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Beyond the Office: Martinez cooks up the perfect paella

Attorney Raul Martinez shows off his cooking skills in his kitchen recently. Courtesy Raul Martinez

Attorney Raul Martinez shows off his cooking skills in his kitchen recently. Courtesy Raul Martinez

Raul Martinez has a lot of interests aside from the civil litigation he does for Faraci Lange LLP. Many in his business and social circles are aware of his talent in the kitchen and his family depends on him as the head cook.

Martinez started cooking when he was at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, and has continued to hone those skills ever since.

“There’s no real connection between starting to cook and being in the Bronx DA’s office, it’s just that I was forced to fend for myself at that time,” he said.

Newly married at the time, his wife Heidi was working long hours at a large firm.

“She’s the one who knew how to cook. So, if we were ever going to eat at home, I needed to learn,” he said. “After law school, we were living on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and you could buy every fresh food item imaginable from specialty shops in my neighborhood. So, it was pretty easy to get started.”

Paella

In the past couple of years, Martinez has been focused on making paella, an authentic Spanish meal that he prepares for family and friends and also as a fundraising donation for his favorite charities.

“Paella is a dish synonymous with sharing” Martinez said. “It feeds 10 to 12 people. The best part of paella is that you place it in the middle of the table and everyone has a go at it — at the same time.”

Even the preparation of paella can be a spectator event, Martinez said. “People gather to watch as each part of the paella is added and the flavors start to meld and become aromatic. To some extent, we’ve gone a bit overboard at our house with a 2-burner propane tripod specifically made for cooking paella in a 22-inch pan. We even order food items from La Tienda, an online cooking store based in Spain.”

That people have bid handsomely at charity fundraisers for paella dinner parties held at his home has been both amusing and satisfying to Martinez.

“We serve various tapas and of course a large paella and lots of really good Spanish wine,” he said. “While I bet it’s the wine that gets them in the door, they leave pretty satisfied by the food, too.”

Martinez has been focused on making the perfect paella, which he says is a great food for sharing with friends and family, and that he has made for fundraising auctions in the past. Courtesy Raul Martinez

Martinez has been focused on making the perfect paella, which he says is a great food for sharing with friends and family, and that he has made for fundraising auctions in the past. Courtesy Raul Martinez

The most recent paella dinner was a particularly satisfying experience for Martinez.

“The paella had formed a really decent socarrat, which is the caramelized crust that forms at the bottom of the pan,” he explained. “The socarrat is the part that people fight over and it can be elusive to generate on a consistent basis and uniformly throughout the pan. I was really happy with it and I think our guests were too.”

Paella can be as varied as one’s imagination, according to Martinez, and the next variation to tackle is “cuttlefish paella” which is prepared with squid ink so that the rice comes out jet black, with just a bit of brine to the taste and it’s colored with lots of contrasting seafood.

For Martinez, cooking is part eating interesting food, part entertainment and part challenge.

“Cooking for someone is a way to say that you care about them without having to get all emotional about it. It brings family together, neighbors and friends,” he added.

A musician at heart

Martinez was born in Manhattan to Cuban immigrant parents, and grew up in greater New York. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance from SUNY Stony Brook; he enjoyed the performance part of being a musician.

“It’s pathetic, but I liked the attention, even though for me performing was nerve-racking,” he said.

When it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it as a professional classical musician, he decided to pursue a legal career.

“Another attention grabber” Martinez said. “I think it comes from being a middle child.”

Right out of Boston College Law School in 1990, Martinez went to work in the Bronx County District Attorney’s office. It was at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, when NYC’s homicide rate was the highest it has ever been, he said.

“New York was a mess and the Bronx in particular suffered. The DA’s office was a crash course in trial practice, and an eye opener on a whole bunch of levels” he said. “After five years, I had seen enough. It was also a perfect time to move and we decided on Rochester, where Heidi is originally from.”

In Rochester

Martinez started his civil litigation career in 1996 at the firm that has become Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina PC, and then moved to Chamberlain D’Amanda for a few years. In 2001, he secured an in-house counsel position at One Beacon Insurance. He enjoyed the small office environment and respected the company.

“For the next eight years, my home, office, kids’ schools and sports fields were within three miles,” he said. “It was a good trial practice with plenty of work, but not a stupidly litigious company.”

In 2003, Faraci Lange needed an experienced trial attorney, and Martinez fit the bill.

“I’m still not so sure they knew what they were getting themselves into” Martinez said.

He’d had cases against many of the attorneys in the firm, and knew them socially and through Monroe County Bar Association activities. “So we were pretty well-acquainted,” he said

In the community and at home

Martinez is currently on the board of Volunteer Legal Service Project, and many of the pro bono cases he handles involve Spanish-speaking clients. He is also a tutor at School 37, which has a large Spanish population. He worked with four students last year and will have a similar group of students this year. His focus has primarily been on third- to sixth-graders and in the area of math.

“It’s definitely humbling at first because you have to teach yourself fifth- and sixth-grade math all over again,” he said.

Martinez met his wife, Heidi, at Boston College during law school. She currently works at Xerox, concentrating on intellectual property. They have two children: Sam, 17, and Grace, 14. They also have a German shepherd named Wayne Rooney, after the Manchester United soccer forward.

For the current Art of Lawyering auction to benefit VLSP, Martinez donated a “paella dinner for six,” complete with tapas, paella and Spanish wine. You can check what the bid is right now by going online to www.32auctions.com/2013artoflawyering. It’s a great way to support VLSP and have a memorable evening out.