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You should know the name Martel Stone. The executive chef at The H and former executive sous chef at Kith/Kin has established a stellar reputation locally for his culinary expertise. Lately he’s made a national name for himself with successful appearances on cooking competition shows.
And it all started with an omelet.
A friend cooked dinner for Stone one evening, surprising him by preparing a French omelet. At the time, Stone’s palate was unaccustomed to refined dining and he was struck by the complex flavors and texture.
“Up until that point, all I knew were greasy diner omelets—browned and overstuffed with cheese and ham,” he says. “But this one was different. It was perfectly yellow, slightly buttery, and light as a cloud. After the first bite, it changed everything for me.”
Stone, channeling his fascination, launched a personal crusade to learn how to recreate the omelet. It wasn’t easy, but through trial and error, and many cartons of eggs, he sorted it out. He enjoyed the culinary quest and realized he had a natural aptitude for cooking. He also needed money. So he began working in the kitchen at a nearby café in Portsmouth, Virginia.
But Stone’s first foray into the restaurant industry didn’t go well. In fact, he was let go.
“After being fired from the first job, I was determined to prove that I could hold down a steady line cook position,” Stone recalls. “I was hired at another restaurant called Swan Terrace and worked for Chef Jarrod Himes. And he really challenged me. Chef Himes pushed me in the way that I needed to be pushed.”
The skills and experience Stone acquired at Swan Terrace in Virginia Beach, Virginia, prepared him for the next step in his journey working at Kith/Kin at the Wharf. Before the restaurant closed, Stone worked under the tutelage of Executive Chef Kwame Onwuachi and received a crash course in the Afro-Caribbean fine dining.
Onwuachi created the Kith/Kin menu based on his family’s roots in Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Louisiana. He used traditional ingredients and spices and incorporated techniques that originated in Africa and migrated to the New World with the mass dispersion of people during the transatlantic slave trade.
“My time there was very influential,” Stone says. “Prior to Kith/Kin, I felt like I was a good cook but I hadn’t found my direction. I learned a great deal from Chef Kwame. I became more dedicated to my craft, and I was introduced to a style of cooking that ultimately would help shape my current career.”
Stone embraced diaspora cuisine and his menu at The H is reflective of his personal experience. “Up to now, I’ve been cooking other chef’s food,” he says. “This was my first opportunity to ask the very important question: ‘What is Chef Martel’s food?’ I wanted to have a combination of classics with slight twists. Everything from the shroom dirty rice and the peri peri chicken to the trout and plantain grits. Ultimately, I just wanted everything to be delicious.”
The H is a perfect fit for Stone. The restaurant is located inside The Gathering Spot, a Black-owned private members club located downtown. Founders Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen, who met as students at Georgetown University, wanted to create a safe environment for the Black community to relax and be themselves. The venue offers 24-hour workspaces, conference rooms, and areas for live performances.
“My experience here has been challenging, rewarding, and enlightening,” Stone says. “I’ve held leadership positions before, but there’s nothing like being the executive chef at The H. It’s very rewarding to look out into the dining room and serve Black and Brown faces.”
After receiving positive feedback from diners and press, Stone decided to shoot his shot on the reality television. He joined the cast of the Food Network show Alex vs America and faced off against Iron Chef winner Alex Guarnaschelli and two other chefs in blind taste test competitions.
Stone, wearing his trademark kente cloth headband, stayed true to his passion and prepared a full-flavored plate using the West African spices he became enthralled with at Kith/Kin. He performed well and defeated the two challengers in the preliminary rounds, but lost in the final round to Guarnaschelli.
“The secret to success on these shows is to stick to what you know and that means cooking dishes that you cook every day,” Stone says. (Unfortunately no D.C. chefs will be able to heed his advice on the upcoming season of Top Chef because the casting department selected no local contestants.) “I think about the elements of a successful dish, the balance between savory, sweet, aromatic, texture, acidity, and the right spice to round it out.”
Stone also competed on Chopped Next Gen, a discovery+ series that challenges up-and-coming chefs to turn mystery ingredients into innovative appetizers, entrées, and desserts. This time, Stone emerged victorious over the other “chef-testants” and took home the $10,000 prize.
“My motivation on Chopped Next Gen was just being able to cook my food on a national stage,” he says proudly. “I also wanted to show that the diaspora cuisine can stand up against any of the classic cuisines. Hearing the words, ‘You are Chopped Next Gen Champion’ tasted sweeter than the plantain grits I love so much!”
Stone is enthusiastic about his new project, the Black Supper Collective. He describes it as an initiative to connect Black chefs from around the world and provide them with a platform for self expression. It should launch this summer.
“I was offered so many opportunities to define my cuisine on some of the highest platforms, and at BSC this is my chance to offer them the same,” Stone says. “I want the opportunity to build a community that will strengthen the network amongst my peers. If I can inspire a chef or two along the way to follow their passion and to push themselves beyond where they thought they could be as a chef.”