Hip-Hop’s Top Chef Steve Martorano Talks Food, Famous Friends and Fun

Food should be fun. And, not only is Steve Martorano an expert in food, he is an expert in fun. So, it comes as no surprise that when emcees like Fat Joe, Ludacris, and Cee Lo Green are looking for their fix, they hit up one of the former DJ’s three restaurants. XXL caught up with the restaurateur to get the dish on the magic that is Café Martorano.

“First of all, I’m not a chef,” Steve made clear early on. The South Philadelphia native is not formally trained in culinary arts or in business, and yet manages to run three successful Italian-American eateries with locations in Florida and Las Vegas. “I’m just a neighborhood cook,” he continued. “A guy from South Philadelphia who grew up with great Italian American cooking”

Although he doesn’t consider himself a “chef,” Steve’s Café Martorano is a favorite of many of the worlds most celebrate figures in music and sports. Anyone from crooner Jamie Foxx to superstar producer Quincy Jones and Babyface can be spotted grubbing on some of Steve’s home-style, Italian-American cooking.

“My cooking is just comfort food—it’s classic food,” Steve said about his menu. “It’s just Italian American neighborhood food. You know, it’s just comfort… It’s high quality, comfort food with, you know, a lot of pizzazz.”

While, Café Martorano’s food is undoubtedly good—Gourmet Magazine boasts the meatballs are one of the best in the word—it’s Steve’s genius incorporation of music and film that really makes this place special. With around 14 movie screens, a lights show and sound systems that can rival any nightclub, Café Martorano isn’t home to just great cooking, but great fun, great dancing, great movies and even great performances.

“Well, if you came to Café Martorano, this is what you would expect if you come at the right time and the right people are there,” Steve explained. “We’ve had Jamie Foxx, at least three times, come in, sit down, have dinner with his family and friends, pick up the microphone and sing for an hour and a half.”

According to Steve, this is a regular occurrence at any one of his three locations, with the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Doug E. Fresh adding to the roster of Café Martorano performers.

“This stuff doesn’t happen anywhere and I have it all on film,” Steve said. “They’re just so comfortable, you know, with me.”

This comfort has not only earned Steve high profile clients, but an even more extensive line-up of celebrity friends as well.

‘It’s where you’ll get an unforgettable experience of a lifetime,” rapper and friend Ludacris said about the café. The emcee celebrated his 30th birthday at Café Martorano’s Las Vegas location where he offered Steve one of 30 friendship rings given to his closest friends and family. And basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal gave Steve a similar token of his appreciation—an NBA Championship ring with his name on it.

“This is just relationships on, you know, treating people just like people,” Steve said of the bonds he’s built. “You know, not overstepping the bounds. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

And Steve has no intention on stopping there. The entrepreneur hopes to continue to add to his empire, which, in addition to three restaurants, includes a book titled Yo Cuz! My Life My Food My Way, a web series, jewelry and T-shirt lines and host of television appearances.

“I think to be successful, it’s gonna be a fight till the day you die,” said the owner who admits to working seven days a week. “You can never just let your guard down. Once you slow down, somebody’s going to pass you. If you want that success, you gonna have to act. Other people want it, but they don’t wanna work for it. Without failure or sacrifices, you’ll never get success.” —Shamecca Harris