Laura Martínez, a Blind Chicago Chef, Envisions Better Life, Plans to Open Restaurant

World travelers know Charlie Trotter's restaurant is a culinary experience like no other. What arrives on the table is virtually a work of art.

It all starts in the kitchen, where chefs like Laura Martínez put their heart and soul into their work.

Martínez is just like everyone else, only she is totally blind.

"We're like family, no one is like, ‘You can't do this because you can't see,’ or anything like that. They treated me like anyone else," Martínez said.

"It is really quite fascinating to see her in action," said owner and Chef Charlie Trotter. "To see her make a plate of food, you would say, 'Oh my God!' you really wouldn't even dream this was made by someone who is blind."

Trotter hired Martínez a year ago while she was still in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. He was impressed with not only her cooking -- but what he witnessed, a determined student who lacked sight, but exuded passion.

"I was watching her cook and touch food, very delicate with sensitive, tactile awareness to what she was doing,...literally touching boiling oil to get temperatures right,” Trotter said. “She was touching things, seasoning things, even putting together a plate that included fried chicken and layered potatoes au gratin."

Martínez remembers the moment too.

"He came in, he tasted my food, and he offered me a job,” she said. “I was in kind of a big shock. He was the first person to offer me an opportunity to work in a real industry like this."

Anyone who has spent time in a working kitchen knows it can be a little dangerous because of the fire and the knives you are using. Martínez is not afraid of anything in Trotter’s world-class kitchen, and in fact, she likes to live life on the edge.

Her hands are her eyes. And she uses them to roll dough, make pasta, place food on the fire, and chop vegetables with large knives -- her favorite kitchen tool.

"I just love the danger, the way you play with them,” Martínez said. “You have to control the knife, not the knife control you. I got used to them. The more I used them, the more I liked them."

Being blind was only part of the challenge Martínez faced growing up.

She comes from humble beginnings and is the youngest of five siblings. Her family thought a culinary career was impossible.

Now she knows better. Martínez says being blind or challenged doesn't mean you can't envision a better life.

"Stop using an excuse; whether it's your money, disability or your laziness or whatever," she said. "You can do what ever you want to do, it's up to you. No one is going to come up to you and say, 'Hey you wanna do this?' It's up to you."

For many, working alongside Chef Trotter would mean they have reached their goal. But Martínez says the next thing she wants to do is open a restaurant of her own. Hers will feature a fusion of Asian and Mexican fare. She's got a big supporter in her corner --Chef Trotter -- who has no doubt she'll be great.

"In the meantime, she is contributing. So, that's the win-win for everybody," Trotter said.

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