Martha Ortiz, chef owner, Dulce Patria and Ella Canta

The  Staff Canteen

Martha Ortiz is an inspirational woman. A Mexican chef and owner of the restaurant Dulce Patria in Mexico City, which features in La Liste, and Ella Canta within the InterContinental London Park Lane which opened in 2017.

She is the daughter of famous Mexican artist Martha Chapa, and she studied political science and the history of gastronomy. She wrote books on Mexican regional cuisine before opening her first fine dining restaurant Aguila y Sol in Mexico City in 2001.

Martha spoke to The Staff Canteen about empowering women, changing people’s perception of Mexican food and how her food is a story.

Ella Canta Chilorio Tacos - credit Claire Menary

Ella Canta, Chilorio Tacos

- credit Claire Menary

Describe your food

My food is very feminine, Mexican, lyrical and high contrast. I believe food can enhance its flavour by its colour – when you see the red you know it is a powerful sauce and when you see the black it’s a profound flash. I say that Mexico has sun-blessed food because everything shines!

You really embrace the feminine side of your cooking don't you?

I don’t want to fall into the temptation to do and cook what everyone else is doing, I want to cook what I want to cook. I enjoy that freedom and I think kitchens are a space for a woman where she can have the power and be the empress of the fire! That’s where your femininity becomes very strong.

Tell us about your restaurant in Mexico, Dulce Patria

We have a regular menu which is on all the time, I’m a woman so I can work a lot! Then the story telling menu which changes every month, if you go in November for example we celebrate the day of the dead and we celebrate life. We bring beautiful food for this time of the year and tequila – I don’t just want the food to be delicious, I want people to experience the story from my heart. People can choose which ever menu they want, it’s a democracy, that’s my belief that they should have what they choose.

Dulce Patria

Is there a dish which really showcases your style?

It’s very difficult, but I have a special affection for Maria, my dessert, because every month she changes. I’m writing a book about Maria, which is a beautiful cake, and one-month Maria will go to the flower shop, or the library or she may be sad and she doesn’t want to perform that month. It’s a representation of women, I think now women have to have all these new faces and this dessert is an example of that and an example of educating, sometimes, the men! Maria goes everywhere and it was a story I started 20 years ago.

You’ve opened Ella Canta in London, why did you want to open a restaurant in the UK?

I really like the city, I think it has some of the same aspects of Mexico City – it’s very cosmopolitan. At Ella Canta the story menu will change every two or three months so it’s different to Dulce Patria.

But I want this menu to show that I’m proud of being a woman and proud of being Mexican. Other chefs who are Mexican, they have it in their blood how to treat these ingredients and understand the flavours, at Ella Canta we are working with British chefs and we are hoping to learn from each other.

The restaurant itself I think is very different to any other I have seen, it’s very influenced by Mexico and it’s beautiful.

Firedanced seabass low res

Firedanced seabass 

- credit Jean Cazals

What are your thoughts on Mexican food?

TexMex is the American view of Mexican cuisine, it’s not authentic. Mexican culinary history speaks for itself – I think it’s one of the most beautiful, elegant, magical, passionate cuisines in the world. My food is like the old and the new world together, all of these amazing ingredients create dishes which are a love affair and which come from a happy moment and brings together Mexican food from history, to what we know today.    

Mexican food, to me, is the most interesting food in the world. When I decided to open a restaurant and do just Mexican food people told me I was crazy, it would fail and now so many restaurants want to be Mexican.

Is there an ingredient native to Mexico which you really love to use both in the restaurant and at home?

I adore chillies! They are like lovers – once you have had them the memories stay with you. I don’t cook at home, I don’t have the time. My fridge is empty, all I have is mineral water! In Mexico the women are supposed to do everything, clean the house, make breakfast and supper – and I said ‘I don’t want this life!’.

How important are accolades to you?

I think the prizes are nice but they don’t change your life. It’s recognition and it’s a restaurants responsibility to keep doing things better. Dulce Patria is the top Mexican restaurant in La Liste and I was very happy but at the same time I feel I have a responsibility to be better for other women – I want to inspire them and I want to show them that things can be done in the right way.

In the 50 Best they don’t have enough women and in Mexico they are not happy with that, they want more women on the list so more women are inspired. I think this industry needs to be more open to female talent.

Ella Canta

Ella Canta - credit Kensington Leverne

When I was judging the Latin Young Chef for San Pellegrino there were no women. My head chef in Mexico is a woman, my two sous chefs are women, my pastry chef is a woman - we need to inspire and empower women – that’s my mission. It’s not just about having a beautiful restaurant, I need to give something back and say to the female chefs in my country ‘you can have a better destiny in your hands and you can cook your own master recipe’.

And who has influenced your career the most?

I love chefs but I try to have other friends so I can learn other things, so I have a friend who is a big influence who is a political writer. I adore people who go all the way in life.   

You studied political science so why did you want to be a chef?

I adore Mexico and I think it’s a way of honouring gastronomic culture. It’s not just being a chef it’s investigating flavours and techniques, and showcasing my creativity. I left Mexico to work in different restaurants but Mexican cuisine is very important to me. I was commissioned to write books on Mexican culture and recipes and I saw the honour behind these recipes when I spoke to people about them and the way of living through food. It was fantastic and these traditional cooks are part of my private collection in my heart.

Guacamole low res
Nationalistic Guacamole

Mental health is a big topic in the industry now, what are your thoughts on this?

It’s a very interesting and profound topic, and what I think is you must have balance. It’s important to have interests outside the kitchen as it’s a good bridge between your outside life and your inner life (kitchen life). Chefs are very stressed, and I think women are better at processing feelings than men. Learning how to cry, learning how to smile, learning how to be more emotional – I think that gives you strength. If you don’t know how to deal with your feelings they can be monsters so it’s important to talk to other people.

You are currently writing a new book, Maria, but what else do you have planned for the future?

I always said that I want to end my life with one restaurant which will be a beautiful house, with one table, and I will choose who I will invite and cook for that night. So, I might invite Stella McCartney because I’m interested in her work and point of view – I love learning and I want to end my life learning. I’ll have to have a lot of savings to do it but I want one table – one invitation.





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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th July 2018

Martha Ortiz, chef owner, Dulce Patria and Ella Canta