ZARELA MARTINEZ, one of this generation’s leading U. S. restaurateurs, was born and raised in Mexico but began cooking professionally during the late 1970′s in El Paso, Texas. With the encouragement of Paul Prudhomme and Craig Claiborne, who had been impressed by her vivid Mexican food, she made some nationally noted guest-chef appearances and in 1983 moved her business to New York.
Here she quickly made her mark as menu-designer and later executive chef for Cafe Marimba, the city’s first serious attempt to recreate regional Mexican cuisine with local resources. A loyal following of diners and food writers responded eagerly when in 1987 she decided to start her own restaurant, Zarela. Since its opening 23 years ago, New Yorkers took Zarela to their hearts and were heartbroken when sh decided to close in early 2011 Some customers have started a page of customers who want it to reopen and Zarela may one day open a saloon/salon.It was f avorite meeting spot as well as a culinary standard-setter
In her continuing commitment to bringing regional Mexican food to New York, Zarela has launched a program for the Mexican Cultural Institute called Food is Arte with ongoing events designed to promote Mexican culture through its food and traditions from different states in Mexico. Starting June 6th for 2 weeks there will be a celebration for her home state of Chihuahua in different locations around the city
Her mission is to make her culture in all its manifestations known and understood and has recently been named to the board of the Mexican Cultural Institute. Her website www.zarela.com is an invaluable resource for lovers of Mexican food and culture and her how-to videos on basic Mexican cooking techniques and flavor principles featured on www.youtube.com are fun and informative.
Ms. Martinez has been honored for her entrepreneurship and business accomplishments by Hispanic Magazine, The Women’s Leadership Exchange and The Women’s Venture Fund. Her family received The Coalition for Hispanic Family Services”The Orgullo de la Comunidad” award in 2006 .
In addition to her consulting cook and writing, Ms. Martinez carries on an extensive catering business and gives Mexican cooking lessons as well as lecture/demonstrations on Mexican cuisine and culture. She has acted as a marketing consultant for such clients as Unilever Best Foods, Nestlè©, Marriott and Taco Bell. Ms. Martinez has made many guest appearances on a wide variety of television programs such as “Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs” and “Martha Stewart” and is a frequent guest on NPR ‘s Lenny Lopate Show. She is active in organizations including Mano a Mano, MexEd Foundation, Latino Nutrition Coalition,, CityMeals on Wheels, and the Hispanic Children’s Fund.
“From my childhood on, cooking meant sharing and security and a way of “speaking” to people.
“When I grew up I found that cooking grew also to be a means of celebrating and honoring those who would eat meals that I’d carefully prepared from scratch. Over the years as I lived and thought and learned, cooking grew even more to embrace nearly every aspect of culture and human relationships. I have been lucky to make my career as chef, consultant, and businesswoman an never-ending source of joy and fulfillment.”