You might remember my post about Laura Martinez, a blind woman who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and worked at Charlie Trotter’s here in Chicago until the five-star restaurant closed in 2012. After two frustrating years trying to persuade another restaurant to hire her, Laura has opened La Diosa, her own restaurant at 2308 N. Clark in Chicago. I ate there for the first time last Thursday. It. Is. Fantastic.
The food was so delicious, and the staff (Laura and her husband Mauri) so charming that I returned there for lunch Monday, and I’m having lunch there again today, too! Joan Stinton, a writer in one of the memoir classes I lead, took a CTA bus to La Diosa with Whitney and me on our inaugural visit last week, and she generously agreed to write a guest post about our experience.
Everything in its place
by Joan Stinton
She is adorable in her oversized toque and dark glasses. She wears the traditional white, double-breasted jacket and dark trousers of a chef. Her hand rests gently on the arm of her husband, Mauri. This is Laura Martinez, a graduate of the Cordon Bleu, a survivor of Charlie Trotter’s kitchen, and now, the owner of a tiny restaurant in a vintage building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Laura, blind since birth, has always wanted to cook. It sounds kind of crazy at first: sharp knives. Hot stoves. The kitchen can be a very dangerous place even for a sighted person.
But if you think about it, it makes sense. Sound. Touch. Taste. Smell. These other senses serve anyone well in a kitchen environment. In addition, a professional kitchen is a very organized place. “Mise en place,” the rigor of “everything in its place,” prevails. Chefs set up their work stations with meticulous precision. Knives, plates, spices, condiments: always in the same order, in the same place, every day. A chef is disciplined enough to prepare an order blindfolded. In a way, La Diosa is a perfect environment for Laura.
I got to meet this chef and her husband Mauri last week at their cozy restaurant. La Diosa is about two tables wide and four tables deep, and the menu has traditional Hispanic dishes and, true to her time with Charlie Trotter’s, exotic fish specials.
But this was not the first time I’d crossed paths with Laura.
After my husband Brian retired a few years ago, he became quite a foodie. When a local charity auction offered “A Day in Charlie Trotter’s Kitchen,” I saw an opportunity to give him something he would really enjoy. I won the bid. Brian would be in the kitchen during an actual restaurant shift. I made a dinner reservation with a few friends for that night so we could eat with Brian and hear all about his big day.
Brian was quite giddy when he sat down with us for dinner and recapped his afternoon. One detail stood out for him. At one point amid all the activity, he heard the words, “SHARPS, SHARPS” behind him. He turned and saw a petite, blind chef, arms stretched forward, holding knives pointed downward, walking confidently through the kitchen. The sort of image that sticks with you, I guess! That woman was Laura Martinez, of course. Brian said it would be easy to assume that this blind chef had an insurmountable obstacle, but she was clearly right at home in Charlie Trotter’s kitchen.
And so it is at La Diosa. Laura is right where she belongs—mise en place, everything in its place.
Beth here. I’m heading back to La Diosa one evening next week with my husband Mike and some other friends. Stay tuned to the blog for a review of their dinner menu.