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 like Richard Sandoval and Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain in New York, D.C, and Monterrey. She has represented northeastern Mexican cuisine in events in Los Angeles and New York, and has been a chef contestant in Top Chef Mexico season 1.
She is at the helm of Casa Liebre, a restaurant in Parras de la Fuente, Mexico. It is a 4-hectare space that is in the developing stages of transforming 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 is a very rustic outdoors experience that makes guests reconnect with the simple pleasures of life, like a clear sky and desert views.
Which is your favourite ingredient?
Salt is definitely the ingredient I value the most. My dishes always pack a punch but the right amount of salt makes all the ingredients shine through.
What is your advice 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 offered, even if I hadn´t asked.
What’s your comfort food and which is your favorite restaurant to dine at ?
Tacos al pastor are my favorite comfort food. Tacos in general do the trick but al pastor tacos make me happy. Especially after a long shift at work when it´s really late at night.
My favorite restaurant is really tough to pick because I’m lucky to have dined in some of my heroes’ restaurants heralded as the best in the world but I have to say Estela in New York City. Ignacio Mattos is an amazing chef and every dish was so simple yet the flavor combinations blew me away. As I get older I value simple techniques more. Restraint takes experience.
I am in the midst of taking a step back from restaurants and starting the farm I had wanted to start and grow for some time now. The pandemic has made me shift my attention towards agriculture even more and I think the world has enough restaurants right now. What we need are farms and a better food system. I am no expert but I am committed to learning and sharing that through my social media platforms. Also I have started sharing recipes on a daily basis on those platforms and have found it quite fun and fulfilling. I get to reach more people and engage more. I have started a line of different products, from digital cookbooks, dressings and salsas, to grocery bags and aprons. It´s fun having a lot of freedom to explore new ways to be a chef. Before this I had only considered working in restaurants.
Who is your inspiration?
I draw inspiration from people being the best at their craft, whatever it may be. Also by people doing the best they can. So I am inspired by family, friends and colleagues, people I know very well and also by people I´ve never met like actors, athletes, and even fictional characters. I have recently started to lean into my curiosity, so I just ask a lot of questions because I want to learn about a lot of different subject matters. That makes me a better cook but most importantly a better person.
Which is your signature dish/dishes?
Tomato Carpaccio with cilantro dressing, and my version of Asado de Puerco, or Pork Asado. It is a regional dish from my home state but I use non-traditional techniques like roasting pork tenderloin wrapped in cloth directly on the embers so it gets a smoky flavor yet it has a lot less fat than the original version.
What is the philosophy and ethos behind the food you cook?
Flavor is king. I cook colorful dishes with contrasting flavors and textures. Always aiming to benefit the people eating it, while also surprising them. Focus on the nutritional balance as well as the origin and seasonality.
Which is the dish you’ve created that you are proudest of and why?
A cured beef tongue “carpaccio” with mamey. I am proud of the dish but I am more proud about the fact that I got to serve it to 350 people as the first course of an important event. Beef tongue is not at all popular in the north of Mexico, and it was a success.
How has the current pandemic affected your restaurant?
It shut Casa Liebre down completely. Not for good, but at least this year. Parras is a tourist town, so without tourists, sales dropped to zero. March and April were a nightmare to get through and tough decisions were made. But I think everything happens for a good reason, and I am happy to be doing 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 go away?
Fast food. It is not a trend, but I wish we could eradicate everything that´s fast and pre-packaged. We are so used to having everything so at hand, that a lot of us don´t know life without that convenience. We grew up in this system, but part of me is hoping the lockdown teaches us to slow down.
When the lockdown is over, what is the first restaurant you’ll be heading to and what will you order?
I don´t know about what restaurant but as always, New York is my top destination. I really love it there. Or it could be London for a change, I’ve never been and have always wanted to go. Street food is what I am craving more now, so maybe I´ll go to Mexico City first!
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Balance in the menu. I like to have about 40% vegan or vegetarian dishes and 60% dishes containing meat or animal protein. I would like to invert those figures soon, but I live in an area of Mexico where we are big animal protein consumers, comparable to Texas in the United States, so we have to gradually work to get there.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
I love sautéing as a technique, so I always make some spicy stir-fry with whatever is in the fridge. Pasta is also my go-to dish at home. I love carbohydrates.
What is your favourite dish on the menu right now?
A salad of Portobello mushrooms with dried apricot, sage, sunflower seeds, and a sesame oil vinaigrette. It´s my favorite video recipe I’ve shared to date.
What is your favourite childhood dish and why?
My mom´s potato cakes. Carbohydrates always make me happy. Plus, my mother is an excellent cook, her food is never bland.