The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Cooking up ramen

By Jamil Oakford/editor-in-chief

Student’s passion lies in making more than just college staple

Making the perfect bowl of ramen is a delicate business. It requires both patience and attention. If cooked too long, the noodles become too soft. If not cooked long enough, there’s an unpleasant crunch.

SE culinary arts student Kevin Martinez works long hours in his food cart Yatai. Only three classes away from completing his degree in the program, Martinez is spread between working in the food cart, teaching food classes, helping his friend reopen his restaurant and spending time with his wife and two sons. Photos by Katelyn Townsend/The Collegian
SE culinary arts student Kevin Martinez works long hours in his food cart Yatai. Only three classes away from completing his degree in the program, Martinez is spread between working in the food cart, teaching food classes, helping his friend reopen his restaurant and spending time with his wife and two sons.
Photos by Katelyn Townsend/The Collegian

Thankfully, a good bowl of ramen isn’t hard to come by on the streets of Fort Worth on a Saturday night. One only has to look out the front doors of Avoca Coffee, thanks to a TCC student.

SE culinary arts student Kevin Martinez, 29, owns and runs a food cart by the name of Yatai. But Martinez has hit Level 3 difficulty by being not just a student and food cart owner but also a father and husband.

On the surface, he’s like many students returning to college. He’s studying a subject he’s passionate about and has a family at home. He has two sons, Eli, 6, and Alex, 3.

His passion becomes clear within minutes of talking to him, emphasizing the importance of the art of cooking.

“It’s the most intimate thing you can do for someone else,” he said.

As street food has gained popularity across the country over the last few years, owning a food cart that frequents the streets of Fort Worth is quite an accomplishment.

Martinez runs Yatai, focusing mainly on Japanese food but occasionally delving into other Asian cuisine.

“I love Japanese food and all Asian food, and I also love street food,” he said.

Memories of street food in Mexico and eating from those street carts as a child drove Texas-native Martinez to work toward opening it up.

But it was a startling conversation with his oldest son Eli that had Martinez itching to head back to school.

“Eli saw his mom’s bachelor’s degree on the wall, and he asked, ‘Where’s your cooking degree?’” he said.

While Martinez had an EMT and fire certification, he said he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

“He looked me dead in my face and says, ‘Is it OK to be a quitter?’ I knew I had to go back to school and finish,” he said.

Now only three classes away from graduation, Martinez is a finely coordinated balancing act among school, a job and family life. When asked about a typical day, Martinez just laughed and shrugged.

“Sometimes it depends on the weather,” he said. “I did a charity cook-off event the other day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It definitely varies.”

Jarry Ho, Tokyo Cafe owner and a friend of Martinez, isn’t quite sure how Martinez does it.

“He probably doesn’t sleep,” he said.

Martinez credits the ability to withstand his almost impossible schedule to the support of his wife.

“She understands why I’m doing it,” he said.

And even though she understands, Martinez knows it’s still difficult to be so busy and have limited time with his family.

“I’m not always there,” he said. “It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re working, but there’s only so many hours in the day, so you have to make sacrifices.”

Making sacrifices and family are at the center of Martinez’s motivation. Anytime he can find a way to get his children involved with the business, he does.

“I took a black and white film course on the Hurst campus because I thought it would help my lighting and help me take better pictures of my food,” he said. “This was stuff I’m hoping to do with my sons. It always circles back to family.”

This balancing act only highlights Martinez’s drive and determination in the eyes of fellow chefs. Central Market cooking school manager Sarah Hooton finds working with Martinez a blast.

“His best quality is his people skills,” Hooton said. “We tease with him and call him a social butterfly.”

Ho recognizes Martinez’s drive and says Martinez isn’t like most chefs he’s met or worked with.

“Most chefs are cocky and unwilling to share, but Kevin isn’t anything like that,” Ho said. “He’s willing to share, even his recipes.”

Between charity cook-offs, a New York trip to assist a pastry chef in a cooking competition, building another food cart that will serve Mexican food, teaching cooking classes at the Fort Worth Central Market and assisting a friend in reopening his restaurant Tokyo Cafe, it’s a jam-packed schedule.

But he sees that as the price of fulfilling his passion.

“It’s so much easier because I get to do what I love,” he said. “And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s about? I could make a lot more money serving a different menu, but it wouldn’t make me happy.”

Donate to The Collegian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Tarrant County College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian