March 7, 2018
To some she is known as the “kitchen Cinderella,” yet she refuses to accept the term. La Vegana María Marte is ready to once more pack her bags, but this time as a fighter with a suitcase full of dreams. The Michelin-starred chef hopes to train the next generation of women chefs in her native Dominican Republic. Students in the preliminary classes will have the opportunity to be awarded a six-month internship in the Allard Club kitchen, where Marte made her mark.
In an interview with Tele Sur, Marte stated, “I have always thought of doing something for others, now I am focused on helping women in my country without resources and who want to study gastronomy.”
Marte is an award-winning chef and one of the most respected in her profession. In 2015 and 2017, respectively, she was awarded the National Award of Gastronomy and the Eckart Witzigmann Award for Innovation.
Born in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic in 1976, Marte acquired her love for cooking as a child in her native land. Her mother is the person responsible for instilling in her the love for cooking. As a child, she spent part of her time between her father’s restaurants and her mother’s bakery.
She left her native land in 2003, migrating to Spain, to be closer to her oldest child. She settled for a by-the-hour cleaning job at a Madrid restaurant. According to an article by The Guardian, Marte was part of Spain’s immigrant boom that pushed the population’s proportion of immigrants from 2 percent in 1999 to 12 percent a decade later or close to five million migrants.
In the nineties there was a big migration wave from the Dominican Republic. Dominicans left for the United States and Spain as well, choosing two destinations that followed a migration pattern.
Despite racist and anti-immigrant sentiment in Spain, immigrants are also welcome and many of them adapt to their host country. Upon arrival, Marte found employment in different areas including at a hair salon and El Club Allard, where she started as a dishwasher and eventually was promoted to chef when management realized her talent. At El Club Allard, she asked Head Chef Diego Guerrero if she could help with the preparation of food. Guerrero agreed under the condition that Marte continued with her cleaning duties. According to DW, Marte worked from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. for three months, until Guerrero took note of her talent.
Marte told The Guardian’s reporter, “I had arrived in Madrid as a fighter, and once I was here I turned into a dreamer.”
Most Dominican immigrant stories pertain to Dominicans who migrate to the United States. Marte’s story, however, highlights an immigrant who found success in the Mediterranean region and returned to the Dominican Republic to prepare the next generation of Dominican chefs. Marte’s success shows the impact of Dominicans, Caribbeans, and Latin Americans in the Spanish State, thus contributing to her host country. Therefore, Marte’s narrative breaks away from the traditional one scholars—particularly U.S.-based scholars—continue to push forward.
As noted above, Marte is a Michelin starred chef. After her promotion to second-in-command at El Club Allard in 2006, the restaurant received its first and second stars in 2007 and 2011, respectively. Earning a Michelin star is no small feat, especially for women who comprise 4.7 percent of chefs and head cooks in the U.S. In fact, out of approximately 255 Michelin starred chefs, only 68 are women.
Being a Michelin starred chef is possibly the greatest honor bestowed upon individuals within the restaurant industry. Michelin Guides (Guide Michelin in French) are a series of guide books that have been published by the French company Michelin for more than a century. The Michelin Red Guide is Europe’s oldest hotel and reference guide, which subsequently awards Michelin stars to the “finest” restaurants. The addition or loss of a star can determine a restaurant’s fate: the loss of a star could lead to its closure while the addition of a star can make it a blooming business.
To put matters into perspective, in the United States, New York City is second with five three-starred restaurants—San Francisco has seven—yet the city boasts more Michelin starred restaurants than any other U.S. city (72).