For mother and son chefs Zarela Martínez and Aarón Sánchez, educating others about the cuisines that make up Mexico is a family tradition. Zarela was born in Agua Prieta, Sonora where she grew up spending time in the kitchen with her mother Aida Gabilondo — affectionately known as “Mema” — who was a cookbook author.
Zarela later made her way to New York City, where she opened her eponymous restaurant, “Zarela’s.” The restaurant quickly caught the attention of other chefs and critics. “People wrote things like Mexican food of incredible finesse, or that my food was like discovering colors,” Zarela says.
Aarón grew up helping his mother cook and witnessing her success — which included cookbook and TV show deals. He soon decided to try his hand at a culinary career of his own.
“[My mom] was this bright example for me and it was very important for me early on to distinguish myself from her,” Aarón says. He began his career cooking pan-Latin American fusion before finding the confidence to cook Mexican food. In the early 2000s Aarón began appearing on an up-and-coming channel, Food Network. Since then, he’s hosted his own shows and appeared on Iron Chef, MasterChef and Chopped.
Zarela and Aarón have each had award-winning careers, but in 2020, this duo decided to combine their talents for a podcast. In their podcast “Cooking in Mexican from A to Z,” they discuss the recipes and ingredients that make up Mexican dishes. They say this collaboration has allowed them to see each other in a different light.
“I think the podcast reaffirms what I’ve always known. You, mom, being this unbelievable resource of knowledge and legacy,” says Aarón.
In this episode of Latino USA, Aarón and Zarela reflect on their careers and relationship — including their journey as a family navigating Zarela’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
Featured image courtesy of Zarela Martínez and Aarón Sánchez.