Chaotic, hot, and always fast-paced. It takes a special breed of person to work in a restaurant kitchen and hold the title of chef. Chop Talk sat down with one of those special breeds. Say hello to Chef Jose David Martinez, co-owner of Union Restaurant and Bar Latino.
Martinez, a former car mechanic from El Salvador, immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s. He began his culinary career at Piermont’s Freelance Café as a dishwasher, where he quickly caught the eye of renowned chef-owner Peter Kelly. Recognizing his drive and talent, Kelly gave him a chance in his kitchen.
With solid work ethic and determination, Martinez made his way up the ladder and began cooking at another one of Kelly’s acclaimed restaurants, Xavier’s in Piermont. As Martinez honed his craft, the self-taught chef rose through the ranks from prep cook to sous chef, and eventually chef.
Perhaps it was destiny that led him to Xavier’s. Not only did he train under an accomplished chef, but he also met his future business partner, Paulo Feteira. Not every chef has the desire to start a restaurant, but Martinez did. In 2007, he opened Union Restaurant and Bar Latino in Haverstraw with Feteira. As the adage goes, the rest is history.
What inspires your cooking?
“My culinary inspirations come from traveling and seeing the world. I love using locally sourced ingredients when I cook.”
What is your favorite dish to make?
“I enjoy cooking so many things, but the real excitement comes from the challenge of cooking, like using new and interesting ingredients or cooking dishes from only what’s available at the local market. It’s all about the challenge for me.“
Is there a favorite spice or ingredient that you enjoy using?
“Wow, there are some great ones out there — but to be honest with you, I like using salt and pepper. If you know how to cook with it, it really makes ingredients compatible with one another and elevates a dish.”
How would you define your cooking style?
“I draw from all over the world and all types of cuisines. And I also put my Latino touch on it.”
You are an accomplished chef with local recognition and awards. You also own a restaurant. Do you have any advice for young chefs out there?
“Yes, work hard. Keep your head down and be open-minded, restless, and forgiving. That will take you far.”
You were trained and worked alongside chef/restaurateur Peter Kelly. What was it like?
“It was an incredible experience. Over the years, I really learned a lot. Looking back, it was a great opportunity for me, and I will always be grateful.”
You have been both a chef and a chef-owner. What are the main differences?
“Well, I can speak from experience. Being a chef-owner is definitely more challenging. You have a lot more things to think about. But it comes with a lot of freedom to experiment and create new dishes.”
Photos by Samantha Finch
Union Restaurant and Bar Latino
22 New Main St, Haverstraw, NY
James Carsey is a freelance writer from Tarrytown. He enjoys art, photography, cooking, and the great outdoors.