Star-a-Day: Martita Jara

Get to know Martita Jara, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 12.
Food Network Star

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Martita, 39 (San Diego), showcased her talent on Season 8 of Food Network Star. She began working in her family’s restaurant business at a young age, with her mom’s authentic Mexican home cooking inspiring her culinary passion. Martita's parents moved to the United States two years before she was born, and she credits them with her work ethic and perseverance. Martita attended a few semesters of culinary school, but most of her skills are self-taught. She loves to entertain and cooks with loads of Mexican flavor!

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.

Martita Jara: I cook with the flavors of Mexico with a California twist.

Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?

MJ: They’re both equal powerhouses to me. They both can be pretty intimidating. When I first started working with them I would totally freak out every time they came around, but I feel much more comfortable with them now. But at the same time, there’s always that — you don’t want to disappoint them, you don’t want to let them down, especially Giada because she picked me for her team in Season 8, and I want her to see that she didn’t waste her pick on me.

If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

MJ: I love how Giada does everything so beautifully in the kitchen. Watching her cook is like, it’s just, she’s very feminine and very elegant and beautiful in the kitchen, and I love that about her.

How did you prepare for this competition?

MJ: Obviously I didn’t know they were going to do Comeback Kitchen, nobody did, but after Season 8, I knew more than ever. I realized when I got sent home that I wasn’t quite ready for this job — that I had to do a lot more work, and not so much in my food. I mean, you’re always trying to do better food, but I didn’t get sent home for my food; my food, I always nailed it. Where I needed to work was my on-camera presentation. So, when I went home, I put myself in front of every camera that would have me. ... I took no-paying gigs, low-paying gigs. I took gigs where I had to fly in, pay for my own flight, pay to be there. I knew I had to get better, and the only way to do that was to get myself in front of every camera I could, and that’s exactly what I did. Did morning shows, I did infomercials, I just wrapped my third season doing another show that we film in the summers on OWN, on Oprah’s network. And so I’ve been working at this, and of course, like I said, I didn’t know this opportunity was going to come, but what I always say is that there’s no such thing as luck. You have to be prepared for when the opportunity comes, and I knew if I prepared myself that somehow an opportunity would present itself, and so I just kept preparing and preparing and preparing, and then when I got that call for Comeback Kitchen, I was like: "This is it. Yup, let’s go."

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?

MJ: I’m going to win. I want them to see the fun Martita, you know, the warm, inviting, passionate girl that they know I am. I just couldn’t show it on camera because I was scared, terrified of the camera, but that’s all gone. So they’re going to see that warm, fun, passionate Latina; they’re going to see it in me, and they’re going to see it in my food, and they’re going to taste it.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

MJ: Well, I know what the outcome is going to be, and what I will take away from it is, you know, if you really want something you have to work for it and you have to sacrifice, and it is not easy being away from family, from loved ones. Two of my sisters are having babies right now; I’m not there in the hospital where I’m supposed to be, and it’s a huge sacrifice. But I know it’s not for nothing, and I know I’m going to bring it home for my family and say: "I won. You know, it was all worth it." And I can’t wait. I can’t wait.

Who's been your culinary mentor so far in life?

MJ: I would say my culinary mentor, my first one, was definitely my mother and probably still is. You know, my mother doesn’t do fancy food by any means. She’s not trained at all, but I don’t care what she makes, it always tastes delicious because she does it with such love, and I think there’s love in her hands, and you can taste it in the food. She taught me to do everything from a very young age. ... I’m the oldest of the four girls, so I grew up in the kitchen with my mother, and then when I was 13 we opened our first restaurant — we opened up a little taco shop. So I grew up in the taco shops, and it’s been my whole life. It’s very much a cultural thing. ... I’m first generation in this country, so for my mother it was, "I have to show you how to do these things because one day you’re going to have to take care of your own home, and you’re going to have to feed your husband and you’re going to have to feed your kids." You know, it’s that mentality, and they’re preparing you for whatever is going to come later on in your life. So, you need to know how to do this and you need to learn how to do this and you need all these things, and so my mother, and she’s still teaching me those things every day.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

MJ: My greatest skill in the kitchen is I know how to make it flavorful and delicious. I find that sometimes people make gorgeous food. It looks like a work of art, but if the flavor isn’t there … My greatest skill is that if I feed you, you’re going to ask for seconds. People always want more. Hell yeah.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

MJ: I don’t think there’s anything strange in there. ... Sometimes I think I swear I must be half Italian because there’s always salami, spicy salami, there’s always cheeses. For lunch I literally have salami, cheese and grapes every day. So, you’ll find that.

It's a regular Tuesday night at home. What are you making for dinner?

MJ: If I didn’t have too much of a long day — if I had a very long day I’m probably going to pick up some takeout — but if it wasn’t too long of a day, it really depends on what I’m craving. I really cook for my gut: Whatever I’m in the mood for, that’s what we’re going to have. So if I’m craving pizza, we’re going to have pizza. If I’m craving tacos, we’re going to have tacos. If I’m craving enchiladas, we’re going to have enchiladas. I’m a very moody eater. Whatever I’m in the mood for, that’s what we’re eating. I don’t care who’s coming over, that’s what we’re going to eat.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

MJ: My carnitas are amazing. My beer-roasted carnitas are amazing, and I always serve them with homemade tortillas — flour tortillas — and a salsa verde.

What's your favorite food city to visit?

MJ: New York. Oh, my gosh, I want to eat everything, and I’ll tell you one of the reasons why I love eating in New York [is] because you walk everywhere, so you don’t gain a pound. So, I’m like: "Oh, I can have doughnuts because I’m in New York. It’s allowed. I’m going to walk 6 miles today, so it’s totally allowed. Doughnut Plant, here we come."

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?

MJ: I’m not a big liver person. I never have been. I, if it’s prepared correctly, I will eat it. I think one of my biggest flaws is I’m not allergic to anything, and I like everything, so I will eat anything, which I wish I was one of those girls like: "Oh, no, no butter. I can’t eat that. Oh, I’m gluten intolerant." Girl, I will eat anything. That’s the big problem for me, but liver is not my favorite thing in the world.

What's your favorite late-night snack?
MJ: Popcorn
What's your guilty-pleasure food?

MJ: There's always chocolate in my refrigerator. Always or I will hurt someone. Like, I will be on the 6 o’clock news. If I need my chocolate, I have to have my chocolate. But it’s good chocolate, so I don’t know. I justify it. ... It’s dark. There's antioxidants in it. I can justify that kind of chocolate.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?
MJ: That is a tough question. I think pizza.
What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

MJ: You know, I want to say to them that you’re finally going to see the real Martita because now I’m not intimidated by the camera, and I can show you who I really am, and I’m going to win this, and you’re going to love my show. It’s going to be a great show.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? Doughnuts
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Both
Burgers or hot dogs? Burger
French fries or onion rings? French fries
White meat or dark? Dark
Cake or pie? Cake
French toast or pancakes? French toast
Beer or wine? Wine

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Star-a-Day: Martita Jara

To give you a sneak peek at the personalities of Team Alton, Team Bobby and Team Giada, we’re introducing a finalist per day leading up to the bigger-than-ever Food Network Star premiere on Sunday, May 13, at 9pm/8c.