Chef Blanca Martinez remembers her grandmother, Simona Martinez, waking up each day at 3 a.m. and going right to work, cooking early for those who worked in the fields of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, in Central America.
Blanca remembers this because she was close by at the age of 6 – looking on as her grandmother prepared meals very early in the morning, using eggs, beans and tortillas.
She also remembers her grandmother walking miles and miles to Lourdes, Colon, just to get to a store.
“I learned how to cook because of my grandmother. I think my passion started from that,” said Blanca Martinez, who was born in El Salvador.
“I think she was my role model for who I became later in life, because looking at that lady, she used to get up and start doing her thing. I’m talking about a Third World country where we don’t have stoves like over here. To go to the store, we will walk 10 miles, going in and back, just to get the ingredients that we needed to make the meals.”
Blanca Martinez was also inspired and influenced by another family member – her aunt, Amparo Rivera. Together, Blanca and Amparo worked in lunch trucks for many years around Los Angeles.
“I was 19 when I came to the United States. What am I going to do? How am I going to work? I didn’t know,” Blanca Martinez said. “I had an auntie that worked in the lunch trucks. She said, ‘I can teach you to do this.’ And I go, ‘OK, let me try it.’ And so I went with her, working in the lunch trucks for 15 years, getting up at 3 in the morning, factory to factory.”
Blanca Martinez said it clicked for her – being around food and cooking and serving meals.
“It’s something that you know – that’s what you were born to do,” she said. “It was just natural. I didn’t even think about doing something else.”
Today, she is in her 11th year at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, a 36-hole facility, that features the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, Arcade Creek Course, driving range and learning center with 100 hitting stalls and raised target greens, Haggin Oaks Academy Holes, MacKenzie Putting Course, Player Performance Studio, Club Performance & Repair Center, Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop and Haggin Oaks Shoe Store.
There is also MacKenzie’s Sports Bar and Grille, which “offers a casual dining experience indoors and out for family and friends looking to enjoy a good meal or grabbing a local craft brew on tap or something else from the full-service bar,” according to www.mackenziessportsbar.com.
Blanca Martinez first worked as the executive chef at Haggin Oaks. She is now the Lead Chef for the Morton Golf Management Team and is also the banquet chef for weddings, special events and tournaments.
According to email@example.com and www.sacramentogolfweddings.com,
“Her passion of food shines through each meal that is prepared for every event. With food being one of the most important parts of your event, Blanca is the most dynamic person behind the scenes.”
Before she joined Haggin Oaks, Blanca Martinez worked in restaurants in the Sacramento area. She was a student at American River College in Sacramento in the Culinary Arts/Restaurant Management program. She worked at hotels as a sous-chef, line cook, chef and executive chef.
A Sacramento resident, she likes being part of a team, as she helps set up the menus, along with daily and monthly specials, with others on the staff.
“It’s different than other places. It’s more relaxed, and you have more opportunity to have more time with your family than a traditional hotel or restaurant that is so demanding, that you have to spend like 16 hours a day sometimes. I’ve done that for so many years, at other places that I’ve worked at,” she said.
Blanca Martinez specializes in making the soups at MacKenzie’s Sports Bar and Grille. Popular soups, she said, are clam chowder, tomato bisque, albondigas, zuppa Toscana, chicken pozole, chicken tortilla, Italian wedding, navy beans and ham, salmon and veggies, and beef minestrone, to name a few.
“I became the queen of soups here. I am famous for my soups,” she said. “You’re always experimenting with different things. You play with flavors and spices and all that. If it works, then we’ll keep it and then I’ll make a recipe for the books.”
Blanca Martinez became a U.S. citizen in 1990. She has been in Sacramento since 1999.
There is so much that Blanca Martinez learned about cooking from her aunt, as well as putting in the long hours and work weeks.
“My auntie, she took me under her wing, and that’s how I learned to cook in the lunch trucks. It’s really stressful, because you get up at 3 in the morning. You’re inside a very little space, but you manage. That’s how I knew that was my thing – cooking. I love the adrenaline.”
She brings a personal touch to the work she does.
“Everything that I prepare has my name and my signature,” said Blanca Martinez. “I put so much love into it. You put your whole being into what you’re making. It’s an expression of yourself. It’s an extension of yourself.”
She has seen the menu change and evolve, both at MacKenzie’s Sports Bar and Grille, and for special events, over the years.
“It was a basic kind of thing. And now we’re presenting beautiful salads and seasonal food. It’s totally different. We’re trying little by little to introduce a different culture than what was already established here,” she said.
According to www.mackenziessportsbar.com:
“The restaurant’s welcoming atmosphere features a menu anchored around a large selection of burgers, shareable appetizers, sandwiches, and salads, including a breakfast menu reminiscent of Sunday mornings surrounding the kitchen table. Daily house-made soups with a focus on using the highest quality and freshest ingredients, flavorful seasonal daily specials from proprietary recipes, and other hand-crafted menu selections abound in the kitchen. Guests will taste Chef Blanca and her culinary team’s attention to detail in every bite.”
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.