The wheels started turning for Francesco Martorella 35 years ago, on a summer visit to his dad’s hometown in Italy, when he was just a boy. “My father said there would be this bike race on the Adriatic,” says the chef, whose Broad Street restaurant, Bliss, recently won an Esquire award as one of the best new kitchens in the country. “So we stood outside, and I watched the peloton racers go by. Seventy-five cyclists. And they went so fast. I was amazed.” Today, that boy’s bike is Italian (Coppi). And his Sunday ride approaches ritual. Here, Martorella talks about the slow burn.
So it’s all about the bike?
I love biking. That’s my only outlet, the only thing I have for myself.
How long did you spend picking out your bike?
It took two months. I spent hours looking on the computer, went to 15 different stores. I bought it from the owner of Bike Addicts on Ridge Avenue. And it wasn’t cheap, either. I got a good deal: I got mine for $1,600, but they go up to $5,000.
When do you ride?
I work 14 hours a day, six days a week. So there are only so many rides I can go on. And the cold weather has an effect. But in the winter, I try to go at least every Sunday.
Is it the speed you love?
The speed, going out on long trips and looking around, getting fresh air, sun, looking at the trees … You need to have something that puts things in perspective for you.
So, seeing something other than a kitchen …
We’re inside all day. We do have a window in the kitchen, but it still feels like a cave. Some days, you come in, it’s dark; you leave, it’s dark. It can get depressing.
What’s the minimum you need to ride to feel right?
When I hit 10 days [without biking], I start getting really ornery.
And you yell at people in the kitchen?
I don’t yell. But it builds up.
How fast do you go?
If I’m going uphill, I go slow.
A decent pace, probably 18 to 20 miles per hour.
What’s the Sunday route?
I like to ride to Valley Forge. I start on West River Drive, go through Manayunk, then cut in through the bike trail that goes out past Conshohocken and Norristown.
Do you ride alone?
Sometimes my [sous-] chef comes with me.
Do you make him wear a Bliss jersey?
Everyone who rides with me has to wear one. That’s the deal.