by Wendy Lemlin
There are cooks— and then there are chefs. Creative cooks abound these days, but truly talented chefs, with a culinary education, a firm foundation in the basics, and years of executive experience in running all types of kitchens, from hotels to intimate dining rooms, are few and far between. Martin San Roman is a highly accomplished chef, in every sense of the word.
Born in Mexico City, Chef Martin graduated from L’Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, and his resume for the past 28 years includes worldwide experience and more than 250 awards from 12 different countries. Working at Fauchon and Le Meridien Hotels in Paris, the London Hilton, and the San Diego Westgate eventually led him to open two highly acclaimed restaurants in Tijuana, Mexico: Tour de France and Rincon San Roman. He starred in his own cooking show for eight years on the Televisa network, and was honored to be head chef in charge of gala dinners for the Mexican Presidency at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a member of the Mexico Culinary team in the Bocuse D’Or World Cuisine Contest (aka the “World Cup of Cooking Competitions”), Guest Chef Instructor for the European Commonwealth chefs in Brussels, Belgium, and team adviser for the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany.
Soft-spoken and serious about his work, San Roman is the antithesis of the crop of brash young cooks seen everywhere these days, populating TV food shows and blustering around in their kitchens. He’s not covered in tattoos, he doesn’t expect to be treated like a demi-god, and he isn’t out to shock the tastebuds of diners lucky enough to enjoy his fusion of classic French and modern Baja inspired cuisine. He just goes about his business, bringing out the “fine” in fine dining in his dual roles as Consulting Chef at downtown San Diego’s iconic Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant, and as Chef/Partner at the brand new La Terrasse San Roman, open Wednesdays through Sundays at the AlXimia Winery in Baja’s bucolic GuadalupeValley. And, if that weren’t enough, Martin San Roman is a Chef Consultant for Restaurante Parilla Argentina El Diego, supervising the successful opening of six restaurants throughout Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico, Consulting Chef for Hotel Boutique Casa Fernanda in Tepotzlan, Mexico and has created a Baja menu for several San Diego area Whole Foods Market in-store restaurants. Oh, and then there’s his line of Tequila Martin San Roman, and a new radio show, “Aromas y Sabores” starting this fall on ESPN Deportes, the Spanish language sports channel for Hispanic and Latino Americans.
So, how does he manage to accomplish all that he does, and still have time for his wife and four children, i.e., a “life” outside of work?
“I’m very organized,” he laughs. “Seriously, though,” he continues, “you have to be good with your family and maintain that balance between home life and work life, and make that balance a priority. Otherwise, one or the other will fail.”
San Roman is also quick to point out that, “A chef has to be multi-dimensional. Being a ‘chef’, as opposed to a cook, is not just about preparing food. You have to have a business sense, as well, and know how to make money for the restaurant while providing your customers with an outstanding dining experience. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that to be successful for the long term, you must give excellent quality, great service, and fair price, and if any of those three are missing, you won’t succeed for long after all the initial excitement has died down.”
Known for adapting French techniques to local ingredients, Chef Martin brings his classic style to Dobson’s, with dishes such as Duck L’Orange and Mussel Bisque En Croute.
At his Baja restaurant, La Terrasse San Roman, the more casual setting melds with a French Provencale influenced menu, with items such as Roasted French Vegetable and Parmesan Cheese Tart or Wood Fired Shrimp Scampi with Spanish Sausages, Vegetables and Red Wine Sauce, allcreated to complement the AlXimia wines.
On Saturday, October 18, Chef Martin will be competing in one of three culinary battles, as part of Tijuana Innovadora 2014, a biennial multi-day innovation confererence. Leading chefs from San DiegoCounty and Baja California will go toque-to-toque in teams of four chefs each, in an Iron Chef-style contest with a “food without borders” motif. Having enjoyed Martin San Roman’ s classic/modern fusion cuisine since I first met him five years ago, I predict a landslide victory for whichever team he ends up on! (To buy tickets and find complete info, click here. Low cost transportation from San Diego will be available.)