Catch up with cookbook author and celeb chef Daisy Martinez and you may find her testing recipes for a new cookbook in her Brooklyn kitchen. Or speaking to schoolchildren about her circuitous route from studying to be a doctor at Long Island University to the French Culinary Institute and onto public television with the cooking show “Daisy Cooks!” Or her recent certification as a sommelier.
Or perhaps she’ll tell you about her newest project: executive chef of mamiverse.com, a website for young Latinas.
The website’s content (family, food, health, etc.) targets 25- to 45-year-old Latinas “who are probably second and third generation, who are English-speaking for the most part, but at home they usually speak Spanish,” she says. “As a result, they’ve been trying to get back to their roots. They’re trying to remember those recipes that might have been forgotten along the way.”
For Martinez, the kitchen has always been a place to connect with family — including her four children — and savor heritage. Brooklyn-born Martinez’s love of cooking was nurtured by her Puerto Rican parents, especially her mother, Conchita, and grandmother Valentina, then seasoned by her extended family from Central America and Spain.
Q: How did you involve your children in cooking?
A: When they would come home from school, I would be doing prep for dinner. And I’d have a little plastic knife for them and I’d say, “Do me a favor and scrape those vegetables while I do this.” Now I have that kid’s attention, that kid is rooted to that spot. And now I can ask the kid, “How was your day? How did the science test go?” “How did it go with that kid that was giving you a hard time?” So I’m fostering quality time with my child and fostering interest in the task that I’m giving them to do. So it becomes a science lesson, a nutrition lesson. And not only that, because the kids are involved in touching and preparing, they’re going to be more willing to taste and try new foods. Those bonds you form with your children will carry you through the rough teenage years when they’re pushing the envelope and testing the boundaries.
Q: What do you tell schoolchildren about the importance of food and cooking?
A: I tell these kids, “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from?” The food of Puerto Rico mirrors the food of Europe, of Spain, of the Mediterranean and Africa. Find a sense of yourself, a sense of identity, a sense of your culture, a sense of your heritage — all of that lies in your kitchen, in your food, in the foods that your mother and grandmother made for you.
Q: What is one cooking technique worth mastering?
A: Roasting. To roast something well is a joy and an art. When I go to a restaurant that I’ve never gone to before, I will order roast chicken. If the roast chicken is good, that is a landmark for me in that restaurant. Because a good roast chicken is crispy on the outside, gorgeous golden skin, juicy breasts, tender dark meat and flavorful.
Q: Any new cookbooks in the works?
A: I have a couple of ideas. One of the important ideas I have is a cookbook reflecting how Latinos from all over the world are translating their immigration experience when they go to a new country by adapting the food of their culture to the ingredients that are in that country.