Martine and Tom the Travelling Tomato

Antibes wouldn’t be Antibes without Pomodoro, the lively pizza restaurant owned by French darling Martine Le Doré Bianchi. The restaurant’s cosy, ruby-red walls are filled with handwritten messages from crew the world over, a testament to the many regulars who’ve stopped by since Pomodoro opened shop in 1994.

But behind the tomatoes and craziness is the story of a woman with a deep love for seeing the world, one adventure at a time…

Martine has seen the globe: Ecuador, Argentina, Cuba, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil, Vietnam and an Atlantic crossing to name a few.

But unlike most of her pension-seeking peers, 64-year-old Martine is off on her next adventure to work as kitchen hand on board a 47m expedition yacht and ice breaker. The yacht cruises some of the world’s most remote destinations including Antarctica and Arctica.

For Martine, it is a dream come true.

“I can’t go on a holiday and lie on a beach,” she admits. “It’s not me. I need to be on the move… I love seeing the earth. I love seeing places… and the sky.”

Raised in a civil servant family in Brittany, Martine dreamed of becoming a war journalist.

“I didn’t want to fit into the system,” she says with a wry smile. “I wanted to learn English and just get away.” At 20-something, she left France for England, where she met someone and settled down.

I can’t go on a holiday and lie on a beach. It’s not me. I need to be on the move… I love seeing the earth.

The first Pomodoro was opened at 5 Warwick Way, London in 1984 and later grew into a pasta factory south of the Thames, with a small delivery van decorated with a big, red tomato on its side. The building is now demolished and little remains of its story.

(Oddly enough, the only photo of the first Pomodoro caught fire by candle at the Antibes restaurant many years later.)

Warwick Way Pomodoro was sold in 1989, when Martine moved to Nice and opened up a delicatessen in Rue de France, behind Hotel Le Negresco. Not a fan of Nice, Martine fell in love with the charm of old town Antibes where the Pomodoro of today was born in June 1994.

The restaurant is situated in the back streets of Antibes at 11 Rue de Migrainier, away from passing trade.

“If I hadn’t spoken English and if it weren’t for yachties, I wouldn’t be here today,” says Martine, who remains grateful for the generous support she has received from the yachting community over the past 20 years.

Pomodoro always filled with fun and festivity
Pomodoro always filled with fun and festivity

The beginning years in Antibes were hard work as Martine put elbow to the oven, opening for lunch and dinner, 365 days a year.

She recalls one night when she stood in the restaurant in tears, with the shutters half down, “A yacht crew came in and helped me out. They encouraged me to keep going.”

The positive spirit of yachting has long since been the culture at Pomodoro, where both small boat captains and big boat crew come to enjoy a night of pizza and playfulness.

Somewhere along the restaurant’s journey, ‘Tom Tomato’ was born — a stuffed toy tomato and Pomodoro mascot who continues to travel the world: Alcatraz, Queen Mary in San Francisco, diving with the French police, riding the Eurostar and sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

Every now and again, Tom Tomato makes his way back to Antibes before jetting off with another Pomodoro patron. I ask where Tom Tomato is these days…

Tom Tomato somewhere in the world
Tom Tomato somewhere in the world

… In a twist of fate, the travelling tomato has already made his way on board the Hanse Explorer, waiting for the arrival of Martine in Kingston, Jamaica in early November.

“I didn’t want to send my CV,” says Martine looking back on her application to join the vessel. “I thought, ‘Who is going to take me at my age?’”

Martine couldn’t believe it when she received an email confirming her spot to join the multinational, fourteen member crew.

A first-time yacht crew member at 64-years-old, Martine breaks all barriers of people who join the industry and its adventurous side. She continues to inspire others to ‘forget their pension plans’ and live everyday for what it is.

I didn’t want to send my CV. I thought, ‘Who is going to take me at my age?’

But for Martine, this is just the next chapter in her life’s journey. After years of travel, Mount Everest base camp and Antarctica have always been top of her bucket list.

“I love the world. I love the space.
The silence; the cracking of the ice.
It is the extreme,” says Martine.

“People say you get bored of sunrise and sunset, but I’ll never get bored of any of it.”

While Martine is adventuring, Winter Pomodoro remains open for business, Monday – Sunday from 6pm. A talented vegan chef will be serving tasty seasonal food paired with craft beer from all over the world. Contact: 04.93.34.57.12 or @pomodoro.antibes on Facebook. 11 Rue du Migrainier.