By: Claudia Repsold
I have to admit that when I scheduled an interview with the “Million Dollar Chef” at his restaurant in Miami, I expected to meet an aloof chef demanding perfection from everyone around him. Well, I was so wrong. Chef Walter Martino is the opposite. He is a cheerful Italian that makes you feel extremely welcoming in his concept restaurant Kaori.
Dressed with a warm smile and a pair of jeans, Martino explains that creativity rather than money is his fuel: “I´m an artist. I love to create. Is not just about the food but to create a whole new dining experience”. The moment you step inside the Kaori, you will understand what he means about be an artist.
Projections of imagens onto the blank white walls makes you feel like you are inside an abstract video art installation. Kaori aligns with a new kind of concept restaurants like Ibiza’s Sublimotion that became famous for creating what they called a “gastro sensory adventure”.
Chef Martino is indeed a multifaceted artist interested in designing pieces that dialogue with each other to transform a gastronomic experience into an interactive art that stimulates all your senses. “I chose the imagens, lighting, music, everything to create this first 360-degree cinematography dining atmosphere in Miami”, he explains.
Million Dollar Chef
Chef Martino earned the title of the “Million Dollar Chef” after he created the most expensive plate in the world made of solid gold and 84 diamonds, and sold to an Arabian royalty for the one million euros in 2013. “I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes and create something based in their needs, not mine. An Arabian Prince and his wife have different needs and expectation than we do. I designed the plate and the dining experience based on what they wanted”, Martino said.
Certainly, the luxurious feast served in a private yacht in Ibiza is a long way from his simple childhood in Genoa. I asked Chef Martino who inspired him to cook although I always thought the Italians have the gastronomy imprinted in their DNA. “I would say my mom inspired me to cook but in a bad way. She hated to cook. So, to survive I had to fend for myself. At the age of 7 I made my first fritelle”.
By the time Martino headed to culinary school in Millan, he already knew his ways around the kitchen. The city known as the fashion capital of the world ignited in Chef Martino the passion to create elaborated dishes. “Hit me like a virus. I just love the feeling of creating something out of nothing that people will enjoy and will make them happy”.
From Millan, he went to Ibiza to create a name for himself as a luxurious private chef, however, is in Miami that he chose to open his first concept restaurant. “My vision is international; Miami is more international than Ibiza, which is a very seasonal city. Here there is more opportunities, I’m planning to open a franchise in other cities”, Chef Martino tells while he lays down his other projects. “I´m also working with the director Luis Mandoki as a consult in a movie about a chef’s life and I´m also co-designing with the artist Lilliana Botero another very expensive plate”.
Sipping a prosecco, Chef Martino concludes with a smile: “enough of talking. Now, you will have to eat and let the food speaks for me“. The language used is an intriguing fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisines that combines very distinct cultures in luscious dishes. Chef Martino Italian version of the rolls without rice or seaweed, are delightful. I tried the Iberico roll ($24), topped with burrata, the Yellow Fin Tuna ($24) and the Norwegian Salmon ($24) both wrapped in rice paper and lettuce with a touch of Kaori’s homemade sauce, the dish was presented a three shape porcelain plate designed by chef Martino, actually he design all the serving plates. The veggie Tempura that came in a shoe shape porcelain plate was tasty and crunchy. As a sweet tooth, I saved some room for desert; the chef served his version of the Italians favorites, a very creamy Tiramisu and a Nutella flavored Panna Cotta.
Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. Dinners at Kaori are presented with a well mix of flavors through an interesting journey of sense designed by the creativity of chef Martino.
Claudia Repsold is editor-in-chief of Brazil & US BIZ. She is an award-winning Brazilian journalist with twenty years of experience in International News. She is a passionate storyteller who loves traveling, hiking and learn about natural healing.