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About Zarela

Short Bio

Born in the Sonoran border town of Agua Prieta, Zarela Martinez is a renowned cultural interpreter between Mexico and the United States through the medium of food. Since 1987 her eponymous “Zarela” set standards of authenticity among New York Mexican restaurants. A sought-after speaker and consultant for major corporations, she also wrote the pioneering cookbooks Food from My Heart, The Food and Life of Oaxaca, and Zarela’s Veracruz, the last published in conjunction with her public television series ¡Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana.

This website and blog are an invaluable resource for lovers of Mexican food and culture and her how-to videos on basic Mexican cooking techniques and flavor principles are fun and informative.

More detailed curriculum

Zarela Martinez is one of America’s top culinary professionals and a 2013 inductee into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. Her achievements as a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, food television host, and product developer and merchandiser place her as a pioneering woman in the world of the multiplatform food personality. In today’s celebrity saturated culinary world, it’s not uncommon to find the roles of chef, cookbook author, television host, product line developer, and brand representative combined in one food personality. But Martinez wove these fields into a single career when it was uncommon in the profession, and a truly remarkable feat for an Hispanic woman.

Martinez was born in the Mexican town of Agua Prieta in Sonora State. Her family had been significant landholders in Chihuahua, and she was raised in a privileged and educated atmosphere. She learned to cook from her mother, Aida Gabilondo, who was herself a cookbook author. Out of necessity, she started a small catering business in Texas, and was later discovered by Chef Paul Prudhomme while attending cooking school in New Orleans.

Arriving in New York City in 1983, she established Zarela Catering and participated in some of the founding events of the modern American food resurgence, working alongside figures including Paul Prudhomme, Alice Waters, Leo Steiner, Wolfgang Puck, Craig Claiborne, and others. Soon she was Consulting Chef and limited partner, and later Executive Chef, in the new Café Marimba, the first restaurant in New York to feature dishes “from a fine Mexican home with local ingredients.” In 1987, she opened the eponymous Zarela, serving a changing menu of various Mexican regional cuisines. The restaurant remained a New York favorite for twenty-three years. In 2001, she opened Danzon, where the menu was based on the foods of Veracruz.

Martinez’ three cookbooks, Food from my Heart (1992), The Food and Life of Oaxaca (1997), and Zarela’s Veracruz (2001), have been praised as significant contributions to the literature of Mexican cuisine. Her third cookbook, Zarela’s Veracruz, was also the companion to a 13-part PBS series, Zarela! La Cucina Veracruzana.

. In recognition of her achievements, in 2004 a food-themed edition of the U.S. State Department’s e-journal U.S. Society and Values titled ”Americans at the Table” singled her out, along with luminaries like James Beard and Julia Child, as one of seven taste-setters who have changed the way people eat in this country.

She has consulted with clients such as Unilever Best Foods, Nestlé, Marriott and Taco Bell. She has made many guest appearances on television, including shows such as Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs and Martha Stewart.

But Martinez had a goal beyond success in these fields. She sought to bring a more authentic, culturally aware Mexican cuisine to the U.S., beyond the “slop and glop” that characterized most Americans’ understanding of Mexican food. She insisted that to master a dish one had to situate it in a cultural context  and understand the regions, their specific ingredients, techniques, and cultures. This led her to numerous research trips throughout Mexico, where she conducted interviews, took notes and photographs, and generally documented the wide context of the recipes that she presented in her books and at her restaurants.

For her efforts to introduce a vision of Mexico’s food and culture, she has been recognized by the Mexican Cultural Institute .  She has made numerous  presentations to the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the James Beard House, The Smithsonian, The American Museum of the American Indian in New York, the American Institute of Wine & Food, and been invited to cook for presidents and royalty.

Zarela has also been honored for her entrepreneurship and business accomplishments by Hispanic Magazine, the New York State Restaurant Association, the Women’s Venture Fund, the Women’s Leadership Exchange, and the Orgullo Award from the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services. She is a member of the Board of Directors of The Mexican Cultural Institute, and is active in other organizations including Masa,  Mano a Mano, APEM, City Meals on Wheels, and La Mixteca.

In 2013, Harvard/Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library acquired her personal and professional papers and are now available online for viewing..The direct link is http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:RAD.SCHL:sch01455.  The finding aid has also been posted online at OASIS, Harvard University’s Online Archival Search Information System (http://oasis.harvard.edu). ​

May 8, 2015, she was given the key to the city of El Paso.

Zarela has written a major article on the Mexican Corn Kitchen for the Daily Meal and has finished a book proposal for a book on a revolutionary approach to Mexican food.  She diligently keeps up with her website and facebook page.  Her album,  Sad Songs from a Happy Heart, is being mixed and mastered, the final stage of production and will be released on Valentine’s Day or thereabouts   Also due for release is the black comedy, Moronga, in which she has a small singing role.  Also on the artistic side, Zarela has launched a line of decorated jackets for sale on Etsy’s.

CD Zarela2

Possible cover for the album by www.rodicaprato.com

Curriculum en espanol

Zarela Martínez


Nacida en la ciudad de Agua Prieta, Sonora, Zarela Martínez es considerada en los Estados Unidos como una embajadora de la cocina mexicana por su entusiasta promoción y autenticidad de sus recetas utilizadas desde 1987 y durante 23 años en su restaurante “Zarela”, en Nueva York.

Una prestigiada conferencista y consultora para empresas alimenticias, como Uniliver Best Foods, Nestlé, Marriot y Taco Bell, Zarela es también autora de tres libros de cocina: Food from my heart (1992), Food and life of  Oaxaca (1997) y Zarela´s Veracruz (2001), este último conjuntamente con la serie de televisión del mismo nombre para la cadena de televisión estadunidense PBS.

Considerada como una de las figuras más destacadas del mundo gastronómico en los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica, Zarela Martínez recibió el honor de ser incluida, en 2013, en la lista del Who´s Who of Food and Beverage in America que año con año realiza la renombrada James Beard Fundation. Sus logros como chef, empresaria restaurantera, autora de libros y conductora televisiva aunados a los de creadora de líneas de productos con su nombre la han hecho merecedora de otros premios y distinciones.

Zarela inició su carrera inicialmente como caterer en El Paso, Texas, para después radicar en Nueva York en 1983, donde se integró a lo que algunos llaman “el resurgimiento de la comida moderna estadunidense” al lado de grandes figuras como Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne,  Alice Waters, Leo Steiner y Wolfang Puck, entre otros. Al poco tiempo de su arribo a la ciudad de Nueva York, fue nombrada Chef Ejecutiva del restaurante Café Marimba, que se caracterizó por ofrecer auténtica comida mexicana para, en 1987, abrir su propio restorán con el que dio a conocer las diferentes cocinas regionales de México a la vez que trabajaba en diversos proyectos.

Interesada en ofrecer la comida tradicional auténtica mexicana en los Estados Unidos, la chef realizó innumerables viajes a México para también situar cada platillo en su contexto cultural, por lo que realizó exhaustivas investigaciones que documentó con gran cuidado, lo que le valió  que recientemente la Universidad de Harvard comprara su archivo.

A este honor se suman también los reconocimientos otorgados por el Instituto Cultural Mexicano, la Organización Mano a Mano y otros organismos e instituciones en NY como Women´s Venture Found, City Meals on Wheels y Hispanic Children´s Fund, con las que colabora activamente.

Reconocida como una celebridad en la gastronomía por muchísimas prestigiadas publicaciones como The New York Times y New York Magazine, Zarela ha realizado numerosas presentaciones en The American Institute of Wine & Food,  el Museo Smithsonian, la International Association of Culinary Professionals, el Museo del Indio Americano y la James Beard House, entre otras, además de haber sido invitada a cocinar para presidentes y reyes.

Zarela Martínez continúa activa en el mundo de la gastronomía estadunidense, ofreciendo conferencias, preparando nuevos libros y en otros proyectos.