RELEASED: MAY 3, 2022
James Beard Nominee, IACP Award Winner, TASTE AWARD Breakout Foodie of the Year, regular New York Times and Food52 contributor, Babish Culinary Universe star, and Borderline Salty co-host extraordinaire. It seems it’s Rick Martínez’s world, and we’re just lucky to be living in it.
And now add cookbook author to that list.
Mi Cocina: Recipes And Rapture From My Kitchen In Mexico is Martínez’s debut, and it’s a great one.
Pulling together inspiration from throughout México, Martínez undertook nearly two years of research starting in CDMX, then through 32 states, 156 cities, and 20,000 miles. But the brilliance of this cookbook is that the recipes are all his.
From his kitchen in Mazatlán, with his dog, Choco, by his side and the Pacific a stone’s throw away. Martínez provides his version of recipes tasted around the country and recreated in his home mainly for an American audience. And we are thankful for it.
And the revolutionary politics of this should not be underestimated.
That idea of who knows what and how they know it, the role of authenticity, and who we demand it from in the culinary community, remains a hot button issue.
“If I invited ten people to my house to make an aguachile, which is an iconic dish here in Mazatlán, there would be ten versions of that dish. And they would probably all be super delicious and imaginative and reflect the individual and their likes and their preferences and their own personal flair or sazón in the kitchen. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing. Why don’t we celebrate that?
But, the reality for many chefs of color is “it has to be somehow more real, more true, and more authentic to the place of origin.” If it’s a white person take on a dish, it so often becomes “so-and-so’s salad,” Martínez says, framing people of color as not a chef with special skills and taste preferences, into a culinary historian defining the ultimate recipe of an entire people, who are also stripped of their individuality and regional diversity.
“There are a number of authors who have researched food in Mexico and published books that use other people’s recipes. And I did not want to be one of those people. These recipes are mine. They’re my love letter to the people who cooked the food for me; they’re made with my personal sazón and what ingredients were available to me in Mazatlán.”
That might sound like nothing, but it is a significant shift in how chefs of color explore imposed expectations and boundaries on their cooking, legitimacy, and expected output.
“There are some ingredients that I can’t find here, and if I can’t find them here, there’s no way an American home cook is going to be able to find them in the United States—and I also wanted to make it easy for an American home cook to make these recipes.”
Food has long been a passion in the Martínez household in Austin, Texas, where the love was nurtured by his mother, the television, and, especially, Diana Kennedy.
“When I was in sixth grade, she took two weeks off of work during my winter break so we could learn how to make tamales together. She had only ever seen her aunts and her mother make them, all of whom had died by that point. There was no one in our family who could pass the recipe down, so she decided to restart the tradition and pass it to her sons.”
“My mom is the reason that I cook.”
“We loved Two Fat Ladies on the BBC and Emeril Live, but our favorite show was Diana Kennedy’s,” explaining that beyond the adoration of the food legend was a tangible loss.
“What was so devastating to me as a Mexican American boy growing up in Texas was that she knew more about my culture and my people than I did. That a British woman and Rick Bayless, a white man from Oklahoma, got to represent the culinary diversity of México while my Mexican American family tried to enculturate with meatloaf and Chef Boyardee.”
Martínez became a star with his popular videos on Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen; while also a Senior Editor with the magazine. Occupying a unique position of influence within the industry, he was widely lauded for his talent on air. All that television paid off in more ways than one.
But what started with a revolting photo of Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport in brownface that combined bare-knuckled ideas on culture, racism, arrogance, cluelessness, and privilege was merely the beginning.
Just how deep the racism ran within the magazine became public. The toxic culture was revealed, and the economic inequalities of the payment to white people for making Test Kitchen videos versus people of color were exposed.
As Bon Appetit’s parent company, Condé Nast, denied that individuals are paid differently based on race or gender – which was widely proven untrue. Priya Krishna, Sohla El-Waylly, and Martínez, amongst others, resigned after negotiations for equal pay for equal work were not adequately settled.
For decades it’s been called Condé Nasty, for many reasons.
Luckily, Martínez remains online through his popular show Pruébalo on YouTube’s enormously successful Babish Culinary Universe network. While Borderline Salty is the podcast he cohosts with Carla Lalli Music, they have returned for more advice and quiet truths.
And remember: any issues that may arise when following their advice are best handled with a quick call to them at 833-433-FOOD (3663). Now how’s that for service?
Martínez, Rick. Mi Cocina: Recipes And Rapture From My Kitchen In Mexico. Clarkson Potter, USA. Hardcover. $35. 304 pages.