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A story close to the magical realism of her native Caribbean
A story as close to the magical realism as her native Caribbean

María Marte, from dishwasher to haute cuisine chef

María Marte emigrated to Madrid from the Dominican Republic to wash dishes and left as a chef with two Michelin stars

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María Marte recalls that as a child, in her native Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, while her friends played with dolls, she played with stoves.

Cooking is something that runs in her blood, she admits, but when she decided to emigrate to Spain to earn a living as a dishwasher in 2003, leaving her three-year-old twins behind, she never imagined that her future lay in haute cuisine. 

Chance, or fate, led her to El Club Allard, a prestigious restaurant in the Spanish capital. There, she started cleaning floors and washing dishes.

"From the floor to the sky," she joked in a recent interview with Casa América Madrid. 

In those 16 years she worked at El Club Allard, Marte had the opportunity to get closer to the stove, although had to continue scrubbing. In 2006, she was already the chef's right hand, a year later they got their first Michelin star, and the second in 2011. When the chef left, she was asked to lead the kitchen, and Marte accepted the challenge. 

"It was through creativity, mixing the flavors of the Dominican Republic with haute cuisine, that I managed to keep the two Michelin stars," explained the renowned chef, who today, continues "dreaming, fighting and cooking." 

These exact words are the title of her first book, Soñar, luchar, cocinar: La fascinante historia de una mujer que comenzó fregando platos y alcanzó las estrellas, published in 2016 by Espasa. (Available only in Spanish)

In the book, the chef of El Club Allard reveals the flavors, the smells, the secrets of her cooking and the recipes that have accompanied her since her childhood, keeping alive the hope of cooking them someday and filling her dishes with the aroma of happiness. It's a story of development and self-improvement, which today serves as an inspiration for dozens of immigrant women from Latin America who come to Spain or the United States in search of a better future. 

In 2017, Marte won the Eckart Innovation Award, one of the most prestigious international awards in the world, valued at 50,000 euros ($53,700). With that money in her pocket, she decided to return to the Dominican Republic and set up a project to help underprivileged girls in her country. The project consists of financing a year's cooking studies at a cooking school in Madrid, with the possibility of an internship at El Club Allard. 

"I don't want any young girl to go through what I did, it was very hard to get to the kitchen without giving up washing dishes," she explained at Casa América. 

With the pandemic, the project was interrupted, but she has taken it up again in an even more exciting way: opening her own restaurant/school in the Dominican Republic, where she will be the teacher.  

Marte also holds the position of Ambassador of Culture of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (Segib), giving voice to important issues such as food security, sustainability and women's empowerment.

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