#MondayMotivation: A Heightened Sense

Being blind was never going to stop Chef Laura Martinez from running her own kitchen.

April 10, 2017 ● 2 min read

I lost my sight when I was a year old.  

[Even though] I couldn’t see, I wanted to be a surgeon. I always played with knives. But when I found out that I would never be able to perform surgery, I looked at cooking as another option. I loved fire. I loved putting flavors and combinations together. And when you are cooking — stuffing or filleting something — it’s kind of like surgery.  

I went to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school to train and improve my skills. When you are blind, you focus more on flavor and texture because you can’t see the product. You end up using your brain more. After I graduated, I caught the eye of Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, and I ended up working for him for three years. I learned so much, but I regretted not being able to see, because there was just so much going on in the kitchen. I had to rely on people to help guide me through what was happening. Trotter was the first person who gave me the opportunity to work as a chef. He focused on my talent, and that is something I will never forget.  

The restaurant eventually closed, so I had to apply for other jobs. I ended up taking a gig teaching cooking classes for people who were losing their sight, but I felt like I needed something more challenging.  

Unfortunately, when I applied for kitchen jobs, I don’t know if people were ignorant or afraid, but they didn’t even care where I graduated from or that I worked for Charlie Trotter. They just looked at me, saw that I was blind, and said that wouldn’t work for them. They all turned me down without giving me the chance to show them that I was as capable as any other person. I said to myself, OK. You have two options. One: you can stay at home and prove all those people right, or two: you can start working toward opening your own business. I wanted to open my own restaurant, but I didn’t know where to start or who to talk to.
I didn’t have any money. I was lost in the woods. I approached a bunch of different agencies and social workers, and had very little success getting support for my business — until finally, I found a business adviser who was willing to take a chance. I remember going into the meeting not having told him I was blind, and when he found out, I was just waiting for him to tell me, “No, that’s not possible.” But instead, he said, “OK. But we have to start from the ground up.”  

The process didn’t get any easier from there. There’s not a lot of help for disabled people — no one wanted to give us grants or equipment — and my social worker was not excited about the idea of me opening a restaurant. We wasted two years just trying to find someone to give us a grant. Eventually, we opened La Diosa in Chicago in 2015.  

The kitchen is small, which is crucial because [it’s] less space I have to navigate. And it’s just my husband and me, so I don’t have to direct that many other people. He’s a key part of the restaurant, as he’ll talk me through anything where it’s necessary to see what’s going on. He [helps] make the dishes look good, while I focus on the flavors and the taste. We work together well.  

I love cooking, and I love what I do. I have good customers. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I don’t regret opening my restaurant. It can be frustrating; you’re pretty much by yourself, you have to constantly think positively.  

I wanted something challenging—I have it now. 

As told to Priya Krishna by Laura Martinez | Original images via iStock