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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 777: Vt-263: DVD-54

Papers of Zarela Martinez, 1920-2013 (inclusive), 1983-2002 (bulk)


Correspondence, manuscript drafts, scrapbooks, clippings, menus, recipes, research materials, photographs, DVDs, and videotapes of Zarela Martinez, Mexican cookbook author, chef, and restaurateur.


  • Creation: 1920-2013
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1983-2002

Language of Materials

Materials in English and Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the collection is unrestricted.

#FD.1-FD.3 are closed; use #20.2, 20.3, and 21.6.

An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the unpublished papers created by Zarela Martinez is held by Zarela Martinez during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright will be transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in Zarela Martinez's published work is outside the scope of this agreement. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


17.51 linear feet ((42 file boxes) plus 4 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 18 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 2 folio+ photograph folders, 58 videotapes, 3 DVDs, electronic records.)

The collection documents Martinez's personal and professional life and includes biographical information; correspondence; family histories; manuscript drafts and correspondence with publishers, editors, and collaborators; notebooks and research materials; photographs; recipes and restaurant menus; videotapes; scrapbooks; and clippings. Some material pertaining to Martinez's mother and sons is included. Martinez kept her research materials (and some of her correspondence) in three-ring binders: the material has been removed from the binders and placed in folders, with Martinez's arrangement of material maintained. Some correspondence and printed material is in Spanish, but the bulk of the collection is in English. Most folder headings were created by the archivist; those created by Martinez appear in quotation marks. Martinez's web site is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection (WAX). Additional material received as electronic files will be reformatted at some future date for inclusion in this collection.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL, PERSONAL, AND FAMILY, 1920-2013 (#1.1-8.9), includes address and appointment books; articles about Martinez's life and career; report cards and school yearbooks and other material regarding her education; material about Martinez's sons, her mother (including an obituary, her memorial service program, a scrapbook, and a book of her recipes), and her partner Jamie Gillis; and financial and legal documents. The series also includes dismantled scrapbooks of clippings about her career (with some also covering her mother and her son Aarón); the scrapbooks also include correspondence, certificates, and articles by Martinez. Of particular note are a family history and unfinished memoir by Martinez; these provide information about her childhood, with the latter also covering her later education, her life in El Paso (including her marriage and catering career), her move to New York and her work in restaurants there, and her romantic relationships. Also of note are the "anagraph personality analysis" graphs for her and Sánchez. Some overlap exists between the articles about Martinez (#3.5-4.4) and the dismantled scrapbooks (#7.2-8.7). The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1970-2012 (#8.10-18.6), contains Martinez's correspondence with her children and mother and with friends and colleagues, including Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme, Maida Heatter, Oliver Sacks, Sylvia Miles, Craig Claiborne, and Pauline Trigère. (In several letters, Sacks expresses his admiration of how well Martinez handled the impact Parkinson's Disease had on her life.) The series also contains correspondence with publishers, including letters of rejection , and requests for Martinez's recipes; thanks for her hospitality and praise of her cooking; correspondence with cooking magazines; and letters regarding appearances on television programs and at conferences and food-related events. Condolences on the death of Jamie Gillis are also included. Relatively little outgoing correspondence is included. The series is arranged with alphabetically arranged correspondence appearing first, followed by a chronological arrangement. Some correspondents appear in both groups, and some correspondence is in Spanish.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL, 1970-2011 (#18.7-42.15, FD.1-FD.4, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1, SD.1, E.1), documents Martinez's professional life. The series includes manuscript drafts for her three cookbooks, as well as book proposals and reviews, correspondence, publicity, and extensive background material (including itineraries and uncataloged photographs of places Martinez visited in Mexico and of local foods). Menus and recipes from her catering career and material regarding early achievements in her career, such as working with Paul Prudhomme, cooking at Tavern on the Green and the Williamsburg Economic Summit, and establishing a frozen food company featuring Mexican food are also included. The series also contains correspondence, programs, speeches, and recipes related to television appearances (on such programs as Martha Stewart Living and Cooking with Master Chefs); meetings of the Culinary Institute of America and the International Association of Culinary Professionals; charity events; and appearances at universities and other venues; as well as material related to her work with New York City's Mexican Cultural Institute. The series also contains Martinez's extensive research on different regions of Mexico and on Mexican holidays such as Cinco de Mayo and the Day of the Dead; much of this material has been removed from 3-ring binders. It includes uncataloged photographs of and notes on local foods; printed material; and menus from Mexican restaurants. Some of this material is in Spanish. The series also includes menus, reviews, budgets, correspondence (including letters of praise and complaint from customers), and recipes from Martinez's three restaurants; scripts, location notes, a project description, and correspondence for her television show ¡Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana; proposals for other television programs, including Zarela: Life with Parkinson's, which details the effect the disease had on her life; and designs and licensing and financial information for Zarela Casa, her design company. The series is arranged alphabetically. For related videotapes, see series V.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1950-2010 (#PD.1-PD.20, E.2-E.3), contains informal and publicity photographs of Martinez; photographs of her with family (including her sons Aarón and Rodrigo and her stepdaughter Marisa, her parents, and her sisters); restaurant staff; and friends and fellow chefs and food writers (including Jamie Gillis, Budd Schulberg, Paul Prudhomme, and Lillian Haines). Photographs of a book party for Food from My Heart and the opening party for Café Marimba are included, as well as photographs of food cooked by Martinez, of events at Zarela Restaurant, of Martinez's wedding, and of her coming out as a debutante. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series V, AUDIOVISUAL, 1985-2007, n.d. (#DVD-54.1 - DVD-54.3, Vt-263.1 - Vt-263.58), includes videotapes and DVDs of Martinez's appearances on television news programs and cooking shows, and videotapes in which she and other chefs give cooking demonstrations and provide cooking tips. Appearances on Julia Child's In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, Cooking Live with Sarah Moulton!, and Martha Stewart's show Martha are included, as well as the Spanish program La Familia del Hoy, and location segments and a series sampler for Martinez's program ¡Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana and an incomplete episode of the program. Martinez's son Aarón appears on a few programs. The series also contains news reports on Martinez's restaurants; two tapes on which she is given advice on public appearances, including makeup tips; and a family video providing background on several generations of the family. Most material is in English, with a few items in Spanish. For additional audiovisual material on Martinez, see her youtube channel . The series is arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany.


Chef, restaurateur, television host, and cookbook author Zarela Martinez (birth name Maria Zarela Martinez Gabilondo) was born in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta in Sonora State, on October 17, 1947, the eldest daughter of Aída (Gabilondo) and Jose Martinez Solano; she had three younger sisters. The oldest child, her brother Antern, died shortly after his birth. Her family owned a ranch and she was raised in a privileged atmosphere, while also learning how to kill rattlesnakes with a twelve foot whip and how to tame bucking broncos. Her mother worked as a translator for the US Office of Strategic Services during World War II and wrote the cookbook Mexican Family Cooking. The family entertained often and Aída cooked elaborate meals, with Martinez watching attentively.

Martinez hoped to attend college in the United States, but her parents objected, fearing she would forget her culture. Instead she attended the Instituto Familiar y Social de Guadalajara, a finishing school in Guadalajara, Mexico, for one year, and then studied mass communications and public relations at the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores until 1971. She noted later that the Instituto Familiar y Social de Guadalajara familiarized her with recipes and styles of cooking completely different from the style she was used to, and helped activate her curiosity about food. Upon completing her studies, Martinez fell into a depression and also became addicted to amphetamines and sleeping pills; her father forced her to quit cold turkey and she found that cooking aided her recovery. She moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1973, initially working as a secretary in a finance company and then as a social worker; she also started a small catering business. She married Adolfo Sánchez, a widowed parole officer with three children, in 1975; they had twin sons, Aarón and Rodrigo, in 1976. Sánchez was an alcoholic and was physically and verbally abusive: Martinez left him in 1980 and they divorced soon after. Sánchez died in 1992 or 1993.

While attending cooking school in New Orleans in 1981, she met Paul Prudhomme, who encouraged her to cook in his restaurant for a week; shortly afterwards he invited her to cook at a gathering of the Confraire des Maitres Cuisiniers at New York City's Tavern on the Green. Other chefs included Alice Waters and Maida Heatter. This event greatly increased Martinez's prominence on the culinary scene: in 1982, she was among the chefs participating in a pot-luck dinner celebrating Craig Clairborne's 62nd birthday, and the following year she contributed to the menu served to Queen Elizabeth at Ronald Reagan's California ranch. She also cooked at the Williamsburg Economic Summit in May 1983; the other cooks included Maida Heatter, Wolfgang Puck, and Paul Prudhomme. Later in 1983 she and her sons moved to New York City, where she launched a new catering business and in 1984 created the menu for Café Marimba, the first restaurant in New York to feature fine Mexican cuisine. She served first as consultant and then as executive chef at the café until 1987, when she left to open the eponymous Zarela restaurant, serving Mexican regional cuisines. The restaurant closed in 2011. In 2001, she and her stepdaughter Marisa Sánchez Bastien opened Danzón, with a menu based on the food of Veracruz; it closed in 2002.

Martinez has been instrumental in introducing Americans to authentic Mexican food, through her restaurants and writings. She has written three cookbooks: Food from my Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined (1992), which includes autobiographical sections as well as recipes; The Food and Life of Oaxaca: Traditional Recipes from Mexico's Heart (1997); and, with Anne Mendelson, Zarela's Veracruz: Cooking and Culture in Mexico's Tropical Melting Pot (2001), the companion volume to her 13-part PBS series, ¡Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana. Martinez has organized food festivals in New York City and given cooking lessons, demonstrations, and lectures on Mexican cuisine and culture. Her son Aarón is the co-star of the television shows Chopped and Heat Seekers and the chef/owner of the restaurant Mestizo, in Kansas City, Kansas; Rodrigo became a lawyer. In 2004, Martinez was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, triggered by an accident in which she was hit by a taxi cab. She was the partner of noted 1970s porn star Jamie Gillis from 2003 until his death in 2010. She was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America in 2013 and has received awards from Hispanic Magazine, the Women's Leadership Exchange, and the Women's Venture Fund, among others. As of 2013, she was living in New York City.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical, personal, and family, 1920-2013 (#1.1-8.9)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1970-2012 (#8.10-18.6)
  3. Series III. Professional, 1970-2011 (#18.7-42.15, FD.1-FD.4, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1, SD.1, E.1)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, 1950-2010 (#PD.1-PD.20, E.2-E.3)
  5. Series V. Audiovisual, 1985-2007, n.d. (#Vt-263.1 - Vt-263.58, DVD-54.1 - DVD.54.3)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2013-M96, 2013-M182

The papers of Zarela Martinez were acquired from Zarela Martinez in 2013.


Donors: Zarela Martinez

Accession number: 2013-M96

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following items have been removed from the collection and offered to the Schlesinger Library's Audiovisual Division:

  1. Seasons of My Heart with Susana Trilling, Series #1 Programs #101-103.

The following items have been removed from the collection and offered to the Schlesinger Library's Printed Materials Department:

  1. Cerdán, Raquel Torres amd Dora Elena Careaga Gutiérrez, La Cocina Afromestiza en Veracruz: Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura, 1995
  2. IACP Food Forum Quarterly, 1998-2002.
  3. Louis's Charleston Grill, 1984?

Processing Information

Processed: March 2014

By: Susan Earle, with the assistance of Emily Underwood.


Martinez, Zarela. Papers of Zarela Martinez, 1920-2013 (inclusive), 1983-2002 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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