Zarela Martínez was born in the Sonoran border town of Agua Prieta, Mexico, not knowing she would become a renowned cultural interpreter between Mexico and the United States.
She learned to cook from her mother, Aida Gabilondo, a cookbook author. After launching a small catering business in Texas, she was discovered by Chef Paul Prudhomme while attending a cooking class in New Orleans.
She then moved to New York with her twin sons in 1983 and established Zarela Catering. In 1987, she opened the eponymous Zarela, serving a changing menu of various Mexican regional cuisines. The restaurant remained a New York favorite for twenty-three years. In 2001, she opened Danzon, where the menu was based on the foods of Veracruz.
In 2013, the chef was named one of America’s top culinary professionals and an inductee into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.
Her achievements as a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, food television host, and product developer and merchandiser place her as a pioneering woman in the world of the multi-platform food personality.
Martínez’s three cookbooks, Food from my Heart (1992), The Food and Life of Oaxaca (1997), and Zarela’s Veracruz (2001), have been praised as significant contributions to the literature on Mexican cuisine.
In recognition of her achievements, in 2004, a food-themed edition of the U.S. State Department’s e-journal U.S. Society and Values titled “Americans at the Table” singled her out, along with luminaries like James Beard and Julia Child, as one of seven taste-setters who have changed the way people eat in this country.
Together with her son, celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, she co-hosts the podcast “Cooking in Mexican from A to Z” on the Heritage Radio Network.