26 North talks with Chef Martin Liz, your Key West Personal Chef
Chef Martin Liz is classically French trained, but focuses on Key West’s native culinary traditions, seafood specialties, and Cuban cuisine. Chef Martin’s mission is to bring back authentic, traditional Key West-Cuban cooking to South Florida, and introduce that style to other parts of the world. Born and bred in Key West, Chef Liz takes us back to his culinary roots with Ocean-to-table style, using fresh local ingredients and traditional preparation methods passed down for generations. By exclusive arrangement with 26 North Yachts, Chef Martin will be available to prepare epicurean delights aboard the Fair Dinkum, a 2016 60ft’ Monte Carlo luxury motor yacht.
Q. Tell me briefly, what “authentic” Key West Cuisine Means to you, and how what you do, differs from “conch fritters” and the usual tourist faire?
A. My style of cuisine is 100% Florida based Key West classic Bahamian-Cuban-Conch cuisine. Real, or authentic Key West cuisine blends a lot of historic cultures, but it has been disappearing. I have made it my mission over the last 10 years to bring those culinary traditions from The Islands back into the forefront for the Florida Keys.
Q. And why make that your mission? Is this the food you grew up with?
A. That’s right! Absolutely! I was born and raised in Key West Florida going back at least 4 generations that we can count, we sort of lost track after that! I am also descended from Cuba on one side of the family, we also go back multiple generations Conch. I started cooking at 15 at The Rooftop Café, which is a fine dining restaurant in Key West. I am the youngest of 7 kids and was always intrigued by the kitchen. As you can imagine there was always plenty of food and lots of cooking going on. It just captured my attention, and of course, like everyone in the family – I just loved to eat!
Q. Key West and water, and boats and yachts naturally go together, are you a boater, or boat owner yourself?
A. Absolutely. I grew up with boats. I was 10 or 11 years old when myself and my friends would go out on a homemade little 10 foot skiff with a little 9.9 horsepower engine, and we’d cruise around bay. I love fishing, lounging on the beach, all the beautiful islands around Key West — Snipes Point, Marvin Key — it is just gorgeous out there. And, while you’re out there, you need to eat, so boats and cooking, yeah, they’ve always been part of my life, I mean we’d take out barbecue grills, make land, set up tables, we just always enjoyed the ocean, and I’ve been a boat owner for as long as I can remember. In fact one of the boats I own, I’ve had since I was 12 years old. Of course its been refurbished over the years, it’s something sentimental to keep in the family; my sons used it, my nephews use it, she’s like part of the family.
Q. So, have you cooked on yachts before? I would imagine there are some particular challenges of preparing a meal on a yacht, or can you do whatever you could in a land-bound kitchen?
A. That’s right, you have to do a lot of proper prior planning to make sure you have all the essential ingredients. And, you have to do a thorough walk through of the vessel before heading out. I’ve done many yacht charters, I’ve done 4 day trips up to the Marquises, we’ve done an 80 foot motor yacht, and there was a 40ft Hatteras and some bay boats. Where there is a mothership, I’ve stayed on the mothership and have had to prepare 3 meals a day and snacks throughout the day. Sure, I’ve had challenges. That’s the nature of boats! I was on a boat that had electrical malfunction, where I had to keep resetting the oven every 38 seconds, while I was trying to improvise my cooking. Of course, you have to deal with the elements. I was on an older boat that was anchored up and the stabilizers weren’t properly functioning and there were dishes flying out of cupboards… yeah, there have been a few rough trips!
Q. But, I imagine then, that is where your experience as both a long time boater, and a long time Chef help a lot!
A. Absolutely! A lot of times it’s all about improvising, thinking on your feet, no matter what kind of havoc that might be going on in the kitchen, as long as you make sure the guests don’t see it or realize what’s going on – ultimately if we give them a wonderful dinner, and an amazing product for the boat owners and their guests, hey, that’s what counts!
Q. Along those same lines then, for the special charter with 26 North and the Fair Dinkum, what could charter guests expect to experience?
A. They can expect to have a blast! Everything is going to be fresh, made from scratch. I will be using a lot of Caribbean flavors. I love to shake things up a bit, I love using seafood that is not mainstream. There is something that I call “ocean to table” which is more of a thought process, a conscious effort of preparing and eating seafood that is not necessarily found on menus all around town. Growing up here in Key West, I know a lot of different species of fish that others just don’t know about, that are just bursting with amazing flavors. There’s a deep water wrasse fish, it’s gorgeous, and it’s delicious. There’s porgies, triggerfish, lane snapper, just a lot of different species of fish that most people haven’t tapped into. I love to give people something different when it comes to cuisine and ingredients. But even if it’s different, I keep it simple, tasty, nothing is too complicated, I make sure the fish is respected, treated properly, with the ingredients delicately put together, where the ultimate goal is to simply enhance the natural flavor of the fish or seafood with fresh local ingredients.
You know, I travel a lot, and when I do, I make it a point to go off away from the beaten paths, and bring back something special.
Q. Will that also include wine pairings, special desserts, etc?
A. Yes, wine pairings are always something I recommend with any dinner I do. We also will enhance the overall experience with craft beers and craft cocktails, as the guests may desire. Believe it or not, I am not a huge dessert person, but I do have a few amazing traditional Key West favorites. Queen of all Puddings, was always one of my favorite desserts growing up – it’s basically guava and raisin bread pudding, that’s topped with merengue, it’s not overly sweet, but it has beautiful flavors that go well together.
For more information on how you can experience Chef Martin’s Key West ocean-to-table delights for yourself from the deck of your own private charter yacht, contact us today!
Choosing the right charter experience can be challenging. If you would like to benefit from our expertise in these areas, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Charter Specialists, or call us at (855) 318-6328.