Edward Martinez, the acclaimed former Hawks and Enotria pastry chef who left Sacramento for world-class restaurants in San Francisco and elsewhere, is returning to town.
Martinez, 32, recently resigned from two-Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Lazy Bear to become executive pastry chef for midtown Sacramento’s LowBrau and Block Butcher Bar and their forthcoming offshoots in R Street’s Ice Blocks development: upscale grill Beast + Bounty and ice cream and doughnut shop Milk Money.
Lazy Bear “is a great restaurant,” Martinez said last month while sitting outside Philz Coffee, across a courtyard from the under-construction Beast + Bounty, which is expected to open in October along with Milk Money. “But all of my friends in the restaurant scene are here. I like the way of life here so much better.” Although he is from Fresno, he considers Sacramento “home,” he said. “I always wanted to come back.”
He has four children and his girlfriend has two, Martinez said. The cost of living in the Bay Area is too high for such a large family, he said.
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Martinez initially planned to consult on Beast + Bounty and Milk Money, traveling to Sacramento on his days off from Lazy Bear. Then LowBrau owner/operator Michael Hargis created the executive pastry position.
The LowBrau restaurants’ executive chef, Brock Macdonald, is “one of my best friends,” Martinez said. The pair met a few years ago at the Cochon Heritage Fire outdoor wood-fire grilling event in Napa.
Wood fire will play a big role in Beast + Bounty, which will focus on hearth cooking of meats, vegetables and desserts like the salt-roasted pear Martinez is planning to make there. At Milk Money, Martinez will offer desserts with sweet and savory ingredients and a different brioche doughnut each day.
“At this point in his career, he could possibly go work anywhere he wanted in the world,” Macdonald said. “We are very excited and proud to work with him.”
Chefs and cooks leave San Francisco for gigs in Sacramento all the time. But few come from a restaurant as esteemed and of-the-moment hot as Lazy Bear, which offers inventive, fine-dining-quality dishes in an atmosphere akin to that of a dinner party at someone’s house. Lazy Bear won its second Michelin star – or one star shy of the world’s highest culinary honor – last year.
Martinez has defied expectations before. As a teenager, he went deep into Fresno gang life and at 20, was facing assault and battery charges and a possible eight-year prison term. He promised the judge he would enroll in pastry classes, and caught a break on his sentence.
He completed a Fresno County culinary program and eventually landed in the Sacramento region, where he fashioned exquisite, multistep chocolate desserts at Granite Bay’s Hawks and applied modernist techniques at Sacramento’s Enotria as part of an all-star team bent on earning a Michelin star – even though Michelin Guide inspectors never seem to make it to Sacramento.
But they do go to the Bay Area, and so did Martinez, who “wanted to be one of the best, and work at the best restaurants and do all that,” he said. He also was newly divorced and “kind of wanted a change of scenery.”
Martinez worked for Bay Area celebrity chefs Tyler Florence (at El Paseo and Wayfare Tavern) and Michael Mina (Bourbon Steak) and did a stint in Las Vegas at Restaurant Guy Savoy, where he practiced classic French techniques while picking up about every other word.
“Nobody speaks English, they all speak French,” Martinez said. “I just had to get by with (trying to) figure out what they were saying to me. It was difficult, but I picked it up.”
In early 2016, Martinez helped friend and executive chef Joey Elenterio open Cadence, a high-profile San Francisco restaurant from the team behind popular San Francisco gastropub Maven. Cadence closed after six months and a two-star (out of four) rating from Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer.
“I was upset when it happened,” Martinez said of Cadence’s closure, which he attributed partly to too many new restaurants and limited foot traffic in the restaurant’s Mid-Market neighborhood.“(Elenterio) put a lot of heart and soul into it.”
Martinez had increased his own profile at Cadence, winning a StarChefs Rising Star award while working there, and recovered in a big way from its closure with the Lazy Bear gig. He since has reassessed his priorities.
“I loved working at Lazy Bear,” he said. “I learned a lot and made great connections. But if I continue down that route, I am going to be working 18-hour days and not seeing my kids. I was like, you know what? I have paid my dues already. I want to be able to have fun and be able to love coming to work. And I know I will be happy here every day.”