Posted on January 30th, 2015 by Beth Finke
Laura Martinez was one of the dozens of restaurant workers who were out of work when the late chef Charlie Trotter closed Charlie Trotter’s, his five-star restaurant here in Chicago, back in 2012. Laura is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, and she’d been working at the iconic restaurant for more than two years. You’d think a graduate of a prestigious cooking school and experience in the kitchen of a five-star restaurant would have an easy time finding a new job, but not so for Laura.
You see, Laura Martinez is blind.
Laura got her job at Charlie Trotter’s after the late chef and restaurant owner visited the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. Laura had been working in the Lighthouse cafeteria kitchen at the time, and it was love at first taste. Charlie was quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune back then about Laura:
“I was watching her work and saw how she handled things with her hands, touching for temperature and doneness, and I ate her food and it was quite delicious. We got to talking and she told me about her dreams and I said, ‘What would you think about working at Charlie Trotter’s?'”
Laura was already attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago at the time. Charlie Trotter offered to help with her tuition, and Laura accepted a job at his restaurant after she graduated.
The Illinois Department of Human Services hired a personal assistant to help Laura with on-the-job training, but then staff at Charlie Trotter’s took Laura under their wing and started providing her with supportive job assistance, removing the need for the personal assistant. I had the privilege of meeting Laura in 2011, and she told me co-workers on the line at Charlie Trotter’s had become comfortable having her there prepping, cleaning and chopping.
Trotter said Martinez was an exceptional worker who brought value to his restaurant. “Besides being a great cook, she brings value through her professionalism. She is a great team member.” An executive chef at a downtown Chicago restaurant had Laura in for an interview shortly after Charlie Trotter’s restaurant closed, and from all accounts, her interview went well — she especially nailed it when asked how she handles challenges in the kitchen. That was the only interview she had, though, and she wasn’t offered a job. A story in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune explains:
Martinez – who has been blind since she was a baby – struggled to find employment after the closure of the late chef’s namesake restaurant. “Nobody wanted to hire me,” said the 30-year-old chef.
Laura did some catering work and taught cooking classes for blind teenagers at the Chicago Lighthouse, but eventually, she did what so many of us with disabilities do when no one else will hire us full-time: we start our own company. Again, from Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune:
“Of course, it’s my passion more than anything,” she said.
Martinez, who describes La Diosa’s cuisine as “contemporary French, Mexican and Italian,” always knew that she would one day open a restaurant, “But not so soon. I thought maybe it would take a few years.”
The name of Laura’s restaurant, La Diosa, means “the goddess” in Spanish, and it opened at 2308 N. Clark Street in Chicago on Friday, January 16. The place is small – 450 square feet – and is described as more of a grab-and-go than a sit-down restaurant. La Diosa does have a few tables, though, and the menu offers Mexican comfort food with “a French twist” as an homage to Charlie Trotter. Some of us here at Easter Seals Headquarters are putting together a field trip to head out there and try it for lunch sometime. Stay tuned, we’ll write reviews.