Salsa. It’ s not just for chips.
This holds especially true for excellent salsa. Like the tangy, fresh, aromatic salsas (fresca, ranchera, tomatillo, habanero) made by Chef Lucero Martinez. She makes salsas to drape over enchiladas, baked fish or chicken, and slather over chilaquiles, scrambled eggs or her homespun tamales.
Martinez knows of what she speaks: She spent years running the kitchen of Maestro Plácido Domingo’s Mexican restaurant, Pámpano in NYC, has cooked at the James Beard House and, in 2015, competed on the Food Network’s pressure-cooker cooking show, Chopped. More importantly, the Mexico City native spent many Sundays of her childhood cooking traditional sauces, salsas and dishes alongside her mother, aunts and cousins.
“My grandfather lived in a hacienda 3 hours north of Mexico City,” says Martinez. “He harvested poblano peppers, corn, beans, cactus, prickly pear and even Mezcal.” ”We were surrounded by dried peppers so Mole sauce was a big thing in the family kitchen,” she says. Mole is a complicated sauce with many, many layers of ingredients “so it was a good thing I had so many cousins – up to 21 – helping out in the kitchen.” She remembers the elders’ warning all the cousins about over-roasting the peppers lest they taste “like bitter charcoal instead of smoky chocolate.”
When her family moved from Mexico City to Atlanta, GA, it was only natural that she would end up working in a restaurant kitchen, says Martinez. “I started as a “prep” girl – peeling potatoes and shrimp…and eventually earned the position of Chef,” she says. “In 1995, she and her siblings opened Zócalo – a small Mexican restaurant which became Lucero’s “home and laboratory.” It was in 2009 that she moved to NYC to helm the Pámpano kitchen, where she still works as a consultant and where Plácido Domingo remains addicted to her ranchera salsa (he likes to put it on his chilaquiles) and her sweet tamales.
She will, of course, be bringing both to the market this season along with her pepita pesto and other dipping sauces. She is not new to farmer’s markets. Before heading to New York she spent a summer selling her salsas, tamales and tortillas at a farmer’s market in downtown Atlanta “because restaurant customers were always requesting to buy our salsas by the pint,” she says.
“My favorite part about being a farmer’s market vendor is talking to my customers,” says Martinez. “I love sharing recipes and hearing how customers end up using my salsas with their favorite foods!” Lucero means “bright star” in Spanish…and we are certain she will live up to her name at the CFM.