Five minutes with Martha Ortiz

We chatted to Martha Ortiz, owner and head chef at Ella Canta, located within the iconic Intercontinental Hotel in London, to ask her a few foodie questions.

Known as one of London’s best Mexican restaurants, Ella Canta celebrates the flavours of Mexico through traditional ingredients and contemporary flair. Discover what sets the restaurant – and Martha’s cooking – apart from the rest. Plus, find out her ultimate dinner party guests…

Five minutes with Martha Ortiz

What’s your first memory of food?

My first memories of flavours come from my family in Mexico. My mother, who is an artist and a brilliant cook, always had the ability to create beauty though food and took great pleasure in it, creating dishes inspired from all kinds of experiences – full of textures, scents, colours and flavours. Watching her has proven to be one of the greatest learning experiences and I realise as a chef today, I am recreating all those wonderful memories and interactions between colours, unique flavours, art – as well as the blessings of being a woman.

What’s the recipe you can’t live without?

Handmade tortillas – an integral dish in Mexican cooking and a recipe I could not live without. The tortilla is everything to Mexican food. They are round, like a communion to the sun. In the time of Montezuma, the Spanish called us ‘sun-kissed’ and the tortilla embodies that. They have an energy too – the sound of women making tortillas by hand has a rhythm, a clapping sound. It becomes a symphony! But with every recipe, passion is key – passion for life is the most vital ingredient in any cooking.

What’s the food you’d miss the most?

Mexico has given the world some of the greatest ingredients of all time so it would be difficult to choose. Maize was domesticated in Mexico; chillies, peppers, avocado, tomatoes are all from Mexico. I really love dark chillies. They are the same as fresh but are sun-dried and some are smoked over wood. I adore the chipotle chilli, it’s so smoky and beautiful. My favourite chilli is the pasilla mixe. I want to make a perfume from it.

You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?

I would invite Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They would be a fascinating couple to spend time with as some of the greatest artists in Mexico, and both very interesting, complex characters. I would love to see what they were like together as a couple.

Which cookbook would you take with you to the island?

I would take Julia Child’s cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cuisine’. Not only was she a feminist ahead of her time but the cookbook looks at French cuisine with new eyes. It is a classic, teaching the fundamental basics of cooking which is essential for all chefs to learn. Following on from this, in her cooking show you see how honest and real she was.

What recipe are you most excited about to showcase on your new ‘Painted Black‘ menu?

The Quesadilla Negra (black quesadillas) are one of my favourites on the new menu. We have transformed a very unassuming, straightforward food item in a chic and elegant way. It is simple yet sophisticated, and completely delicious.

Discover Martha’s Painted Black menu now at Ella Canta

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