Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 5, Episode 1 - Cristina Martinez - full transcript

Cristina talks her family, remembers her difficult past in Mexico and comments on her current struggles in the U.S., where she has her own barbacoa restaurant.

I remember when I was little

I would watch my father.

He was always very passionate.

Always happy and excited.

I liked what my dad did.

I remember lighting the pit.

The smell of the leaves.

My father would slice an orange...

"Open your mouth!"

And he'd squeeze the orange.

I remember the slaughter of the lambs.

I liked learning to cut off
their heads, to skin them.

Those are some very
beautiful memories for me.

I'm still rooted in those customs.

But it's been many years
since I've been home.

Immigrants know this story all too well.

It's a story of family.

Of separation.

And this is what I would like to change.

I'm not afraid to break
something to make it better.

Lamb barbacoa is a very traditional
dish from Central Mexico.

It's very difficult to prepare.

It is difficult enough to
find good barbacoa in Mexico.

So, when Bon App?tit issued its
ten best restaurants in America list

and there was a barbacoa
restaurant in Philadelphia...

It's a crazy idea.

But Cristina Martinez
is more than a chef.

Cristina is undocumented.

Cristina was able to
change her circumstances

and become an advocate for immigrants.

By saying that she is an
immigrant so publicly,

she is at risk all the time.

My hometown is Capulhuac, Mexico.

It is known as the capital of barbacoa.

Barbacoa is a tradition
that began a long time ago.

My family has made it
from the beginning.

Traditionally, you make
barbacoa in the pit.

Cooking in coals is the
best thing for food.

The barbacoa is made of lamb.

Marinated with orange and salt.

The meat, the feet, the stomach,
the entrails, and the head.

There is nothing that goes to waste.

The orange is needed to remove
the moisture from the lamb.

We use maguey leaves

to infuse it with a bitter
flavor that cannot be duplicated.

You cover them, and
then the magic begins.

You wait eight hours.

You can see how the
barbacoa is breathing.

Vapors rise, and the
smell is incredible.

I've been cooking barbacoa
since I was six years old.

And still, when I'm making
barbacoa, I feel something magical.

I rejoice in my heart.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on
Earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily
bread. Forgive our trespasses,

as we also forgive those
who trespass against us.

Do not let us fall into temptation.
And deliver us from evil.

God, on this day...

I want to thank you for all the
wonderful things you have given me.

Having our family united in the
name of my sister, Cristina.

Far from us, but we always
carry her in our heart.

Let's eat.

Barbacoa on the weekends is like the
best thing that can happen to a Mexican.

Can I have some salsa?

Whiskey is missing.

It's a very special dish that you
have on Saturdays and Sundays.

You get together with family.

They clear their
schedule to be together.

It's an important part of life.

I have not seen my
family for eight years.

When I arrived in Philadelphia, I was
very saddened that I couldn't find

this sense of home that is barbacoa.

So now, I am setting an example.

I believe food has power.

I make my food with love, with
strength and with passion.

Through food, we can find home.

Growing up, I had four siblings.

We were always working together.

But we had lots of fun.

My parents always
wanted the best for us.

My family was very happy.

And then at 17, I got married.

And I moved to his house.

My husband's family also made barbacoa.

They put me to work.

I was always busy cleaning,
cleaning, cleaning.

Everything had to be
cleaned, chopped and stored.

I'd go to sleep at 10:30 at night.

But at 3:00 in the
morning, I'd have to get up

because I'd have to remove the barbacoa.

That was my job.

I was like an employee, not a wife.

I wasn't allowed to see my family.

When I tried to say
that I did not like it,

he started treating me so much worse.

He told me, "You're no good at anything.

You're not worth anything."

He beat me brutally.

Hitting me every day. Over and over.

I'm screaming.

And his mother says, "I
don't hear anything."

I was never the same again.

After two years of
marriage, Karla is born.

She's a girl. She's a beautiful girl.

And I was very happy.

I knew I wasn't going to be alone.
I will have someone to talk to.

Karla was the joy of my life,

and to this day, lights up my face.

The first 13 years of my life were...

It was a difficult life.

From the age of six, they
started to take us to work.

All week, we went to
school in the morning,

and in the afternoon,
we had obligations.

It was work and work. Every day.

When I started secondary school,

I told my dad that I did
not want to go sell anymore.

I wanted to dedicate myself
to homework, to school.

My dad said no.

Here, if your family does
not insist that you study...

then you get married.

You can't pursue anything else.

It's like a chain.

There needs to be someone
to break that cycle.

When Karla was barely 13...

her dad told me that,

"I hope to make a good
wife out of my daughter."

I took those words to
heart and said, "Wow."

I was about to lose my daughter.

I said to Karlita,

"I don't want you to
repeat this same story."

She said to me, "Well, I want
to go to boarding school."

Then I said, "Now what
am I going to do?"

I was very worried about the money.

I didn't know what to do.

I knew I had to work hard to make
more money for Karla's school.

My husband kept all the money.

So, the responsibility was mine.

I had a very difficult decision to make.

I talked to Karla and told her that
I have to go to the United States.

"But you'll be fine. You're
going to have money for school.

I'm going to work for
you. Just for you."

"Yes, Mommy, go.

I'll be fine."

I talk with the man who is going
to bring us in, the coyote.

He asks me to wait a few months
and that I get ready to go in May.

I prepare myself.

I run every day.

And Karla tells me, "Eat well

so that you are strong
when you cross the desert."

We flew to Ciudad Ju?rez.

Arrived at dawn.

It was a group of 24.

We are all together, we are united.

We wear a cap and dark clothes
to be hidden in the desert.

Then they tell us that we
are going to start walking.

I lift my eyes. See the sky.

And it was so bright.

You can hear the singing of
the crickets and nothing more.

We walked in the desert for 15 days.

We ran out of food.

There were rainstorms
you could not hide from.

Finally, there are two roads.

That is what is called "the line."

You have to run.

And it has to be very fast because
immigration is checking with their radar.

I took a deep breath...

Then, I ran like I was being chased.

You feel like you're flying,
like you have to make it.

You have to run and forget everything.

You feel like you can't.

Run, run, run.

Yes, give me that paper.

Thank you.

- Here are the eggs.
- Thank you.

When I crossed the desert,

I realized that there was
a different woman in me.

I walked the streets for
a month, looking for work.

Knocking on the doors of
restaurants, pizzerias...

"Give me a job. I want to wash
dishes. I want to do something."

Finally, I met a chef.

He says, "Okay. You will do the
preparation and cut vegetables."

I am very focused, very silent,
doing what they are telling me.

But the chef does not speak Spanish.

I don't speak English. That friction
of communication was very difficult.

So, I had to learn by watching.

I had to get everything
right the first time.

I had the strength to do it for Karla.

Four months pass very quickly.

Then, they say, "We
want to talk to you."

"We want to offer you the
opportunity to make desserts."

I felt accepted.

But the most important thing was

I could send money to Karla.

- How many?
- Four.

I was working double shifts.

Focused on sending money to Karla.

And when I saw Ben for the first time,
I said, "I'm going to marry this man."

Then my coworker hears
and says, "You're crazy."

And I say, "Yes, I will marry him."

Then we're talking a little bit.

But his Spanish is very little
and my English is nothing.

And I was very nervous.

One day, Benjamin tells me,
"I want you to rest one day.

Let's go to the river."

I hear the birds.

And the rustling of the trees.

He took me by the
hands and he kissed me.

And I was like, "Wow! I
have an American boyfriend!"

A week later, I talked to
Karla, and told her I met a man.

"Ay, Mommy! I've never
heard you so excited."

But I heard that my
daughter was very happy.

That gave me the confidence
to go out with Ben.

Time passes.

It was more. More chemistry,
more love, more...

I fell in love with Ben.

When I married Ben, my life changed.

Ben gave me light and confidence.

And I found that stability,
protection and that love

that I searched for for
many years of my life.

May we never lack sustenance in
every family, in every village.

From our great An?huac, our
great people of the Americas.

Our great people of Mexico.

The energy of the corn
is totally unique.

It is more special, more original.

It's something that nourishes
both your heart and your spirit.

It makes us stronger men and women.

And since the taco is made from
corn, it deserves a lot of respect.

Unfortunately, in the United States,
we have genetically modified corn.

There isn't a natural corn.

I'm very proud to be making
tortillas from indigenous corn.

To eat this tortilla is to feel at home.

It looks like you're in a canoe.

Look, it's like this, "Hey,
this is the technique!"

It's kind of getting puffy.
Yes, it's getting puffy.

And how do you say "puffy" in English?

It's very hot.

We go see a lawyer to process
my immigration papers.

The lawyer told me that I have
to ask for my boss's help.

To write me a letter of support.

And the chef tells me
that he can't do anything.

That he's sorry.

And they fired me from the restaurant.

Right then, I realized
that I was not accepted.

The truth is that, if you're
married to an American,

it doesn't grant you the right to
automatically acquire your green card.

Because I crossed the
border through the desert,

I was ineligible.

The doors were closed for me.

I couldn't send my
daughter money anymore.

I had lost something
huge that I cherished.

I'm wondering, "What am I
even doing in Philadelphia?"

And then I saw the light again.

In the eyes of men...

we must have a paper to say who we are.

But in the eyes of God, we're all equal.

I was dreaming of Mexico,
dreaming of barbacoa.

It motivated me to keep going.

The road was not finished.

Okay, this is the pancita.
Do you want to try it?

I was excited to start something.

I was clear with my
barbacoa, with my menu.

It was my home, my restaurant.
It was so beautiful.

More people started to arrive,
more people came to the apartment.

Needing to eat and feel at home.

They were immigrants like me.

That's when we began
to form our community.

Buenos d?as.

Once we opened the
doors to our restaurant,

our popularity grew.

Chefs from all over the
city started coming.

They told me it was very delicious.

They were proud,

because we needed new people in
the neighborhood with new ideas.

We were in an exciting time.

At the same time, I was
listening to everyone.

That the working conditions
weren't equal for immigrants.

We shared ideas and talked about change.

In November of 2016,

Bon App?tit released the ten best
new restaurants in the United States.

When she started to get
that media attention,

the most interesting thing was
the barbacoa was the least of it.

She wanted to say there
was a more important fight.

All of a sudden, I'm on the
radio, on TV, in magazines.

I realized the voice of my
community could be my voice.

Immigrants are hidden.
They are exploited.

This is the system that
I want people to see.

It didn't matter what would happen.

I was going to speak the truth.

My community is very important.

It's very important,

because in each of them,
I see my own family.

Every person who has come to
my restaurant has a story.

A story that weighs.

Cristina has risen above.

Standing her ground for all
these people, fueled by love.

She is able to see her family in each
person who enters her restaurant.

She serves her food
prepared with all her love.

All with the hope that one day her
daughter will step through that door

and sit at her table and eat her food.


Hello, Karla. How is everyone there?

Fine, fine. Busy but good.

We have tried twice to get my visa.

I had the interview and...

And, well, I was denied.

We had a very, very, very, busy week.

And Ben is helping me a
lot. We are organizing.

Well, for me, lots of work.

I have been studying a lot.

A lot, a lot.

You have to continue.

I am here for you. Always.

I feel really happy that
I'm going to be a nurse.

I have one more year until I graduate.

But my dream is to be with her,
give her a hug and take a picture.

We made mole, we did tinga,

a few rich tinga tostadas.

I have my career, but she's far away.

There are sacrifices you have to make.

I send you many kisses.