Chef Daisy Martinez’s new website celebrates emotional bonds to meals

August 1, 2013 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn’s Chef Daisy Martinez this week launched a new website and web series that celebrates the emotional, personal connection that we all have with food.

The website, and the weekly show, reflect a trend towards reaching people through social media. Whereas 10 to 15 years ago, television networks such as Public Broadcasting System were starting to air local chefs’ programs more widely across the U.S., these programs can be accessed instantly worldwide through the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube.

Martinez, who was born in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section to mainland Puerto Rican parents, blends her love for home, heritage and food. She has already enjoyed a successful culinary career. The bilingual chef attended the French Culinary Institute, was a prep-kitchen chef for her long-time mentor, chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, worked as a private chef in New York City, owned a small boutique catering business called The Passionate Palate, starred in PBS’s Daisy Cooks! and FoodTV’s Viva Daisy!, and wrote three global-best-selling cookbooks.

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“We have an emotional connection to food. It’s the only thing in life that we all have in common – no matter our ethnicity, our heritage, or the culture in which we were raised,” Martinez said. “Food shows us that the sameness that brings us together is far greater than the differences that divide us.”

The website launched simultaneously with her YouTube series at noon on Wednesday, July 31. Her first web-show, “Chicken Wing Therapy,” is viewable through both these sites. The 10-minute program intersperses segments of Daisy speaking to the viewer in an intimate kitchen-setting, with a demonstration on how to spike up fried chicken with a spicy lime sauce.

She begins the video with a very personal intro: “When my professional life started in the kitchen, I had children at home and I was married. So most of the shows I did were very family-centric. And since then, much of my life has changed. My children have grown up, moved out, and I’m going through a divorce.”

Throughout this adventure, comfort food has been a steadfast presence.

“I can still turn to food and making food for friends and family, to get to a place of love again,” Martinez told the Brooklyn Eagle this week. “I really established the emotional connection to that I have to do. Really most people have an emotional connection, because we have food memories. That’s where I’m going with the show. Not just a how-to of how to put a meal together, but what is my connection to that food, and involving the audience to reflect on their connections to their food.”

While central to Puerto Rican culture, Daisy believes bonds with food to be universal.

“We all came from a different country and had to find a way to recreate our food with the ingredients that were available here at the time. It’s a story that resonates any ethnicity. It’s not limited just to the Latin culture. Whether you go to Spain, Italy, France, Asia, any rural cooking draws on those same emotions,” says Martinez. “Anybody can relate to having a memory as a child of having your mother breaking over something hot open and blowing on it before feeding it to you, so you wouldn’t burn your mouth. What says love and security more to a child than a gesture like that?”

When it comes to savoring meals, Martinez believes that U.S. society is at a disadvantage. “When you make those connections, then you’re mindful of the food that you cook and that you eat. I think that’s where people get in trouble here in the States, is we’re always in a hurry to get to, or get through, that we eat mindlessly. If you’re having something in your hand, and you’re running somewhere, and you’re chomping it down, that doesn’t make any sense. All those foods that we cook low and slow, basically that’s love on a plate. What’s better than that?”

An advocate of healthy cooking, Martinez is sensitive to the needs of people with dietary restrictions. For example, she point out that citrus fruits can easily be substituted for salt—and still pack in flavor.

“One of the things that I advocate greatly to enhance flavor is the addition of herbs and citrus. Not just the juice but the zest,” she told the Eagle. “I think you can really punch up flavors with those things without adding sugar and starch. I think we need to turn more towards that.”

Martinez points out that here in New York, international ingredients are not really hard to find. Latin markets carry produce like ajicitos dulces, epazote and guayaba. “We in New York are so lucky in that we have access to all of the different flavors. I have found that if you go to Asian markets, you can pretty much find any of the Hispanic ingredients that you’ve been looking for. Culantro is also known as saw-tooth Chinese parsley. In a lot of the Asian markets, you’ll be able to find it under that name. It’s one letter off from cilantro. It’s not a typo.”

Martinez avoids using quick seasonings, such as those “mystery packets.” Instead, she makes her seasonings from scratch, using fresh ingredients. “You’ve got to meet a certain standard,” she said on her first program. “It’s worth 30 or 40 minutes of my life, as opposed to five minutes, and what I’m eating that has stuff in it first of all, ingredients I can’t pronounce with 26 letters in it.  “If you’re particular about what you put in your mouth, yes, go for the 30 or 40 minutes.”

Future segments on her website will feature Daisy’s travels, encounters with friends, farmers, restaurant owners and fans to teach her viewers how to make delicious and healthy meals without breaking the bank. The website will introduce a new show every Wednesday at noon.

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