So you want to be a chef?

Chef Steve Martinez provides his clients with personalized, nourishing “comfort food” meals


Nina Gee

Chef Steve mixes vegetables in a bowl after washing them. Though comfort food is often associated with greasy and unhealthy food, Martinez says, “My purpose in naming my company that was just the notion of food being nourishing and comforting.”

by Nina Gee and Anna Vazhaeparambil

“Never apologize, never explain; if that’s the way it turned out, that’s the way I meant it to be.” This philosophy inspired by his culinary hero, Julia Child, is one that Chef Steve Martinez lives by each day.

Steve Martinez, 65, owns a Bay Area personal chef service named “Comfort Food,” which he founded in 2008.

“I think comfort food has a kind of connotation to it that people think it’s going to be all fatty food, but that’s not it,” Martinez said. “My purpose in naming my company that was just the notion of food being nourishing and comforting.”

Martinez is a personal chef, meaning that he prepares food for individual clients, specific to their needs and preferences. Unlike a restaurant chef, who cooks food based on a set menu, he is able to make anything for his customers that they choose themselves.

“The fact that it’s completely personal and adaptable to each person, each client, [is what makes it unique],” Martinez explains. “One client may be on so many dietary restrictions that they can’t get food anywhere else, they don’t know how to cook it, they can’t get it in a restaurant, they can’t get it in a fast food place, and I can do that for them. I base everything on what the individual client wants and I do everything for them.”

Martinez, who never went to culinary school, is completely self-taught. Having only realized in his 30s that cooking was what he wanted to do, he had previously mostly cooked as a hobby. But that was enough for him to make a business out of his passion.

Nina Gee
Chef Steve tries out a new recipe given to him by a client. He is often given recipes that clients want to be made for the week.

“I learn something new almost everyday, and I pull my knowledge from so many different sources, I mean, cookbooks and cooking magazines and the internet and the way somebody else does it,” he said. “Sometimes, I learn from people who aren’t professional cooks but just do something very well and have a terrific way of doing it.”

His previous experiences cooking include working as a restaurant employee, caterer, and a private chef for three three households. Despite the fluctuating clientele, Martinez eventually found that he enjoyed the role of a personal chef the most because of the freedom of the menu and the opportunity to help many families who would otherwise not be able to cook for themselves.

“I heard about personal chefs who cook for many different clients and I decided that that’s what I want to do, so I started my business, created a website, and started out,” Martinez said.

Upon signing up for this service, clients will initially meet with Martinez for an in-home consultation, where he learns their preferences learns their preferences and dietary restrictions in terms of meals, before working with them to develop a menu for that day, week or however long he will be cooking for them. Afterwards, he manages all the shopping, cooking and packaging of the food so that the client can expect dishes to be ready for them when they when they get home.

“It’s all based on what the customer asked me for,” Martinez reiterates. “That’s the personal in personal chef.”

To anyone who is interested, not just in this specific industry, but in cooking in general, Martinez advises that while it is rare to become a culinary star with TV shows and cookbooks immediately after leaving school, it is important to do what one loves.

“Don’t be afraid to try to do it,” he said. “Take a cooking lesson here and there to find out techniques you don’t understand. Read cook books, cooking magazines; there are a thousand ways to cook things and there’s really no right or wrong way.”

Although this career wasn’t initially his first plan regarding his future, Chef Steve Martinez has truly found his calling in the science, art and magic of cooking.

“Well, I found a way to do what I love for a living, and that’s a pretty important thing. I’m not making a killing in money-wise, but I’m doing what I love and I make people happy.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 30, 2018.