Profile of a chef: Martina Russial bakes cakes, wields knives like a serial killer and eats corn dogs

It was a cloudy warm day when we skyped Martina Russial from the second floor of Agate Hall. In the background a car alarm persistently let us know that its owner was NOT getting stolen, and a vacuum sounded in the hall below the ceiling tile that had just caved in. Martina Russial was the daughter of our professor and we were to gather enough information via skype to write a short profile on her. This is the result. Disclaimer: This is only minorly related to the Eugene food scene.

 

Martina Russial laughs as she says that if she were a food she would be an eclair-like pastry called a profiterole. “I’m pretty light and bubbly, but I’ve got substance,” she says. Describing herself as a dessert seems fitting for the newest member of the kitchen at White Manor Country Club since she has a culinary history filled with cake. At 8 years old she was decorating cakes. During high school she would bake them with a friend. The two quickly learned the difference between tablespoons and teaspoons when a cake exploded in the oven because they had used too much baking soda.

During college she majored in English, though she spent of most of her time studying chemistry. The culinary world was still on her mind. Since high school she knew that one day she wanted to open her own restaurant. Off to culinary school she went “it was not academically rigorous,” she says, “but we did have a lot of practical application.” The 23-year old graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Portland in June 2011.

Russial is inspired by both the butter-loving, imbibing, Julia Child and the Michelin star-earning, expletive-spouting Gordon Ramsay. She describes her style as simple and wholesome. “I like using simple ingredients to make really complex flavors,” she says. “You can go out and get five ingredients and make something amazing.” That’s exactly what she did when she wowed the judges at a culinary school scholarship competition with a sweet potato ravioli served in a bed of garlic sauteed spinach and a walnut butter sauce with a parmesan crisp on top. The trick was the egg yolk inside the ravioli. Cooking it correctly requires a level of technicality far beyond the norm. The dish earned her first place and a $2,500 scholarship.

She’s a creative cook at home too. Homemade Indian and Asian dishes grace her counters. “I do a lot of stir fries because I like healthy food, light and fresh ingredients,” she says. But she is the kind of gal that can kick back and enjoy something indulgently unhealthy as well. Her pick? Corn dogs.

Chocolate braised Sicilian rabbit with creamy fontina polenta and haricot vert. Photo courtesy of Martina Russial.

Creativity is something that can get stifled in a restaurant. She says “A lot of patrons are expecting a cohesive theme in our restaurant, so sometimes you just have to succumb to what your chef makes you do.”

Ideally, she says, she’d like to open her own restaurant. “Something small, producing just really good quality, fresh food from scratch.” Russial would want it to be bistro-style with flavors anywhere from Asian fusion to Mediterranean.

You might want to stay out of the kitchen and away from her knives though she likes to describe them as similar to the knife set of pop-culture TV serial killer Dexter. They’ve caused more than one scar. Don’t worry; when blood starts splattering it won’t end up in any of your food. Again Russial laughs, saying, “Bleeding on people’s food is generally not recommended.”

Follow me on Twitter @melissahaskin

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