In conversation with Mexican chef Andrea Martinez about her future plans.

Andrea Martinez is a Mexican chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has focused on northeastern Mexican cuisine. She has been cooking professionally for 17 years, having worked for renowned chefs such as Richard Sandoval and Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain in New York, D.C., and Monterrey. She has represented Northeastern Mexican cuisine at events in Los Angeles and New York and was a contestant on the first season of Top Chef Mexico.

She is at the helm of Casa Liebre, a restaurant in Parras de la Fuente, Mexico. It is a 4-acre space that is in the development phase of being converted into a farm and will have a hotel in the future. The menu is made up of local ingredients and old Mexican techniques like barbacoa de pozo, and it’s a very rustic outdoor experience that reconnects guests with the simple pleasures of life, like clear skies and views of the desert.

As a Mexican chef, what is your favourite ingredient to use?

Salt is definitely the ingredient I appreciate the most. My dishes are always very tasty, but the right amount of salt allows all the ingredients to shine through.

What advice do you give to aspiring chefs?

My advice to them is to ask for advice! When I was younger, I was quite stubborn and I think I could have definitely avoided some of my mistakes if I had asked my mentors for advice or listened to the advice even if I hadn’t asked.

What is your comfort food and what is your favourite restaurant?

Tacos al pastor are my favourite comfort food. Tacos generally do the trick, but tacos al pastor make me happy. Especially after a long shift at work when it’s really late at night.

My favourite restaurant is really hard to choose because I’m lucky enough to have eaten at some of my heroes’ restaurants that are heralded as the best in the world, but I have to say Estela in New York City. Ignacio Mattos is an amazing chef and each dish was so simple, yet the flavour combinations blew me away. The older I get, the more I appreciate simple techniques. Restraint requires experience.

What are your future plans as a Mexican chef?

I’m in the process of retiring from restaurants and starting the farm I’ve wanted to start and grow for some time. The pandemic has made me turn my attention even more to farming, and I think the world has enough restaurants right now. What we need are farms and a better food system. I’m not an expert, but I’m committed to learning and sharing that through my social media platforms. I have also started sharing recipes daily on these platforms and I find it quite fun and fulfilling. I can reach more people and get more involved. I’ve started a range of different products, from digital cookbooks, dressings and salsas to shopping bags and aprons. It’s fun to have a lot of freedom to explore new ways of being a chef. Before, I had only thought about working in restaurants.

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What is your inspiration?
I am inspired by the fact that people are the best at their craft, whatever it may be. Also from people who do their best. So I draw inspiration from my family, friends and colleagues, from people I know very well, but also from people I’ve never met, like actors, athletes and even fictional characters. I’ve started to indulge my curiosity lately, so I just ask a lot of questions because I want to learn about a lot of different subjects. This makes me a better cook, but more importantly, a better person.

What dish or dishes are your signature dishes?

Tomato carpaccio with coriander dressing and my version of asado de puerco or pork asado. It’s a regional dish from my home state, but I use non-traditional techniques such as roasting pork tenderloin wrapped in cloth directly on the embers, giving it a smoky flavour but with much less fat than the original version.

What is the philosophy and ethos behind the food you cook?

Taste is king. I cook colourful dishes with contrasting flavours and textures. Always with the aim of benefiting the people who eat it and surprising them at the same time. I focus on nutritional balance as well as originality and seasonality.

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What is the dish you have created that you are most proud of and why?

A cured beef tongue “carpaccio” with mamey. I’m proud of the dish, but I’m even more proud of the fact that I got to serve it as the first course of an important event in front of 350 people. Beef tongue is not popular at all in northern Mexico, and it was a success.

How has the current pandemic affected your restaurant?

It has completely closed Casa Liebre. Not forever, but at least for this year. Parras is a tourist town, and without tourists, turnover has dropped to zero. March and April were a nightmare to get through and tough decisions were made. But I think everything happens for a reason and I am happy to do what I am doing now. Otherwise, with the restaurant open, I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to focus on new projects.

What is the one food trend you wish would disappear?

Fast food. It’s not a trend, but I wish we could eradicate everything that is fast and pre-packaged. We are so used to having everything at our fingertips that many of us don’t know life without that convenience. We grew up in this system, but part of me hopes that the lockdown will teach us to slow down.

What is the first restaurant you will go to after the lockdown and what will you order?

I don’t know which restaurant, but as always, New York is my main destination. I really love it there. Or it could be London for a change, I’ve never been there and I’ve always wanted to go. Street food is what I crave more now, so maybe I’ll go to Mexico City first!

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What are the most important considerations when putting together your menu?
Balance on the menu. I like about 40% vegan or vegetarian dishes and 60% dishes that contain meat or animal protein. I would like to turn those numbers around soon, but I live in an area of Mexico where we are big consumers of animal protein, comparable to Texas in the United States, so we have to gradually work on getting there.

What is your favourite dish to cook at home?

I love sauteing as a technique, so I always make something spicy with whatever is in the fridge. Pasta is also my favourite dish to make at home. I love carbohydrates.

What is your favourite dish on the menu at the moment?

A salad of Portobello mushrooms with dried apricots, sage, sunflower seeds and a sesame oil vinaigrette. This is my favourite recipe from a video I’ve shared so far.

What is your favourite dish from childhood and why?

My mother’s potato cakes. Carbs always make me happy. Also, my mother is an excellent cook, her food is never bland.


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