Zarela Martinez

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Zarela Martinez
Born Agua Prieta, Mexico
Occupation Restaurateur, author
Partner(s) Jamie Gillis
Children Aarón Sanchez Andres Sanchez
Parent(s) Aida Gabilondo
Relatives Francisco Gabilondo Soler

Zarela Martinez (born in Agua Prieta, Mexico) is a New York City-based restaurateur and cookbook author. She learned cooking from her mother Aida Gabilondo, also a cookbook author. Martinez serves on the Board of Directors for the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York.


Martinez has been instrumental in introducing Americans to authentic Mexican food, through her restaurants and writings. She has organized food festivals in New York City and given cooking lessons, demonstrations, and lectures on Mexican cuisine and culture.[1]

Chef Paul Prudhomme served as Martinez' mentor after he discovered her in a New Orleans cooking class and around 1979, Martinez opened her catering business El Paso.[2] In 1987 Martinez opened Zarela, a Mexican restaurant that is credited as being a pioneer of regional Mexican cuisine in New York City. The restaurant closed in 2011, citing rising expenses and financial issues prompted by an increasing economic crisis.[3]

Martinez has made several television appearances and her 2001 cookbook Zarela’s Veracruz was written as the companion book to the 2001 PBS series Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana. In 2004 she was labeled one of seven individuals that helped redefined the American culinary landscape since the last half of the twentieth century by the U.S. State Department’s online publication E-Journal USA: U.S. Society & Values.[4]

She is currently hard at work on a book about naturally light Mexican food.

Beyond Cooking[edit]

In 2016 she starred in the movie Moronga where she sang and acted.

In 2017, Zarela is launching her first album as a singer "Sad Songs from my Happy Heart."

Awards and accolades[edit]

  • Best International Book of the Year for Food from My Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined, The James Beard Foundation (1993, nominated)[5]
  • Who's Who of American Food Professionals, James Beard Foundation (2013)

Personal life[edit]

Zarela lives in New York City. Her son Aarón Sanchez is the co-star of the television shows Chopped, Heat Seekers and guest chef at MasterChef Season 7 and the chef/owner of the restaurant Mestizo, in Kansas City, Kansas; Rodrigo became a lawyer.

In 2004, Martinez was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, triggered by an accident in which she was hit by a taxi cab. She was the partner of Jamie Gillis from 2003 until his death in 2010.[6]


  • Food from My Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined (1995)
  • The Food and Life of Oaxaca: Traditional Recipes from Mexico's Heart (1997)
  • Zarela's Veracruz (2001)
  • Zarela's Veracruz: Mexico's Simplest Cuisine (2004)
  • Food from my Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined (2010)


External links[edit]