Range Rover & SHARP
Martine Bauer is the French-trained chef who opened Toronto’s Pompette in May 2020 – just as the pandemic was taking grasp globally. You might question her timing, and that’s fine by her. Bauer welcomes criticism, but stands firmly on her convictions – on this matter, and literally any other you might throw her way.
“I’ve always said that this is my choice. Whatever I’ve decided, whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to do it until the end. No one can make me change my mind or make me feel like I’ve made the wrong decision,” she says.
And, against the odds, she turned out to be right. Pompette was successful right out of the gate – it ended up on several Best New Restaurant lists, was named Air Canada’s Best Fine Dining pick, and is even a Michelin-recommended establishment. The flagship has also spurred two other endeavours: Bar Pompette and Bakery Pompette. Decidedly, Bauer’s ability to trust her gut is guiding her towards slowly taking over Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood.
She didn’t always trust herself this strongly. In fact, her confidence was shaky as a young chef – that is, until she took home the top prize at a cooking competition. “I worked on my recipe for six months, supported by other chefs who told me to be confident and to not be afraid,” she says. “But the voice in my head said otherwise. I was alone there in the competition. No one would be there to tell me I could do it.”
When she won — a first for her hometown, Mauritius Island — that negative voice in her head met its match. “I believe in myself now. I believe in the decisions I make. I’m not afraid of anything,” she says.
In fact, that fear has been replaced entirely by self-assurance. Bauer is good, she knows it, and she’s not afraid to tell you. “I’ve worked in five-star restaurants and Michelin restaurants. I know what I’m talking about,” she says. “I’m not opening a restaurant and then having someone else run it – that’s our power, that’s our success.”
Her lack of fear has served her well in an industry that’s still male-dominated. “Especially in the beginning, I felt like I had to show what I was capable of,” she says. And while she believes the industry is becoming more accepting of women in top roles, there’s still work to be done in a culture that perpetuates being a boys’ club. “It can be intimidating for young women to apply to work in a kitchen when they show up to drop off a resume and there’s only men working,” she says. For this reason, Bauer is proud to be the owner of her empire and hire other women who will create a more inclusive space for others.
An inclusive, collaborative experience is integral to her own creative process, too. Pompette’s menus change with the season, so there’s lots of space for creation. Working with local farmers, Bauer will dream up menu ideas which are often influenced by her travels. (She’s a lover of food, from Michelin restaurants to food trucks and everything in between.) Then, after perfecting flavours and plating with her chef, it’s up to her front-of-house staff to give feedback.
“They’re the ones who will be selling it,” she says. “So it’s important that they taste test, know the full process of how it was made, where the products are from, and how to explain the experience to the customer.”
Bauer’s takeover of College Street left us hungry for what’ll be coming out of her kitchens next – and she says everything is on the table.
“We keep our eyes and ears open. When the right thing comes along, we’ll say ‘yes.’ That’s how the bar opened, it’s how the bakery opened,” she says. “The thing is, when you have a plan, you’ll only move towards that specific thing. But without a plan, you have the capacity to absorb everything that comes, and you have the privilege to pick what you want. We’ll see what’s next – we won’t stop here.”