Zarela Martínez (born in Agua Prieta, Sonora) is a New York City-based restaurateur and cookbook author. She learned cooking from her mother Aida Gabilondo, also a cookbook author. Martínez serves on the Board of Directors for the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York.
Martínez has been instrumental in introducing Americans to authentic Mexican food, through her restaurants and writings. She has organized food festivals in New York City and given cooking lessons, demonstrations, and lectures on Mexican cuisine and culture.
Chef Paul Prudhomme served as Martínez’ mentor after he discovered her in a New Orleans cooking class and around 1979, Martínez opened her catering business El Paso. In 1987, Martínez opened Zarela, a Mexican restaurant that is credited as being a pioneer of regional Mexican cuisine in New York City. The restaurant closed in 2011, citing rising expenses and financial issues prompted by an increasing economic crisis.
Martínez has made several television appearances and her 2001 cookbook Zarela’s Veracruz was written as the companion book to the 2001 PBS series Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana. In 2004 she was labeled one of seven individuals that helped redefined the American culinary landscape since the last half of the twentieth century by the U.S. State Department’s online publication E-Journal USA: U.S. Society & Values.
As of March 2017, she was working on a book about naturally light Mexican food
In 2020, she launched a podcast, Cooking in Mexican from A to Z, on Heritage Radio Network. Co-hosted with her son, Chef Aarón Sánchez, the show explores the food, flavors, and history of Mexico through lively conversations with their guests.In 2021, “In a Taste for Life with Zarela¨, she shares her inspirational “building blocks” for living well with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and for healthy and delicious eating. The site can be reached at www.ATasteForLifeWithZarela.com.