Chef José Martinez could care less about receiving coveted cooking awards. He sits in his small white-curtained restaurant, Maison Blanche, on Longboat Key, where he’s discussing the upcoming Village de Chefs festival, coming Oct. 8 and 9, to Sarasota. It’s an event he spearheaded.
Asked about the Michelin star, the highest cooking honor he received in France, Martinez shrugs. He muses a nonchalant, “Ehhh,” in regard to having the highest Zagat ratings in Sarasota. And, before he’s asked about the nomination for the James Beard Award of Best Chef South in 2010, he relays a story about a food writer who called him to ask how the nomination felt.
“I upset him because I didn’t know what was a James Beard Award,” Martinez says in mostly perfect English cloaked in a thick French accent. He smiles and shrugs again. He knows what it is now, of course, but he still doesn’t pay any mind to having been nominated.
It’s not that Martinez doesn’t care about the designations he has received; he’s just not consumed by press or publicity — even the signage deeming the easy-to-miss establishment simply reads, “Restaurant.” Martinez finds value in pleasing patrons with exceptional culinary explorations. Period.
Here’s the irony: It was a journalist’s interview that inspired the nonprofit association he co-founded, Village de Chefs. The association is an exclusive group of French chefs who have moved from France to five continents around the world and like to share their culinary expertise and adventures. And, au contraire, Martinez is happy to publicize the fact that the chefs from this association are coming to Sarasota to share their knowledge with our community and budding chefs.
Village de Chefs came to be when Parisian food writer Marie Anne Page called her friend, Martinez, in 2006. She wanted to write a magazine article about him, but he didn’t think there was any sense in doing so, because he had moved in 2002 from France to Longboat Key.
“I say, ‘Maybe it’s a good idea to do something online about French chefs outside of France,’” Martinez says. Page thought it was a great idea, too, and knew of another great French chef who had moved to Vietnam, Didier Corlou.
Both chefs had explored the cuisines of their new countries and combined them with French cuisine and techniques. For instance, Martinez serves American-braised short ribs with French potatoes. The association would allow these chefs to share their knowledge, bring in new ideas and share them with the rest of the world. Since that first year, they have added chefs with the same mentality. The group has grown to include 35 French chefs spanning five continents.
The group, or “the Villagers,” as they refer to themselves, launched their first guidebook in January, which features each chef, his current town, a little about each town and a recipe. Four of the members launched the book with a dinner at Maison Blanche and a breakfast videoconference with the rest of the chefs.
The group has met annually in Paris to partner with culinary schools and spread its knowledge to the future chefs of the world. But Martinez thought it might get staid to always meet in Paris, and that they should spread their culinary wealth to other locations — and why not start with one founder’s current hometown during the perfect time of year to visit?
Meeting with the students is the most important part of why the group gets together; the Villagers hope to inspire students to work to the highest culinary standards. Martinez explains that he hopes to open students’ minds to understanding that culinary school will teach the important basics — “the 10%.” But it’s when working in the field and climbing the culinary ladder that you learn the other 90%. He wants them to be able to ask questions. And these famed chefs from around the globe will share the table with them — they’re all on one level, Michelin stars and James Beard nominations aside.
“I think it’s important for the (culinary) field and its evolution,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Discovery and Tasting Journey
Four chef-led culinary and chocolate workshops, demonstration and tastings: Vietnamese spices, Caribbean cuisine, Belgian chocolates and Australian and Asian savors
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9
Where: MTI Main Campus, 6305 State Road 70 E., Bradenton.
Info: For reservations and more information, call 751-7900, Ext. 1086.
Village de Chefs Food and Wine Fest
Sample 15 food and wine pairings prepared by the Villagers, assisted by MTI’s culinary art students.
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9
Where: Powel Crosley Estate, 8374 N. Tamiami Trail
Info: Visit villagedechefs.bpt.me/ for tickets.