Chef Daisy Martinez has been a cooking up delicious Latin treats for us on TV for years. From the French Culinary Institute to PBS to the Food Network, she has always made the art of cooking seem so easy and relatable. Latina.com sat down with the acclaimed chef to talk to her about her amazing new cookbook, Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night: Bringing Your Family Together with Everyday Latin Dishes, her favorite dish and her advice for busy moms who want to make a special meals for their families.
Your cookbook is so easy to follow! Why is important for you to make cooking simple?
Making it as simple as possible without compromising the integrity of the food is something that is important to me because as a Latina I understand that we take ownership of these recipes. We don’t want to compromise the authenticity. For us here in New York (gratefully) we’re able to get almost every ingredient. But for recipes that call for an ingredient that isn’t readily available to the mainstream, I try to find substitutions so people can go ahead and make the recipe.
What made you want to do a cookbook that incorporated flavors from all over Latin America, rather than focus on the traditional Puerto Rican cuisine you were raised with?
I think that’s a phenomenon that is happening in countries all over the world. Meeting people from other places in Latin America, I would naturally, of course, be invited to their home or they would bring something that their mom, aunt or abuela cooked and that piqued an interest in me. I found that as different and diverse as our food is we really do have common denominators. We share in common the Spanish influence, the influence of the African slave and then of course of the indigenous people.
You travel a lot with your family all over Latin America. How do you kids feel about being exposed to so many different foods and cultures?
They’re thrilled by it. My kids are all gypsies; they’ve always been like that. We always said to them, “You don’t have to eat everything on your plate, but you have to try everything on your plate.” That almost came to bite me in the butt once on a trip when we went to Mexico. I ordered a botona platter (a sampler of appetizers) and I was sitting there with my kids and one of the things on the sample platter I didn’t recognize. It looked like saffron threads on the plate so I called the waiter over and asked what is was and he told me, "Chapulines...chili lime roasted grasshoppers." So my kids leaned back, crossed their arms and said, "Yeah, well. You don’t have to eat it all Ma, but you have to taste it!" And I was like, "That’s definitely not going to happen."
Was becoming a chef a lifelong dream or was it something that just happened?
I kind of fell into it. I was given my matriculation at the French Culinary Institute as a present from my husband for my 40th birthday. I never would have done that for myself or gone through the expense of something like that! Two weeks after I graduated a culinary producer gave me my first job working as a prep chef for Lidia Bastianich. Then the executive producer asked me what kind of food I do and I told him Latin food is really my comfort zone. He said, 'Well, how would you feel about doing a show on Latin food?' And I was like, are you kidding me? Give me a soapbox; I’m climbing right on it!
I think the show resonated with so many Latinos because they felt validated. My stories are their stories, my experiences have been their experiences and the food that I’m showing on television is the food that they’ve grown up with.
What is your absolute favorite meal in the world?
My grandmother's chicken soup! Something that simple. To get a soul satisfying feeling from something as simple as chicken soup? That’s an art to me.
Any tips for busy moms who want to make a special meal for their families?
You don’t have to spend four hours in the kitchen making dinner! One of the things I tell young Latinas is: Learn to prep. I’ll take a couple of hours on the weekend to make a big batch of sofrito. Then during the week, I’ll take some chicken and brown it, make a little sofrito sauce with some cumin, some olives and a can of tomato sauce…in the meantime I’m making some yellow rice and a salad. All this is stuff that you can make from scratch, at home and none of the ingredients have 27 letters in them so you know exactly what you feeding your family. It’s not rocket science, it really isn’t! It’s just common sense and a little foresight.