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
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
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