Maria Marte: A True Inspiration

As part of our current Madrid Gastronomy theme, today I’m telling you about a tiny woman with huge determination and success: Maria Marte.

I had the pleasure of meeting this vibrant and passionate woman during my last trip to Madrid when I ate at prestigious Club Allard, where she is currently head chef after working her way up from the bottom.

María-Marte

Maria Marte – Photo source

A modern-day heroine, self-made Maria Marte left her country 13 years ago to come to Spain and follow her ambition to be a chef.

From pot-washer to becoming one of Spain’s top chefs with two Michelin stars, 12 years later, Maria Marte’s story is truly inspiring.

On this trip of four days in Madrid I was eating at four different Michelin Star restaurants. But it was Club Allard and Maria Marte’s menu which surprised and delighted me the most.

Maria Marte: Dominican Ambition

Maria Marte was born in the Dominican Republic, and even though she has lived in Spain for 13 years, her cuisine has a Caribbean touch, a salute to her roots.

She left her hometown of Jarabaco in the north of Dominican Republic to travel to Spain and follow her dream to become a chef in the country that, for her, was the leader of gastronomy.

As a child, cooking was Maria Marte’s passion: “I substituted the dolls of my childhood for cooking utensils,” she says. At nine years old she had cooked her first meal for her parents and by the age of ten she was cooking the meals for her family.

At 13 she did a baking course in her home country and when she arrived in Spain this course was her only culinary qualification. When she started working at Club Allard in Madrid she had never set foot in a cooking school and had had no formal training.

From pot-washer to two Michelin Stars

When Maria Marte arrived in Madrid, she managed to get a job at Club Allard as cleaner and pot-washer. She knew she had to start at the bottom, get her head down and work hard.

When she was 24, one of the cooks left and she asked to be allowed to work in the kitchen. Her boss was reluctant to accept her due to her lack of training and experience but agreed to give her the opportunity with the condition that she continue with her other pot-washing and cleaning duties as well.

Now she was juggling two jobs.

“But I knew from the beginning that I was a chef and, when they gave me this opportunity, I did not waste it.”

There were hard days ahead…

“I never had a break, it wasn’t normal, because I started at 09:00 in the morning and left at 01:00 the next morning. Often I fell asleep on the stairs… I started at 9am when I put on the chef’s jacket to learn to cook. At 4.30pm I changed it for my cleaning clothes,” she explains.

But during this time she learnt a lot.

“My struggle was tough and constant but it was worth it, and that’s the most beautiful thing.”

Chef Maria Marte

Once it was obvious that Maria Marte had serious talent she was no longer required to continue her duties as pot-washer and was given a proper place on the line in the kitchen at Club Allard.

In 2011 she was named chef. This was also the year that Club Allard received its second Michelin Star.

Maria Marte continued to evolve as a creative chef and, when head chef Diego Guerrero left unexpectedly in the autumn of 2013 she was offered the position of head chef.

maria marte

Maria Marte’s signature dish: the famous Flor de Hibiscus

Dream accomplished

When head chef Diego Guerrero left suddenly in 2013, the future of Club Allard looked far from bright. Many experts and critics were surprised when the restaurant decided to continue striving for the same standards as what Chef Guerrero had set.

Maria Marte was the one responsible for the smooth transition, and she continued replicating and serving the existing dishes, adding her own flair and slowly substituting her own creations for those of her predecessor.

Marte insists that all she has learnt, she learnt from working with Diego Guerrero:

“Diego has been my mentor. He taught me all I know,” she insists. “…Diego has been a very important person in my professional growth, as have all the people that have passed through our kitchen. For me it is very important to learn from and interchange ideas and experiences with the team.”

“If they take away my stars it’s because they were never mine, but I will work with the same dedication and the same desire. This is what I want to do in life. For me, every day is a dream.”

With so many changes and such an inexperienced new head chef it wouldn’t be hard to comprehend if the Michelin Guide removed one of the two stars from the establishment.

But that’s not what happened. The guide renewed the two distinctions and highlighted that the change at Club Allard had brought to light a true professional.

Michelin Stars

It’s not easy to imagine that a restaurant bestowed with two Michelin Stars manages to hang onto them after losing its head chef.

But Maria Marte has demonstrated that she is just as worthy of them as any other two-star chef. She just got on with it and rose to the challenge of leading the kitchen team as if the events had not affected her.

As well as hanging on to the two Michelin Stars and being the only female chef in Madrid to have two, Club Allard was elected by Trip Advisor uses in October as the sixth best restaurant in the world.

Maria Marte attributes the two Michelin medals that she has earned to her great effort, dedication and consistency after thirteen years of working at Club Allard.

“These prizes are what give me the joy of knowing that my sacrifices have not been in vain.”

And despite the endless hours of work, Maria Marte also manages to raise a family

Maria Marte is only 36 years old and has already achieved so much. She also has three children that she doesn’t see as often as she’d like; one of 20 years old and twins at 15 years old.

She says that her children are very proud of their mother’s achievements.

And write a book

Marte is currently writing her first gastronomic book, in which there will be a little of everything, including the story of her journey from pot-washer to executive chef.

Yet Another Star

This March, Maria Marte has been awarded yet another star, but this time not of the Michelin variety; she, along with six other women have been awarded the Star of the Community of Madrid to celebrate International Women’s Day.

“This star means a lot to me because it isn’t a star for modern cuisine or creativity, but rather for effort and dedication: two fundamental values in this profession and especially for a woman.”

A joy to work with

While we were at Club Allard, aside from being blown away by the food, we were very impressed by two members of staff and Maria Marte herself.

The sommelier, Juan Antonio Herrero, and our waiter (whose name I cannot find, I’m afraid – if you’re out there, make yourself known!) were fantastic. They were so enthusiastic and knowledgable and when we commended them to Maria Marte she agreed, and said that she was very lucky to have such a great team. She said of these two that they are a pleasure to work with.

Funny, because they both said the same of her too. And it seems that they are not the only ones to think this, because from what Maria Marte was saying to us, the whole team get along really well and even dance to reggaeton in the kitchen!

The reason why Maria Marte came out to see us in the dining room in the first place was because Toni had asked our waiter to ask her a question. On hearing the question our waiter said that he would be more than happy to take us into the kitchen at the end of the meal or have the chef come out to answer for herself.

And then, at the end of the meal she appeared by our table.

Flor de hibiscus

Toni had read a lot about Maria Marte’s story before going to the restaurant. One of the things that we had been interested to find out during the meal was how much had changed since the last time we were there, now that there was a new young head chef.

Toni had read that a lot of the dishes had been changed and that a lot were still the same, so we didn’t really know to what extent Maria Marte had put her own stamp on the menu.

As it happened, some dishes were the same as previously, some were based on the old menu but had been tweaked or given a twist and some were completely new.

After completing the menu, it was clear that Maria Marte was taking her time and gradually taking ownership of the menu without losing any of the high standards and consistency that were already in place.

So the question that Toni had for the new chef was:

Which of your dishes best represents your cuisine, and why?

Naturally, she had to say that the whole menu is special – which it was, but she did have a great answer too:

She said that the Flor de hibiscus is probably her signature dish. Apparently the dish was designed in honour of her country, the Dominican Republic, because the flowery dish, like the country is vibrant with colour, flavour and joy.

She said that it was her first creation and she loves dishes that are so beautiful. And this one really is. The hibiscus flower is made of caramel with a foam of pisco sour and pistacho. The dish certainly is colourful and flavourful.

She went on to tell us, just as our waiter had when we’d asked, that pisco sour is a cocktail made from pisco, a spirit, like brandy, from South America, close to her roots.

The hibiscus flower has become so important to her that she has even had it tattooed on her body!

Inspiring woman, huh? And just wait until I tell you about the menu we had…

Read more about this month’s Destination of the Month: Madrid Gastronomy.

Filed Under: featuredFine Diningfood and drinkmadridMadrid Gastronomyspain

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

RSSComments (4)

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  1. Joana says:

    A very interesting post Lisa, I love that you share your experiences. we tested the Pisco Sour when we were in Peru, it was good!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi joana,
      Thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you are enjoying my experiences through the blog.
      If you are ever in Madrid you should try this Pisco Sour dish at Club Allard and see if it lives up to your memories of the cocktail in Peru.
      Happy Travels! xx

  2. susan sykes says:

    Wow what an inspirational woman, to have climbed from pot washer to head chef amazing, great post.

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