Every night before he goes to market, Kenny Martin spends six hours baking bread rolls, cinnamon buns and cookies.
Martin, 59, has become a familiar face around farmers’ markets across the South Cariboo from the Interlakes to Cache Creek and 100 Mile House to Williams Lake. He always enjoys setting up what he calls “his guest chair” beside his booth for friends to sit down and chat with him about food, life and how he manages to bake everything with only the use of one arm.
“It’s just like David Letterman right?” Martin laughed. “You would be surprised by how many people sit here and talk with me.”
In 2014, Martin, who is diabetic, had a stroke that landed him in the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops for three months. Due to a delay in receiving treatment Martin was partially paralyzed in his right arm and leg. Through physical therapy and the use of a brace he’s been able to walk fairly well but his right arm remains largely unusable.
However, he hasn’t let this stop him from pursuing his love of cooking and baking. Only a few days after leaving the hospital Martin, with help from his brother, catered a wedding for 200 people.
Cooking and baking these days is a special kind of challenge, Martin said.
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He had to re-learn how to do everything with only his left hand which, before the stroke, wasn’t his dominant hand. It also meant he’s had to take it a bit easier on running his catering business.
In 2020, Martin said his friend Bruce Ambler, whom he’s known since high school, phoned him up and invited him to bring some baking down to Hunnies’ Sunday market in Clinton. Martin said his goods were well received and he started attending farmers’ markets regularly to sell them to a growing clientele. Good friends like Ambler have been key in encouraging him to keep baking when he feels down, Martin said.
To bake anything using only his left hand takes a little extra time, but Martin doesn’t mind. He can use his right hand for certain tasks but otherwise has to roll, knead, mix, cut and wrap everything else with his left hand.
“Baking is calming, it takes me a long time. Someone could whip off cinnamon buns twice as fast as I can but I’m content with it. I don’t care if it takes me all night, I’ll bake from 10 p.m. at night till early in the morning,” Martin said. “Even still, with one hand, I manage to do it and it’s a good product.”
A journeyman cook by trade, Martin comes from a family of bakers – both his mother and father were chefs. He got his start in a kitchen at the age of 10, washing dishes at the Husky in Cache Creek, and went on to work in hotels and restaurants across B.C. and Canada including Bridges Restaurant at Granville Island and the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff.
One of the hardest jobs he ever had was helping a friend run a cafe on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Martin said he often pulled 15 hour days, seven days a week doing catering and prep work. Thanks to a gratuity clause in his contract, however, there were days he brought home $8,000 for two weeks of work.
“My friend who brought me up there, he made me work twice as hard as everyone else because he was going to show them guys (up there) what I could do,” Martin said. “There was no bakery on Baffin Island so I started making doughnuts and fresh cinnamon buns every day and they started selling like crazy.”
After returning to the South Cariboo and settling in Buffalo Creek, Martin has catered for several different banquets and events in the area for clients including Save-On-Foods, Donex Pharmacy and Ducks Unlimited. He also worked for the Red Rock Grill for four years and helped train Miles Theoret, now one of the restaurant’s head chefs.
These days, Martin enjoys sitting on the back of his pickup truck and waving as people pass his booth. He’s quick to offer a free sample and a joke as he steadily sells his freshly baked goods.
“I like making a bit of money but it’s not about the money. I like seeing people get happy when they get the product, I get a lot of self-satisfaction out of it.”