Cooking is in his Spanish blood

Sometime in 2017, a veterinarian from the province of Valencia in Spain went on vacation with three of his best friends to the island of Siargao in the Philippines. They enjoyed surfing a lot and fell in love with the place so hard that by the end of their 15-day holiday, they promised to return and even considered relocating.


A year later, the four amigos made their “final decision.” They made the big move to Siargao and “luckily” found work. The veterinarian, though, ended up becoming a chef and opened a restaurant he called Alma. Then the pandemic struck and, soon, a super typhoon hit the island. The newbie chef had to close down his first culinary venture.

Fast-forward to 2023: Chef Luis Martinez is coolly directing his staff at Terraza Martinez restaurant in Bonifacio Global City this late morning of 30 August for an event in collaboration with Doña Elena brand of olive oil. He then introduces the menu he’s specially prepared for the media representatives covering the event.

Martinez maintains his coolness as he sits down for an interview with DAILY TRIBUNE and another publication. He says his three friends of 35 years who came with him to Siargao six years ago are still on the island. “We’ve known each other for 35 years. I have my little family from Spain here.”

Back in Spain, he has his parents, four siblings and other relatives that make up his “core family” of 25 members who can all cook. He fondly remembers growing up bonding with his family around the kitchen “cooking, eating, drinking wine” particularly every Sunday and on Christmas. He mentions a couple of his comfort food, such as paella, which traces some of its origins in Valencia, and cocido, a beef soup that he likens to the Pinoy bulalo.

That’s how Martinez learned how to cook around age nine. “I never studied culinary arts. I never worked in a kitchen before. My first kitchen was Siargao three years ago. Now, this one,” he says of Terraza Martinez, which he set up in 2022 with the Nikkei Group that runs several restaurants. He also admits to making a lot of mistakes along the way of his trial-and-error ways while trying a lot of flavors.

In terms of culinary, he says he brings “almost everything” of the Spain he grew up into Terraza Martinez. “My idea is I want to make our guests to feel like having lunch or dinner in Spain,” he explains, “with the same kind of ambience, with the same kind of essence where you have a little of tapas, paella, where you can enjoy not only the food but the company of your friends and the comfort of the food. So I’m trying to bring some Spanish culture here as we eat there.”

Martinez turns candid when asked about his observations of Filipino cuisine: “The flavors are a little bit sweet than we’re used to. Also, I need to put a little bit less of what I’ll put in Spain. I use a little bit of sugar to make it a little sweet.

“I need to adjust, yes. When I opened my first place, I got a lot of complaints because they were saying my food was little bit salty. They were expecting a little bit of sweetness. So I need to adjust, yes. Even here in Terraza Martinez. It has a little bit of Filipino taste.” The chef, for instance, had to take out gazpacho, a cold soup, from the menu because Filipinos tend to prefer hot soups.

Overall, though, the reception to Terraza Martinez has been overwhelmingly positive by diners who are made up of “90 percent Filipinos and 10 percent foreigners.” This makes Martinez truly “surprised and happy,” saying, “I wasn’t expecting this a lot of people. All our customers really like the place. They like the food. For me, because I’m the chef, wow!”

Next on the chef’s plate is a new restaurant in Siargao he hopes to open soon. That means he’ll be dividing his time, about 15 days each, in Siargao and in Manila. Spain can wait in the meantime. “I try to visit my family and friends every two months, maximum three… I spend summer here because right now I’m opening a restaurant, so I cannot go.”

Meantime, Martinez continues to learn more about the Philippines with some help from his Filipina girlfriend, who’s teaching him a bit of the national language. He also picks up words here and there from conversations. He also looks forward to surfing in Siargao, but, when he’s in Manila, just swims and has recently taken up boxing to burn the calories he consumes eating.