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Industry Profile:
Travis Martinez of the Pfister Hotel


Feb. 2018

If the Pfister Hotel’s desserts seem gorgeous enough to be on television, it might be because Travis Martinez’s creations have been on television before. He was a finalist in the first season (2015) of the Food Network’s “Cake Wars: Christmas,” lasting until the final episode. Martinez sat down with M to discuss all things chocolate, homemade sourdough bread and more.

How did you get interested in a culinary career?

I couldn’t get in to a certain class I wanted in high school, so I took the food class, went on a school field trip, and then fell in love with the look of food and the atmosphere, and it was a big left turn. Everyone didn’t expect that. After high school, I went to the California Culinary Academy, and I ended up choosing pastry. After graduating with a professional certificate, I worked for a while in Fresno, (Calif.), but then went out to work on cruise ships in Hawaii.

What was working on cruise ships like?

They’re crazy, and the amount of desserts you make is insane. You’re cooking for 4,000 people, three times a day. It was a great experience. I thought, “Oh, this is what it means to work fast and hard and long hours,” and I just fell in love with it. Then, I worked in a casino in California, and then one of the chefs I worked with decided to move to Milwaukee, and he brought about 10 of us with. I worked at Potowatomi (Hotel and Casino) for five years, and then I went to Las Vegas, where I worked at Caesars Palace. That’s where I learned to be a more proficient chocolatier. I moved up to senior pastry chef, to interim executive pastry chef, and it was a great place to practice and learn new things.

That’s when you got selected to be on “Cake Wars”?

That was one of my things that I wanted to do, and I checked it off my list. I always wanted to work in Las Vegas, and I always said, “I will one day be on the Food Network.” I actually did what I said I would do, but Las Vegas isn’t my kind of place to live. I loved Milwaukee, and I loved the atmosphere here. People are much more genuine and nice out here in the Midwest. I was hunting for a job, and I was surprised to see that the Pfister job was open, and I thought, “I’m just going to go for it. I’m ready for the next step up.” They were excited to have me, and I just love it. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, (working) at the Pfister.

Tell us about some of your favorite desserts at the Pfister.

Everyone talks about the brandy old-fashioned, and I said, “We should make a brandy old-fashioned cheesecake,” so I made one with orange zest and cherries three ways: with Luxardo cherries, brandied cherries and dried tart cherries, all cooked in brandy, and at the very end, I add orange bitters. When you taste everything together, it tastes like a brandy old-fashioned.

We have a piano that plays in our lobby, and regulars just love the music. I was inspired by the piano to make a 27-layer cake that is about 6 inches long, 1.5 inches wide — it’s the piano keys that inspired me. It’s got Kahlua and buttercream, and it has this really, really nice flavor. It’s just phenomenal. I also wanted to make Blu a signature dessert, so I do a limoncello microspounge with white chocolate mousse and a tropical fruit insert served in a snifter glass. Then, lastly, we introduced our tea this year, and it’s going to be going on until April, and we do these tiny tarts with four to five components per tiny little tart. They’re really popular. I’m also working on a line of Pfister-specific chocolate bars that we’ll roll out just before February, called 1893.

What do you cook at home?

I don’t actually make desserts at home, but I do love to make bread. I’m a sourdough fan. Nothing’s better than the smell of fresh bread.

Chef Travis Martinez’s Apple Galette

Apple Galette Filling Ingredients:

2 ounces butter
1 ¾ ounces brown sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
4 cups sliced green apples
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Caramelize butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Deglaze with bourbon and vanilla. Add apples
and cinnamon. Cook on medium high heat until liquid is almost gone and apples are tender. Do not overcook.

To assemble: Add apple galette filling to a pie crust,* and then fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to
create a 1-inch border. Bake at 325- 350 degrees (depending on the oven) for 15-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust is golden. Drizzle with caramel before serving, if desired.

*For Travis Martinez’s homemade pie crust recipe, visit


This story ran in the Feb. 2018 issue of: