Marte’s story starts in 2003, when she left her home in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, to be closer to her oldest child in Madrid. With little more than “a suitcase full of dreams,” she became one of the millions from around the world who poured into Spain during the country’s boom years, helping to push the population’s proportion of immigrants from 2% in 1999 to 12% a decade later.
When she arrived in Madrid, she had one goal: to earn a living. She took work wherever she could get it, from a hair salon to El Club Allard, where she was offered a job washing dishes by the hour. “Some days it could be three hours or two hours and sometimes they wouldn’t need me at all,” she says. Still, it was familiar ground to her as she had spent most of her life working in kitchens, starting with her father’s restaurant when she was 12.
Marte’s perspective quickly began to shift. “I had arrived in Madrid as a fighter, and once I was here I turned into a dreamer,” she says. She became fascinated with what she was seeing of high-end cuisine. “When I saw how beautiful the food was, the care given to every detail, I realized that cooking could be something spectacular. It became something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Marte soon became the first to arrive at the restaurant in the morning and the last to leave. “It was incredibly hard. I didn’t have one free moment – I would work one shift after another from 9.30am until 2.30am the next morning,” she says.
After three months of working both jobs, she was freed from dishwashing duties. An upwards path finally presented itself and by 2006 she was the restaurant’s second in command. One year later, under head chef Diego Guerrero, the restaurant earned its first Michelin star, the second coming in 2011.
When Guerrero announced his departure in 2013, Marte stepped up as head chef. Her first big test soon followed, ending with El Club Allard becoming one of the few restaurants to retain its two Michelin stars after changing head chefs.
In May this year, Marte cemented her place among the country’s top chefs after being awarded Spain’s National Gastronomy prize. One of the few female chefs and immigrants among her contemporaries, Marte credits her success to her days of sleeping in the stairwell: “It was a crucial step in my life. It was something very important that I had to go through to get to where I am now.”
Marte – the lone female in her team of 14 –oversee about 1,000 plates sent out from her kitchen each day as part of the 10- to 14-course menus. Each dish reflects her story, blending together Caribbean and Latin American ingredients such as yucca and hibiscus into Spanish high cuisine. It is Marte’s way of paying tribute to her heritage.
Recently Maria has returned to the Dominican Republic to set up a cooking school for low income women. The international community has applauded this generous decision.
International platform that seeks to gather all stakeholders within the framework of Dominican gastronomy in order to enhance and promote together our culinary culture, emphasizing the fresh products produced in our country and contributing to raise the nutritional quality of the diet of the Dominican Republic.