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Martha Ortiz is one of multiple famous chefs at the new La Casa de la Playa all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico. She is, however, the only female head chef at the boutique property.
Chef Ortiz leads the way at Tuch de Luna, one of four restaurants at the resort. She serves uniquely crafted dishes in Pink Mole, Vampire Ceviche, Green Guacamole and the Mexican Jewel, Magical Town Eggs, Solar Chilaquiles, and the Mexican Fruit Painting.
The internationally renowned chef lives in Mexico City and has received multiple awards during her career. Prior to the pandemic, she was the owner of Dulce Patria, which was named the number one restaurant in Mexico for 2017, 2018, and 2019. Sadly, the pandemic closed Dulce Patria.
Chef Ortiz was also recognized as one of the top 40 Best Chefs in the World, was nominated as one of the 100 most influential people in the country in the book 100 por Mexico (100 for Mexico) by Grupo Expansión and served as a judge in the first and second seasons of Top Chef Mexico.
We recently spoke with Chef Ortiz to learn more about her background and her inspiration in creating a menu for the elevated all-inclusive resort.
TravelPulse: How did you get started in your career? When did you know when you wanted to be a chef?
Martha Ortiz: My father is a medical doctor, a very celebrated Mexican doctor, and my mother is an artist. So, I grew up in this background between science and art and had a lot of interesting people over at our table. So, I grew up with the idea that everything happened at the tables.
I think that idea, you know, it was on my mind that tables are the most important things where you can have conversations, where you can get mad, where intelligence can be grown. So as a little girl, it was my world at the table, and I have such a big imagination. So, I thought it was a mission, you know, in life that they were talking to me, you know, the Gods, the Mexican Gods, saying 'you have to do something with the food.'
I remember that I came to my father and said I want to be a curator in a museum, I would love to be a chef, or I would love to be something very artistic. But my father told me, I remember perfectly, "you can do anything in life but you're going to make a career first." I think it was a fantastic tool because I studied political science and make my career and I finish in a very good school because my father told me you need to have the discipline to study in a good way, and he always told me "you're a woman, so you will need more in this in this world."
I later went to New York to practice in some restaurants, and I really learned it for myself, you know, because I had another career. So, I worked with very good chefs. I started learning, and then I opened my first restaurant when I was very young.
TP: What were some of the challenges you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
MO: So (my first restaurant) was the first very nice, fine, dining restaurant in Mexico. It was very successful. But they shut it down in the end, you know, the government, because they told me that I need one more parking space. And I think in a way I was being punished because I was very successful. It was very political. I am sure that if I was a man, things will go in a different way, that's what I learned. It was very difficult for me. So, I suffered a lot, but I learned a lot, you know, to be strong. I have another restaurant in La Casa de la Playa and I'm opening a new one in a few months. I'm working on [other projects] too, making a very interesting book, it's called Recipes for Women with Greatness.
TP: When first presented with the idea, what was your first thought about being a chef at an all-inclusive restaurant?
MO: I think it was my social responsibility in this country. I have to empower women. As women, we need to be mentors of other women, you know, you need to show them. So, I think it was my social responsibility to be a mentor and to show them not just to cook good in their own life, but to know how to be strong, how to put your ingredients together, you know, how do you build a modern woman to break the caramel ceiling? Not a glass ceiling, the caramel ceiling!
TP: Tell us about Tuch de Luna at La Casa de la Playa, the inspiration for it, and taking the all-inclusive food concept to the next level.
MO: I love to tell stories. I have a big imagination, so what I did is have my own style, but putting this high contrast to it so you can eat through colors. The synesthesia, you know, between colors and flavors, and the tasting menu is going to be like that. I made that project with Google and Arts and they adored it. The name was We Eat Color.
So, I think when you eat a Pink Mole at Tuch de Luna, you're trying the pink, but you're trying Mexico, you're trying feminine, and you have this powerful thing on your mouth.
So, I make Mexican food with a big imagination with the synesthesia of colors and being by the sea, you know. So why cannot we eat pearls in a way? Why cannot we eat pink? Why cannot we eat the blue? So, I try to make this very feminine central high contrast menu. All the names [on the menu] for me are very important. All the names that you put, it's like having a child, having a dish is like having a child, so it has to have a beautiful name. It's the secret garden for me, you know.
TP: Yeah, it's a creation of yours, so it makes sense you have to put your spin on it. I loved the Mexican Fruit Painting dish and the Solar Chilaquiles.
MO: Thank you for that. I really love my work and I really think that as a woman, as a Mexican, I need to do things very well. And when you have chilaquiles, it can be something delicious but simple, but I decided I want the sun in this plate, I want it to be yellow. That's my inspiration. The sun is a star, and you're eating a star in that moment.
TP: It certainly was a star dish. So last question here, what advice would you give to women aspiring to work in the chef industry?
MO: I have learned, when you have a woman mentor it is easier to be successful. So, my first advice is to be very near a woman with success, so they can show you, they can be your mentors. And always I say, be very honest with yourself and what you believe. If you take your dreams and be honest, everything will come. So, it's being strong in femininity and being near other women…have a good idea and sit down and say, "I want to do this!"
And I don't want to be rude, but that's my thoughts. I think that this new world is having this woman's revolution. I think our time has come. So, they don't have to go through what I have been through to be successful, and I'm very happy for that.
Eric Bowman is the Executive Editor of TravelPulse. A graduate of The University of Georgia, Eric has been working in online...
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