Chef David Martin is a chef’s chef. Helming the three kitchens at The Pacific Club, Newport’s luxurious members-only club, Martin not only understands the ever-changing food trends, but he makes it a point to never be trendy.
“It’s important to understand the trends and to grasp them so you can speak that language,” he says. “Since most of our members travel frequently to several different countries, they are acutely aware of all these new flavors. I want to adopt that in my cuisine. But you never want to be trendy.”
And forget about fusion food.
“I don’t like to do fusion food,” he says. “If you’re working with Moroccan flavors, stick with them and the same for Southern Italy or any other region.”
While Martin’s technique is decidedly classical French, his passion for locally sourced ingredients stems from his time cooking in Portland, Oregan. Known as the hotbed of locavore cuisine, Portland’s chefs are highly regarded for keeping their dishes distinctly seasonal and regional.
“It’s one of those places that really gets you in touch with food,” Martin says.
At The Pacific Club, Martin continues with this culinary tradition by supporting local farms and artisanal creameries.
“I really enjoy Kendall Farms’ crème fraîche,” he says. “When I met the owner Sadie Kendall, she inspired me. Our purveyor told me that we buy more of her crème fraîche than anyone else in Southern California. We use it in place of cream; in place of milk.”
Martin’s attention to detail and his love for ingredients elevate his food. Fresh fish, such as sea bass and swordfish, are delivered overnight from Honolulu Fish Company. Produce comes from several places, including La Guardia Brothers, LA Specialty and Martin’s own trips to the farmer’s market at UC Irvine.
Chef Martin’s love for fresh ingredients may have intrigued him about California, but it was the Robert Mondavi Winery that finally brought him to Orange County. Nearly a decade ago, the winemaker opened a tasting room in Costa Mesa, near Harbor and Sunflower. When Martin first got the call to join the Mondavi team, he was thrilled. At first, he envisioned himself in Napa, but the chef grew even more intrigued when he learned that this job would bring him to Southern California. There, Martin received a crash course in fine wine. He learned about what foods pair well with different vintages and further refined his palate. This knowledge continues to serve him, since The Pacific Club’s two well-versed sommeliers often host elaborate wine dinners.
“This definitely keeps us on our toes,” says Martin. “We’re creating new dishes all the time, and it’s food that must pair well with the wine.”
These wine dinners are creative collaborations where the chef’s food shines, but he knows it’s not about his ego, but rather a truly memorable experience.
Some of the dishes that the chef is most excited about include a Wagyu-grade Zabuton steak, pan-seared Polish-style pierogis, made from scratch and a lesser known cut of pork that comes from the cap of a pork loin.
“It’s the best pork product I’ve ever had,” says Martin. “It doesn’t need brining.”
The chef serves it grilled with a rich caramel-flavored broth seasoned with Medjool dates and salty bacon. The garnishes include seasonal offerings, such as sautéed apples tossed with hearty brussel sprouts. (see photo)
While some chefs might think that working for a private club would restrict one’s culinary development, Martin believes exactly the opposite.
“Working at a private club has become the best experience of my culinary career,” he says. “A successful chef understands ingredients and how to use them properly and playfully. Being the executive chef at a private club has taught me how to understand the diners…you begin to develop a relationship with them, and those relationships are usually rewarding and become part of your own development, not only as a chef, but as a person.”