"I'm a little bit of a different chef — for instance, I don't require anybody here to call me Chef," says Dallas Martinez, the chef at Luxe Kitchen and Lounge in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. It's his way of explaining that he does things a little differently from his toque-topped colleagues, in the same way that he'll casually expunge the word "executive" from his title.
Martinez has worked at Luxe off and on since 2009, when Marlin Kaplan still was a presence. He says he loves it — and after five years, he must — but he'll be the first to admit that he didn't plan on staying there.
"This wasn't my first choice of career; I kind of fell into it," he says. He doesn't have a formal culinary background, though he's worked in his fair share of kitchens. Rather, Martinez is a graduate of the police academy. And yet he keeps getting pulled back behind the line. "I just keep coming back."
Perhaps it's a result of his police training that he's such a team player in the kitchen.
Martinez's day starts early enough. "I come in anywhere between 9 and 10 a.m.," when he opens up the kitchen, checks incoming deliveries and starts working on menu prep and daily specials. "I don't leave until between 10 and midnight."
Like most in professional kitchens, he works as he talks, putting together a tomato conserva for the bruschetta appetizer that's so popular there. "I infuse all my oils here," he says, adding fresh herbs to the tomato mixture, which will marinate for three days before it's ready to serve.
Unlike many executive chefs, though, Martinez is on the line every single night. And that doesn't mean just supervising or schmoozing with the diners. He's slinging pans right alongside his crew, standing over the fire and getting his butt kicked on busy weekends.
"I work the line, I work grill, I work sauté," explains Martinez. When his line cooks need a little extra practice, he will even take over on garde manger (also called the salad or cold station). Many experienced cooks avoid it because of the perception that it's a rookie station, but this way everyone in the back of Luxe's house gets to learn each position. He'll even run food out to tables during busy Sunday brunch shifts.
"Every once in awhile I will expedite on a Friday night, but usually I'll just throw one of my guys on expo." In most kitchens, the expediting station is reserved for the chef-in-charge. It's the command center, where incoming tickets are read off and outgoing dishes are double-checked for accuracy. As an added bonus, it's usually far from the heat of the ovens.
"That way these guys get a full picture of both sides."
Though the chef admittedly is not often in the office, he is very much capable of doing the higher-level tasks expected of an executive chef. According to Martinez, who also did stints at local establishments such as Market in Rocky River and the Warehouse District's now-defunct Waterstreet Grill, "We do a new menu every six months."
Martinez takes credit for about 85 percent of the menu, while the remaining 15 percent comes from the restaurant's owner, Melissa Cole, Kaplan's ex-wife. Cole is "very, very, very involved," which is part of what has kept Martinez coming back these past five years.
And he's responsible for coming up with four to eight specials per night, which affords him extra creativity and offers an additional challenge.
"We're a completely, absolutely from-scratch restaurant," he says. "We bring nothing in, we make everything."
With his balance of camaraderie, efficiency, creativity and work ethic, Martinez stands to make an impact in Luxe's turnover. Just don't call him chef.