Ortiz is the chef at El Cid resort in Costa Rica, a place where travelers can swim with dolphins and dive into oceans. Ortiz’s focus on farm-to-table cooking has led to her developing innovative concepts such as biodynamic dining, which combines cultural traditions with sustainable practices.
At the new La Casa de la Playa all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, Martha Ortiz is one of many well-known cooks. She is, nevertheless, the boutique hotel’s sole female executive chef.
Chef Ortiz is in charge of Tuch de Luna, one of the resort’s four restaurants. Pink Mole, Vampire Ceviche, Green Guacamole, and the Mexican Jewel, Magical Town Eggs, Solar Chilaquiles, and the Mexican Fruit Painting are some of the foods she provides.
The globally acclaimed chef, who resides in Mexico City and has won several prizes over her career, is based there. She was the proprietor of Dulce Patria before the epidemic, which was crowned Mexico’s best restaurant in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the closure of Dulce Patria.
Chef Ortiz was also named one of the top 40 best chefs in the world, was named one of the country’s 100 most important persons in Grupo Expansión’s book 100 por Mexico (100 for Mexico), and served as a judge on Top Chef Mexico’s first and second seasons.
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We chatted with Chef Ortiz recently to learn more about her history and how she came up with the idea for the enhanced all-inclusive resort’s food.
: How did you get your start in your profession? When did you first realize you wanted to work as a chef?
Martha Ortiz: My father is a physician, a well-known Mexican physician, and my mother is an artist. So I grew up in a world where science and art collided, and we had a lot of intriguing people around to our table. As a result, I grew up believing that everything took place at the tables.
I believe the thought, you know, that tables are the most significant places where you can have dialogues, get upset, and acquire knowledge, was on my mind. So that was my world at the table when I was a small child, and I had a huge imagination. So, I believed it was a purpose in life that the Gods, the Mexican Gods, were speaking to me, saying, “You have to do something with the food.”
I recall telling my father that I wanted to be a museum curator, a chef, or anything else really creative. But, as I recall, my father told me, “you can accomplish anything in life, but you’ll have to build a profession first.” I believe it was a terrific tool because I studied political science and made a profession out of it, and I graduated from a really excellent school because my father always taught me that you need discipline to study well, and that “you’re a woman, therefore you’ll need more in this world.”
Later, I moved to New York to practice at a few restaurants, and I learnt it for myself, since I had another job. As a result, I had the opportunity to work with several excellent chefs. When I was very young, I began studying and subsequently launched my own restaurant.
TP: Can you tell me about some of the problems you’ve experienced in your work and how you overcame them?
MO: So (my first restaurant) was Mexico’s first high-end fine dining establishment. It was a huge success. But, you know, the government shut it down in the end because they told me I needed one more parking spot. And I believe I was being punished in some manner because I was so successful. It was an extremely political discussion. That’s what I learned: if I were a male, things would move in a different direction. It was quite challenging for me. So, I went through a lot, but I learnt a lot about being strong as a result. In La Casa de la Playa, I have another restaurant, and I’ll be building a new one in a few months. I’m also working on [other projects], including a fascinating book called Recipes for Great Women.
TP: When you first heard about the opportunity to work as a chef in an all-inclusive resort, what did you think?
MO: In this nation, I believe it was my societal obligation. I need to give women more power. We need to be mentors to other women as women, and we need to teach them how. So, I believe it was my societal obligation to be a mentor and educate them not only how to cook well in their own lives, but also how to be strong, how to combine ingredients, and how to develop a contemporary woman who could smash the caramel ceiling. The caramel ceiling, not the glass ceiling!
La Casa De La Playa’s Tuch de Luna Restaurant
TP: Tell us about Tuch de Luna at La Casa de la Playa, how it came to be, and how you took the all-inclusive culinary idea to the next level.
MO: I like telling tales. I have a lot of creativity, so I created my own design while keeping the contrast high enough that you can eat through the colors. The synesthesia, you know, between colors and tastes, will be present in the tasting menu. That initiative was created in collaboration with Google and Arts, and it was a huge success. We Eat Color was the name of the band.
So, I believe that when you eat a Pink Mole at Tuch de Luna, you’re not only sampling the pink, but also Mexico, femininity, and having this tremendous thing in your tongue.
So, I prepare Mexican cuisine with a lot of creativity, using color synesthesia and being near the water, for example. So, why can’t we, in a sense, eat pearls? Why aren’t we allowed to eat pink? Why aren’t we allowed to eat the blue? As a result, I attempted to create a really feminine core high contrast menu. For me, all of the names [on the menu] are quite essential. All of your names are like having a kid, and having a dish is like having a child, therefore it must have a lovely name. You know, it’s the hidden garden for me.
TP: It’s your invention, so it’s only natural that you’d want to put your own stamp on it. The Mexican Fruit Painting dish and the Solar Chilaquiles were two of my favorites.
MO: I appreciate it. I like my profession and believe that as a woman and a Mexican, I have a responsibility to do things right. And although chilaquiles may be a great but basic dish, I chose to include the sun into my platter by making it yellow. That is the source of my motivation. The sun is a star, and you’re now eating a star.
TP: It was unquestionably a show-stopper. So, last but not least, what advise would you provide to women who want to work as chefs?
MO: I’ve discovered that having a female mentor makes it simpler to succeed. So, my first piece of advise is to surround yourself with successful women who can teach you the ropes and serve as mentors. And, as I always say, be completely honest with yourself about your beliefs. Everything will come if you take your aspirations seriously and are honest with yourself. So it’s about being a strong woman and being among other women… “I want to do this!” says the person who has a brilliant idea and sits down.
And I don’t want to be obnoxious, but those are my opinions. This new world, I believe, is seeing a woman’s revolution. I believe our moment has arrived. As a result, they won’t have to go through what I did to succeed, which makes me extremely pleased.