Tokyo Cafe’s Chef Kevin Martinez took me by surprise when he told me that Anna Wintour, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, was one of his biggest role models. Over the years, he’d read about her, watched her interviews and more recently, tuned into her Masterclass.
At first glance, it may be hard to believe that Kevin and Anna share anything in common: Anna is a British fashion magazine editor and friend of Christian Dior and Michael Kors who frequents Roger Federer’s matches and runs a multimillion-dollar charity event, the Met Gala. Most importantly, she never wears sweatpants.
Kevin is a Mexican-American chef specialized in Asian, especially Japanese, cuisine. He organizes meal distributions for Fort Worth residents in need and has tattoos—Ramen bowls, Lucky Cats, a Geisha and Baby Godzilla—on his arms and legs. He wears hoodies to interviews.
Nevertheless, he and Anna Wintour share an intuition for leading boldly and creating compelling stories through art and food. Kevin likened Anna’s process of editing Vogue magazine to his process of creating a dish.
“[Anna] puts things together—she composes things, and breaks things apart. Then she reassembles them to fit a palate of this many viewers,” Kevin said with widened hands.
Kevin similarly reaches a wide audience through his cooking at Tokyo Cafe and Yatai Food Kart, his food truck. He uses familiar flavors to conjure memories while also introducing people to new ingredients, paving the way for new experiences. Recently, for instance, he collaborated with Chef Francisco Islas of Paco’s Mexican Cuisine to create a Birria Ramen. The birria broth, originating in Jalisco, Mexico, pairs with the otherwise classic ingredients in Japanese ramen.
As with food, Kevin leads by bringing his community together through bold ideas. Since COVID-19 hit in March of last year, Kevin and other local chefs have pitched in to create and distribute food boxes to Fort Worth residents in need. Composed of a patchwork of comfort foods, from BBQ pulled pork and dumplings, to ramen noodles and baked beans, the boxes reflect Fort Worth’s diverse community and an “ethic,” Kevin said, “of support for those who need it most.”
Kevin has helped facilitate 48,000 free meals for service industry workers out of a job since March with the help of Rufus Bar and Grill, Black Cat Pizza, Great Harvest Bread Co, Mibo Fresh Foods, Smokey's BBQ and Diner, Acre Distilling Co. and Hao & Dixya Dumplings to name a few.
I watched Anna Wintour’s Masterclass per Kevin’s advice. Here are three lessons I learned from Anna and Kevin on creativity and leadership:
1. Lean on your community and lead boldly.
Both Kevin and Anna rely on people around them to create a unifying vision that pushes the envelope. Anna Wintour makes editorial choices that provoke her readers to think about topics like racial representation in fashion and media. Drawing from people and the world around her, she’s shaped Vogue into a leading voice of defining cultural moments.
Kevin’s food distributions have meanwhile sparked into plans for a nonprofit that will bring chefs and local artisans together in the service of various causes like designing winter coats for the unhoused. Stay tuned as his plans develop on Tokyo Cafe’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
2. For inspiration, step out of your routine.
“You don’t realize how little you know until you travel.” Kevin’s tattoos bookmark his times of growth, particularly visits to Japan that have humbled and inspired him to experiment in the kitchen.
For Vogue, Anna Wintour draws inspiration from art, current events and even strangers on the street, showing that you can experience new things close to home. Becoming an active observer can be enough.
3. Lead and create with respect.
Anna and Kevin are always early (Kevin indeed arrived 30 minutes early to meet me). They stressed being early as a show of respect, also reflecting the way they lead others and handle their subject matters.
In his cooking, Kevin seeks guidance from mentors in Japan and always credits his food’s cultural origins—an important act of humility that he extends toward people in his community, treating everyone as deserving of a delicious, warm meal. Try Kevin’s to-go specials (check Tokyo Cafe’s Facebook page).