Martin Campos, exec chef of Comida at the Source: "Nothing is wrong with a nice round plate"
This is part one of my interview with Martin Campos, exec chef of Comida at the Source; part two of our interview will run tomorrow.
"I was an incredibly picky eater as a child," laments Martin Campos, who admits that while growing up in San Jose, he subsisted mostly on cereal, chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: "My parents would make dinner all the time, and all I wanted was chicken nuggets with tons of ketchup. I was religious about that."
But it was no joke when he found his true religion: seafood. "I had my first real food experience -- my first daring culinary moment -- when I was ten and ate seafood for the first time in Oregon," recalls Campos, today the 31-year-old executive chef of Comida Cantina at the Source. "I tried oysters, lobster, crab, mussels and shrimp and absolutely fell in love with seafood, and I'm pretty sure that every time we went to a restaurant after that experience, I ordered seafood -- not chicken nuggets." But when he was twelve, his family moved away from the ocean and to Fort Collins. And at nineteen, after spending his teenage years "ditching school" and skateboarding, he finally landed in a kitchen as a dish monkey at Rasta Pasta, an Italian restaurant there. "I went in with a bunch of friends for lunch one day, and the staff was easygoing and just a ton of fun, and my friends told me I should apply for a job, so I did, and despite the fact that I didn't have a day of experience, I got hired on the spot," remembers Campos, who stayed for two years before ditching the dishwasher to cook at a now-defunct bar and grill, where he became interested in flipping pans. "They had me doing specials every night, so I started picking up cookbooks and watching Iron Chef, and I realized that there was a lot more to cooking than I thought there was," says Campos.
After a year on the line, he also came to the conclusion that "I didn't know shit, because there was no one there to teach me anything, and it became really frustrating." A stint at Bisetti's, another Italian restaurant in Fort Collins, proved to be more enlightening. "There was always a full rail of tickets, and the cooks were knocking dishes out at this amazing pace, and there was an asshole line cook there -- Bill Greenwood -- who used to bully the hell out of me, but we had this bonding moment when he flung a roasted-red-pepper sauce in my face, and from then on, he taught me all sorts of tricks, how to do knife cuts and run the sauté station. He made me a better cook, and I later became the sous-chef at Bisetti's," says Campos.
Greenwood eventually left Bisetti's for Aspen's Hotel Jerome, and in 2007, he nudged Campos to become his sous. "I walked into the kitchen at the Jerome, and it was just, wow," recalls Campos. "The kitchen was just amazing and so beautiful, and I spent two years there, learning something new every day. It was nothing short of an eye-opening experience."