Martha Ortiz, Dulce Patria and Modern Mexican Cuisine
We get our restaurant tips from a variety of sources — local chefs, restaurant managers, sommeliers, waiters, suppliers, food writers, foodies, and food bloggers, anyone who loves to eat as much as we do. After we’ve enjoyed a meal we generally ask the chef, waiter or restaurant manager where they eat on their nights off or what other places their regular customers like – that’s where our most reliable tips came from in New York recently.
While we were in Mexico City one name kept popping up, that of Chef Martha Ortiz, who had established her reputation as one of Mexico’s most fascinating chefs with her restaurant Águila y Sol.
Just before we left Mexico City, Chef Martha opened her newest restaurant Dulce Patria at the beautiful Las Alcobas boutique hotel in Polanco. Booked solid for two weeks, we were lucky to get a table and luckier still to have a chat with the Chef (and a tour of the kitchen) at the start of a busy Thursday night service.
Dressed in a black turtle-neck and trousers, the charismatic chef sat down at our table just moments after we did. Glasses of the creative cocktails she invented (she says she loves to create cocktails, but she hates to drink!) appeared minutes later for us to try. In between sips we chatted to Chef Martha about food, art and poetry among other things.
Q. Your earliest food memory?
A. Chiles en Nogada — the Mexican flag! I studied political science and my thesis was on Mexican identity and food.
Q. Who inspired you to cook?
A. My grandmother was from Oaxaca and cooked traditional Mexican food and my grandfather was Italian and loved Mexican food. My mother, an artist, helped my grandmother and I began cooking with her. At first I hated it, but I loved Oaxaca’s markets and I grew to love food.
Q. How do you describe your cuisine?
A. It is very personal, very lyrical and sentimental. I have a theory about Mexican cuisine. There is a yin and yang energy at work. Mexicans are very introverted and thoughtful yet Mexican food is very sensual and feminine, and so is my food.
Q. And your approach?
A. Intellectual and artistic. All my friends are artists and musicians not chefs. I have a curiosity for food. I do a lot of research and with every dish I create a story. It’s also very theatrical. My restaurant is a stage. Everything is important from the names of dishes — I love the Spanish language — to the graphic design and décor.
Q. How do you see the role of the chef?
A. More like an artisan, not an artist. I love to get involved with artists. I love to draw but I am horrible at it. I believe art is something fantastic! Chefs aren’t artists because we repeat things. Cooking is a craft.
Q. So why do you cook?
A. Food gives us happiness, beauty, memories. I love opera — my luxury is to work hard and then fly to Europe to see an opera!
Q. Your thoughts on contemporary Mexican cuisine?
A. A Mexican poet said that the problem with Mexico is that we adopt, but we need to adapt. There is something special about Mexican art, about Mexican music — it’s the texture. If you put everything into a foam, you remove the texture.
Q. Where does Dulce Patria fit in the scheme of things?
A. I love to work with traditional textures. I have a woman in the kitchen who makes handmade traditional tortillas. I have another guy who does beautiful pastries.
Q. Where else should visitors to Mexico City eat?
Q. Other must-do Mexico food experiences?
A. Visit a Mexican market like Xochimilco and try the fruit, the tortillas, the bread; go to Oaxaca and eat the beauty of the city with a good mezcal; and visit the Anthropology Museum to learn about Mexico’s food heritage, that it’s been a fusion cuisine since the beginning.