OAK BROOK, ILL.—The Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center is putting an exclamation point on a multi-year, $25 million property wide transformation with the introduction of a new Executive Chef. Chicago-native Victor Martinez, who’s worked his way up from his father’s bistro as a teen to some of the most respected kitchens in the country, now looks to redefine hotel dining in the suburbs.
By bringing an experiential, farm-to-fork culture to culinary operations at Oak Brook Hills Resort, Martinez is setting out to change the way people think about hotel food outside the city.
“I see through ingredients, into their soul,” says Martinez. “Where they came from, what they’re intended to be. My cooking philosophy is to tell the ingredients’ story.”
Shadowing that sentiment, Martinez’s elevated food program at his new suburban retreat, from banquets to restaurant service, incorporates a classically-trained French ideology that highlights the integrity of ingredients. He’s focusing heavily on hyperlocal sourcing so that he can build relationships with his materials. When in season, fresh produce for recipes will come from the expansive Chef’s Gardens located on the resort’s 150 acres of Audubon-certified grounds. Another interesting culinary component that Martinez integrates into all his menus is the widespread use of house honey, farmed on-site in the resort’s Hive Garden. He’s doing things differently in Oak Brook to give people opportunities to have authentic experiences in the moment.
“Bringing a sense of mindfulness to the table is a key element of who I am as a cook,” adds Martinez, “and a reason why people will want to return to rediscover the Resort.”
Interactive Experiences Encouraged
If given the opportunity, Martinez encourages people to get to know what goes into a recipe before eating it. Some of the unique ways diners can have an interactive experience at Oak Brook Hills Resort is by: picking their own veggies and herbs from the Chef’s Gardens for use in their dishes, observing (in protective suits) the resident beekeepers farming for honey, enjoying a private tasting with Chef in his office, or shopping for fresh ingredients at the Resort Farmer’s Markets (hosted periodically on-site).
Martinez’s upbringing in the kitchen is where he honed his love for cooking. His earliest memories are working at his father’s bistro growing up in Chicago, beginning as a dish washer and eventually helping with food prep. It was at that time when young Martinez was first inspired by his dad’s passion for cuisine and longed for the Chef’s life. After culinary school, his resume quickly took shape within the hotel food & beverage world. There was a first brush with Oak Brook Hills Resort, followed by Hyatt, Sofitel, and Four Seasons—where he started to look at cooking as an art form. Martinez eventually received a high-profile position for Hilton Corp., helping run the show at the luxurious Conrad Chicago, before ultimately returning “home” to where his heart is, Oak Brook Hills Resort.
“We’re committed to setting the bar for excellence after relaunching this resort as the Hidden Gem of the Suburbs,” says General Manager Steven Ellingsen. “To help us cultivate our new culture and give guests an experience that’s top-notch, we’ve identified an extraordinary Chef who can take us there.”
Martinez takes over a culinary program at Oak Brook Hills Resort that already had a strong reputation for chef-driven execution. At the resort’s restaurant outlets, B., a contemporary farm-fresh dinner concept, and Tin Cup, an all-day gastropub, he’s committed to seasonal menu diversity and simple preparations accented by dynamic flavors. In addition, the resort hosts some of the suburb’s most esteemed private banquets and public holiday brunches, such as the upcoming Easter from the Chef’s Table event, all of which center on the wide-ranging skills of the Executive Chef.