CLEARWATER - Before its destruction, the Clearwater Beach Hotel was a favorite dining spot for locals and visitors. Fortunately, the chef responsible for the hotel's fabulous gourmet cuisine has stayed in the area. Chef Alain Martin is now the chief manager and chef at the Cabana Bar & Grill, 1590 Gulf Boulevard on Sand Key.
Clearwater is fortunate to have attracted a culinary artist with Chef Martin's talent to settle here. He describes his cooking style, "I love to work with fresh seafood, enhanced with simple, delicate sauce to accentuate the natural flavors. I do not care for the so called "fusion" technique, when all the flavors blend and confuse the taste buds. I guess I remain deeply dedicated to the Classic and Nouvelle cuisine, with a dash of Caribbean influence from my experience in the Islands and also some Mediterranean know-how. What I like to call: la Cuisine du Soleil."
From France and the French and British West Indies and on to New York, Martin's creativity and innovative menus have won numerous accolades. Midnight diners at Au Troquet in New York City were said to have routinely given him standing ovations each weekend when he entered the dining room and celebrity and international travelers vacationing in Anguilla favored dining at the resorts of Casa Blanca and Cap Juluca to feast on Martin's unique cuisine. Their loss has became our gain when Martin relocated his family to Clearwater.
"I found a home as chef de cuisine at the Clearwater Beach Hotel, the now defunct and legendary hotel where I had the pleasure to cook for the locals and for tourists from all over the world. There was a unique chemistry in that old building. Old customers still talk to me about it," says Martin.
After the hotel's demise, Martin found a new kitchen to grace at the Belleview Biltmore Resort's beachfront Cabana Grill. "I spent some time back in France first to relax and to see what's new in the culinary arts of the Old Country. When Richard Wilhelm, the CEO-President of the Belleview Biltmore, asked me to take a look at the Cabana Grill on Sand Key I was enthusiastic as soon as I saw the setting."
Martin likens Sand Key to the French Riviera. "It reminded me of the Cote d'Azur, where I spent my family vacation as a boy. All along the coast there are many fantastic little restaurants serving the freshest of seafood and local produce in the friendliest atmosphere, where local residents and tourists used to mingle around the fragrant, generous, Provençal country style food."
Martin said he's always had an afinity for America. "As a young boy, like all French kids, I was fascinated by America. We were playing Indians and cowboys at recess and John Wayne was (still is) my hero. I grew up near a US base just outside of Paris and I was fascinated by the GI's."
Martin began his culinary arts career as a teen. He says, "Many moons ago, I started my apprenticeship at age 16 in my home town of Paris. I can say I was very lucky to learn from the very best, the legendary chef Raymond Oliver at the Grand Véfour. Raymond Oliver is a mythical name in France- - he started the very first cooking show on French television back in the early 1960's. Le Grand Véfour is the temple of French cuisine and Raymond Oliver was its grand priest. The restaurant itself has been classified at the Historic National Registry. Victor Hugo, Curnonsky, among others had their regular table there. To this day, the restaurant tables do not have numbers but are named by the illustrious regulars who used to dine there. I graduated at age 21, making me one of the youngest chefs of France."
At age 24 Martin opened his first restaurant in the French West Indies on the tropical island of St. Barth. "It is a very popular spot for the American and French celebrities in the Caribbean. My restaurant was an instant hit, and that led me later, in 1981, to be invited to take over the kitchen of Le Périgord, a famous restaurant in Midtown New York."
Martin considers his career experiences in New York to be a time of great accomplishment. Of this period he says, "The 16 years I spent in New York were the most exciting years of my career. In 1988, I opened Régine, in Uptown New York. The trendiest spot of the city at the time. I had to create daily five specials, all original dishes of personal inspiration. The New York Times, the New Yorker and the Village Voice gave me 3+ stars and we had an 8 week waiting list for reservations."
After living in France, New York and the Caribbean, Martin says he's happy he moved to the Suncoast. "I love it! The people are very warm and friendly. I have great neighbors, and, most importantly, my kids love their school and all the great outdoor activities."
He explains his reasons for the move, "When I got married and had children, I decided that New York, in spite (or because) of its fast pace and glamour, was not the best place to raise a family. So in 1997 I packed my wife, kids, dogs and saucepans and moved to a little house in Small-town, USA, a quaint, peaceful subdivision community of Clearwater, a much better place in my opinion to live accordingly to the values and way of life of the heartland."
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition