ve made myself.”
Chef Martin considers himself lucky to work just steps away from some of the best stores in the country. He especially loves Frederick Lynn (9 East Huron Street). “When Aaron [the owner] creates something, it’s completely custom,” he explains. “His attention to detail and quality are among the highest I have ever seen.” Chef Martin also loves Cole Haan (673 North Michigan Avenue): “They call me when a new release is coming out and hold my size. All of their shoes are extremely versatile with some sort of unique touch, which matches my personal style.”
Back on the food front, Chef Martin set out to concoct something that had never been done before…and he succeeded. For example, his Levitation dish combines art and science. Take his creative mind, add some magnets and a little liquid nitrogen, and you get a plate that actually floats. And the design elements don’t stop there.
Chef Martin also collaborates with local artist, Ashley Linn, to design the plateware for his elaborate dishes. “I have a number of very ‘different’ ideas that are hard to get people to visualize. I explained to Ashley that I wanted something very organic that looked nothing like plateware. I had a picture of a bunch of water droplets on a leaf and that was the inspiration. I didn’t give her very many details past that. All I can say is that she took my idea and ran with it. There have been only a handful of times that someone has presented me with something that exceeded my expectations. And with Ashley that’s becoming the norm.”
Yet, most people don’t know that Chef Martin has two very different sides. “I’m very serious most of the time at work. But I also love to have fun and spend time with friends. My wife usually has to rein me in a bit and tell me to chill out. One time, some of the guys in the kitchen showed me the ‘Harlem Shake’ video craze on YouTube. My first thought was, ‘We can do much better.’ Most people were very surprised to see me dancing and having fun in a full costume that I personally made. It was a blast!”
In the future, Chef Martin hopes to one day collaborate on a professional level with his wife, Elena Vazquez. She owns Boutique Bites, a successful local catering company that recently expanded into a 10,000-square-foot space, which features its own private event space. When pressed for specifics on a collaboration, he concedes, “The sky’s the limit.”
Visit Tru at 676 North St. Clair Street or www.trurestaurant.com. | Main image: Natalie Probst Photograph