Name one of the 50 states, and there's a good chance chef Fredy Martinez has been there to open or work in a restaurant: Claim Jumper in Minnesota, Chevy's Fresh Mex in Arizona, a Tri-Cities steakhouse called Fredy's, of which he was part-owner. In Spokane, Martinez helped open QQ Sushi & Kitchen, Nudo Ramen, Wasabi Asian Bistro, and Umi Kitchen & Sushi Bar before opening Mole Restaurant in Kendall Yards with Umi's chef-owner, Tong Liu.
Along the way, Martinez has learned to love all kinds of food, including Italian, Chinese and Thai. He has a soft spot in his heart for Oaxacan food like the kind he grew up with in Cuilapam, Mexico, where as a young man, he learned to cook out of necessity. (It's pronounced "wah-HAH-can.")
"My parents got divorced when I was young," Martinez explains. "They made me cook."
Given a choice, Martinez would have preferred playing soccer or daydreaming about becoming a firefighter or joining the army. But after a horrific car accident as a teenager, his life changed dramatically.
"I almost died," Martinez says. "It took me years to recover and after that, it wasn't the same."
With fewer career options open to him in Mexico, Martinez decided to take all he'd learned from watching his mother and grandmother in the kitchen and relocate to Spokane, where his brother lived. Although he took classes for volunteer firefighting, he felt a stronger pull to the culinary industry and started building a career as a chef.
"At the end, you know, I love what I'm doing," Martinez says.
He is especially excited to bring Oaxacan food to the Inland Northwest. Mole Restaurant is Martinez's — and Spokane's — first Oaxacan eatery and introduces diners to mole, a thick and flavorful sauce that gets its coloring from the chile and other complex assortment of ingredients.
Every town has its own variation on mole, says Martinez, listing the six types with which he's most familiar: negro (black), rojo (red), amarillo (yellow), verde (green), estofado (a kind of stew) and coloradito.
Making mole is labor intensive with upward of 20 to 30 ingredients, so if Martinez were to make it at home, he'd make it in a large batch.
"If you have mole today, you have mole tonight, tomorrow. Sometimes three to four days."
More typically, however, Martinez makes a simpler meal at home for himself, his wife and her children. Black beans over eggs with Oaxacan string cheese. Or memelas, similar to what's served at the restaurant: rustic, toasted tortillas with a kind of pork lard called asiento, topped with queso fresco and salsa, and sometimes meat or black bean paste.
"Some of my friends say, 'You own a restaurant and you can eat whatever you want,' but I don't feel that way," Martinez says. "I like very simple things."