Follow a Typical Day in the Busy Life of Leña Chef Julie Marteleira as This Talented Leader Balances Work and Life
Chef Julie Marteleira runs the show at Leña, Oliver & Bonacini’s Latin-influenced restaurant at the corner of Yonge and Richmond. Every day is different for Marteleira; the only thing that’s a constant for the chef is that her days are go, go, go. There are always questions to answer, staff to train, proteins to butcher, menu items to tweak and events to prep. We followed Marteleira around for 13 hours. Here’s what kept the chef busy on a run-of-the-mill Thursday.
Marteleira takes a bite of her alfajor—it’s the first bit of sugar she’s had in weeks. She eats these crumbly indulgences only when having coffee with Anthony Walsh, O&B’s corporate executive chef. To say Walsh is a busy man is an understatement. He’s permanently bouncing between 22 restaurants spread across three provinces. Despite his hectic schedule, he makes time for coffee and catch-up sessions with his top chefs. Today, he and Marteleira are going over her seasonal menu flip. Before they get into the nitty-gritty of personnel changes, eighty-sixed items, and upcoming O&B events, they’ll shoot the breeze. The two have known each other since 2003, when Marteleira staged at Canoe during culinary school.
Once they’re caught up, it’s time to talk food. Summer calls for a lighter menu, with produce that reflects what Ontario farmers are plucking from their fields. The proteins will stay the same, but the accoutrements change entirely. A salmon dish—that in its winter incarnation was served with an earthy chickpea-squash stew—has been given a Moorish makeover and will be flavoured with saffron and served with spiced eggplant, cauliflower and barberries. It’s Marteleira’s menu, but she loves bouncing ideas off Walsh, who always has useful suggestions and will help her tweak the dishes until they’re perfect.
Every few weeks, Marteleira likes to visit O&B’s ninth-floor bakery to check in with bakery general manager Genelle Bachand, who oversees the production of 10 types of artisanal breads, three types of baguettes, 10 varieties of viennoiserie (croissants, Danishes, etc.), 40 types of buns and rolls (for sandwiches and burgers), as well as 50-plus desserts ranging from gâteau Basque to lemon tart to screeched tarte au sucre for Canoe. On a busy week, they’ll send out more than 11,000 baked goods, which is why this needs to be a 24-hour operation. If Marteleira needs a new type of bread or a specific pastry for Leña, it’s Bachand who makes it happen. When the bakery was making their lemon curd doughnuts for Leña, Marteleira would be tempted to pilfer one of the pastries. They’ve been off the menu for months now, but she continues to crave them.
The bakery often hires cooks and bakers right out of culinary school. Marteleira chats with a young baker who’s working on some pain au lait dough, a versatile dough used for everything from burger buns to cinnamon buns across the O&B properties.
Leña has two kitchens spread across two floors, with much of the prep happening in the lower kitchen. If she’s not doing paperwork or overseeing an event, Marteleira likes to help out wherever she can. At the end of the day, she is a chef because she loves to cook, so if she has a down moment, she’ll jump in wherever an extra hand is needed. Today, she’s taken on prepping four eight-pound salmon. It takes Marteleira five minutes to scale, clean, fillet, pinbone and portion each fish. While her knife glides through rose-hued flesh, she’s simultaneously dealing with queries volleyed her way. How many cooks will you need for the charity event later this week? Two. The new jamón has arrived, chef—can you please sample it? Absolutely. The new panels for the fridge repair are here; where would you like them? Up to the eighth floor, please.
With the noon countdown on, the lunch crush starts to build steam. Marteleira likes to call the pass for lunch (reading off the orders to the various stations). She handles any serrano ham chits herself, carving the jamón with surgeon-like precision. In the evenings, the cured pork leg is displayed on the bar and the orders are handled by a cook working the raw bar.
The chits are piling up, but right now there’s a backlog at the garde-manger. Salads are a popular lunch pick around Bay Street. Marteleira jumps into line to help expedite.
Anthony Walsh is staging a photo shoot today for some of the dishes that will be on the menu at one of O&B’s new Edmonton outposts, Braven Restaurant. For the shoot, he needs perilla leaves and unagi. Marteleira volunteers to grab them, as it means she can also visit PAT, one of her favourite grocery stores in Toronto. She also nabs a tub of kimchee (at home she cooks a lot of Asian dishes for herself).
Since she’s in the neighbourhood, Marteleira decides to visit Newport Fish Market. She uses four fish suppliers, but Newport is her favourite because they can source obscure Portuguese items like limpets and hard-to-find cockles. She’s also a Newport fan for nostalgic reasons. Her mom used to bring her to shop at Newport on Saturday mornings when she was a kid. Marteleira has fond memories of the salt cod–scented shop and helping her mom choose that week’s fish.
Andrew Cerqueira, a second-generation fishmonger (his dad started Newport Fish Market), shows Marteleira some of the exciting fish he’s brought in today. She leaves with scorpion fish, John Dory and some carabineiros (giant Portuguese scarlet shrimp).
Back at Leña, Marteleira checks in with her line cooks. Dinner service is about to ramp up, so any prep items not yet finished need to get done imminently. Marteleira will help where she can, even if that means jumping in to peel potatoes. It’s a Thursday night, which means Leña is expecting about 280 diners, many of whom will order one of Leña’s greatest hits. Veal Milanese, garlic shrimp, steak frites and stracciatella are all top sellers.
The dinner orders start to come in, but it’s not quite busy yet. Most diners are still in cinq-à-sept mode, sated with drinks and snacks. Marteleira will check the plating of dishes that are about to go out to the floor. Even a burger gets a once-over to ensure the plating is on point.
Twenty minutes ago, a server told Marteleira that there’s a table of guests who would love to meet the chef, so when there’s finally a small lull in the kitchen, she pops out to the dining room to say hi.
For dinner service, Marteleira likes to work the line. Because she’s a fish fanatic, she always manages to make the fish station the most complicated, with plates that demand at least half a dozen steps and maximum attention from the poissonniers. Here she has stepped away from the line for a moment to take a call from her sous chef. There’s a private dinner for 18 upstairs and her sous is updating Marteleira on how the party’s proceeding; they’re just about ready for their appetizers.
Dinner is winding down, so Marteleira checks in with her senior sous chef to make sure she’s no longer needed. She has plans with her sister and is happy to leave the kitchen in capable hands so she can enjoy a nightcap at the Canoe bar.
Marteleira started her career at Canoe in 2003. She staged at the O&B property while studying at George Brown, but didn’t officially join the team until five years later. She felt ready to work in fine dining and knew there was no better place in Toronto to hone her haute skills than at Canoe. These days, Marteleira’s no longer tethered to the kitchen when she visits. Now she gets to enjoy the 54th-floor views. Tonight, Marteleira and her sister are making plans for Sunday, Marteleira’s day off. They’re planning their “Seafood Sunday,” a fun tradition started by the sisters where they cook a seafood feast for the fam. Even on her day off, Marteleira’s busy cooking.