Rick Martinez’s Mi Cocina Is More Than a Cookbook — It’s a Journey
"Mi Cocina is the story of where I went, who I met, what I learned, what I ate, and how to make it. It’s also the story of who I am, and who I am becoming — past, present and future."
Rick Martinez knows what it means to make, cook and eat Mexican food. In his debut cookbook, Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico, Rick seeks to capture the diversity of Mexican cuisine by recreating the dishes he ate on his 20,000-mile journey across the country. "Americans love Mexican food but are only aware of five dishes — tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, and quesadillas,” says Rick. "I wanted to expand the culinary repertoire of American home cooks and give them not only a taste of the different regions of Mexico, but also give them something new to cook using easily accessible ingredients you can find at the grocery store and with no special equipment."
Part cookbook, part memoir, writing Mi Cocina taught Rick much about his own heritage, community and identity. Pre-2020, Rick’s planned to travel to 10 cities in Mexico with a photographer to put together a highlight reel of experiences and foods he loved the most, making a travelogue-style cookbook. Then, March 2020 brought the whole world to a halt and forced Rick to completely change course, for the better.
Instead, Rick visited 32 different Mexican states and 156 cities over the course of 586 days. And when it came time to write, he found himself in an Airbnb in the city of Mazatlan, Mexico developing mole recipes with a 20-year-old blender. "Because I developed the recipes in Mazatlan during lockdown, I felt more personally attached to each dish being alone in a city where I knew no one and was so far from my, then, NYC home," Rick says. "As I wrote the text around the recipes, looking back at all my photos from my trip, the text felt like it needed to be more personal, almost like a personal journal. It felt right and I am so happy that [it] evolved into what it is now."
Rick's version of Brochetas de Pulpo y Camarones (pictured above) was one of those recipes. The dish consists of skewers of fresh octopus and jumbo shrimp marinated in a zesty mixture of lime juice, orange juice and habanero peppers. It’s the meal that had the biggest impact on Rick when he first tried it in Puerto Escondido.
However, it’s mole that Rick believes is a must-make for anyone who buys his cookbook. "It is a mother sauce. It has 1000s of regional and familial variations because of what grows in each region and because of the personal tastes of the individuals who cook it," he says. The technique to make the sauce, which includes blending a mixture of spices and other items altogether, is the common thread that makes mole, mole. "I want readers to master the technique, and then swap out ingredients for the ones that you love the most and make it your own, just like a cook in Mexico."
Since finishing his cookbook, Rick has relocated to Mexico permanently. He’s even adopted a dog, Choco. He accredits the move to the generosity of the people he met while putting Mi Cocina together and the personal growth he experienced along the way: "The recipes in Mi Cocina are inspired not only by my travels but also the road to self-acceptance, and, finally, my happiness."