MOLINE — The hands, so gifted, reach for the flat-iron steaks. Through touch and smell, chef Laura Martinez knows the precise moment the steaks must be turned.
Moments later, the 29-year-old Moline native deftly is slicing tomatoes. Using her left knuckle as a gauge, she wields a large knife -- she loves knives -- and skillfully slices two huge tomatoes.
They will be part of the salad for that evening's dinner. Chef Martinez, a graduate of Chicago's Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, is preparing a seven-course meal for a few of her closest Quad-Cities' friends.
For the record, Chef Martinez, is blind. More important, she is a creative and skilled technician.
And she is in demand.
She's in the homestretch of securing her own eatery, "La Diosa'' in Lakeview, a Chicago suburb. The hope is to blend French, Italian and Asian cuisine at La Diosa, which is Spanish for "Goddess.''
Chef Martinez also is fresh from a successful three-year run at Chef Charlie Trotter's "Eponymous,'' in Chicago's Lincoln Park area.
"I was a toddler and staring into lights and running into everything in the house,'' Chef Martinez said of the first signs of vision trouble. "I had cancer of the eye (retinal blastoma), so this is all I know (darkness). But I have lived my life with passion, trying not to have boundaries, doing my best to be as independent as I can. I am stubborn, which might be my greatest asset.''
Her never-settle approach to life has worked.
"Never mind that she worked for the famous Trotter, just to get through Le Cordon Bleu is an amazing feat,'' Chef Bradley Scott said of Chef Martinez.
Chef Scott, who heads the culinary department at Scott Community College, was one of Martinez's dinner guests. Also on hand was Pam McDermott, Chef Martinez's one-on-one educational guide in her days at Moline High School.
Chef Scott awarded Chef Martinez the Moline City Pin, the equivalent to the key to the city. "The skills she has are amazing,'' he said. "She is an inspiration to so many.''
Post-high school, Chef Martinez thought she'd get a degree in psychology but decided it wasn't adventurous enough.
Then she decided to become a chef. Once she completed her coursework at Le Cordon Bleu, she gained national acclaim when the world famous Trotter hired her.
Chef Martinez said there still are challenges. She puts her cookware in certain spots, works by feel and identifies spices by smell. Her pace is deliberate, but fast enough to keep up in the hurried, perfection-is-must world of restaurant-prep.
"I am in trained in French cuisine and there is thoroughness to that side,'' Chef Martinez said. "But preparing any dish gives me a sense of satisfaction. You are alone in your work, but you are never alone in the kitchen. So many people are there to help.''
Married just a short time, Chef Martinez says husband Maurice is an enthusiastic supporter of her career.
"What a great guy he is,'' she said. "He is there at every step for me. He lets me fail if I need to fail, but he is the greatest supporter of what I am chasing, personally and professionally.''
Today is Wednesday, March 12, the 71st day of 2014. There are 294 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Soldiers from the barracks on the Arsenal manage to elude the vigilance of the guard nearly every day and come to town armed. In the hands of excited and perhaps intoxicated men, these weapons are dangerous. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Manufacturing's merchants and professional men of Moline were petitioning the Western Union Telegraph company to establish a telegraph office in the business area of the city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Three Rock Island students, the Misses Eleanor Cleaveland, Dorothy McCabe and Ruth West, escaped injury when fire destroyed College Hall at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War gave a party for William H. Stremmel, the only survivor of John Buford Post 243, GAR. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The East Moline Grade School Board of Education last night granted salary increases totaling about $47,000 to teachers and staff members. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Five champion spellers from the Rock Island/Milan School district were selected after competition this week at Modern Woodmen of America. Winners are Sarah Cottay, Christopher Gilbrich, Jared Vogele, Kedric Roper and Kenny Stevenson.