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‘My Mexican Mesa, Y Listo!’ Cookbook Features Recipes for Restaurant-Level Dishes

Influencer Jenny Martinez found success in creating authentic Mexican dishes


spinner image Jenny Martinez against pink background with designs
AARP (Jennifer Chong)

Just a few years ago, Jenny Martinez, 50, was selling forklifts for a living. In her off time, she loved whipping up the comforting, flavorful dishes of her native Mexico. When her daughter suggested uploading a video of Martinez making her signature birria to TikTok in 2020, she gamely agreed. The short clip, filmed in her Los Angeles kitchen, went viral and launched Martinez’s career as a full-time social media influencer. She now has 3.6 million followers, a line of colorful cookware sold at JCPenny and a debut cookbook, My Mexican Mesa, Y Listo!: Beautiful Flavors, Family Style. The book, which Martinez calls “a labor of love,” features time-honored techniques that will add smart tricks to even the most experienced cooks’ repertoire. Martinez tells AARP why she decided to share her recipes, how her unexpected journey has changed her family's life, and the three ingredients she can’t live without. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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What motivated you to take to TikTok to share your favorite recipes and kitchen tricks?

I always cooked [after work] and my husband would call me the “Mexican Rachael Ray,” because I was so fast. My daughter Cindy said, “Mom, you should start posting your recipes on TikTok,” and I said, “What's TikTok?” But [in January 2020] I downloaded the app. Cindy said, “Why don’t you post my grandma’s birria [beef stew]?” She posted the video, and the following morning my phone was blowing up. I couldn't believe it. Before you know it, we already had a million followers.

Have you been surprised by the reaction?

It's changed my life completely. We literally needed to learn to run a business and how to act like business owners, because we've always been employees. It’s brought fame to the entire family because we're always doing something together. I started inviting my mom, my dad, my husband and my kids, and now they get recognized in the streets. That’s not to mention my whole cookware collection that was launched in JCPenney. I'm right next to Martha Stewart’s store!

Can you share one of the earliest memories of cooking with your family?

My mom has always been known for preparing birria — first in Mexico and then in the United States. When anybody was celebrating a wedding, a baptism or a quinceañera,my mom would always be the one that everybody would be calling: “Can you help us make the food?” When I was a little girl I would help peel the onions and deseed all the dried chiles and cut the veggies.

It sounds like cooking has always been a family affair. 

We've always been in the kitchen because my mom would always encourage us in her sweet way. She would always say that we would win a man's heart by feeding him good food. My sisters and I — we are all still married to the same husbands [for many years]. I don't know if that's something that my mom created — it’s like this is how you keep a family together, by serving meals every day and keeping the family together. It has worked for me.

What do you want people to feel when they're cooking through the book?

I just want to feel the love. If you cook with so much love, you’ll keep the family together. [It may make you] want to give a hug to your mom or dad. That's what I keep on hearing from my followers. They love the way I integrate my parents [into the book and social media]. It doesn't matter what culture you're in, because love and food doesn't have a language.

What does the book’s “Y Listo!” tagline mean to you?

To me it’s like, “It's ready! Let's eat!” One of the other catchphrases that I have is “Beautiful!” because I am not a professional chef that makes sure that the plate is going to look beautiful at the end. But I see beauty in every creation that I make.

spinner image Book cover that says Jenny Martinez, My Mexican Mesa y Listo
Jennifer Chong

Cook with Jenny

Martinez shared three recipes from My Mexican Mesa, Y Listo! for AARP members to try:

Papitas Enchiladas

In restaurants in Mexico, they serve these little round wax potatoes instead of chips. They’re great appetizers with a beer on a hot day.

Fideo Soup

My husband says this is the perfect cold weather comfort food that takes you back to childhood. It’s a blank canvas on which you can get creative.

Mexican Churros

Churros are the most famous dessert from Mexico these days, and you can find churros-flavored everything, from cheesecake to ice cream. There’s some technique involved but they’re so easy to make once you get the hang of it. 

What advice would you give someone who might be intimidated by making Mexican food at home?

I've always told everybody to just try it. If you're cooking with love, and you have that passion, it's going to come out good. I mean, you might mess it up the first time, but that's what's going to help you perfect the next dish. There's always the next time.

What has been the most surprising part of this journey?

The most surprising thing is that I am able to hire all my kids. Now they help with the business, and I'm able to pay them and I’ve replaced their salaries [at other jobs]. And my husband too. They're also receiving all the fruits of our love and hard work.

Why has it been important for you to create content in both English and Spanish?

It kind of made me stand out because it's more Spanglish. I wanted to teach more than just my Mexican community. I wanted [to connect with people who] never cooked the Mexican red rice or have never had the real birria or posole. And I wanted to tap into that community.

What are three ingredients that you're never without?

I’ve always called it my Mexican flag colors. It has to be the onion, the tomatoes and the chili jalapeños. I can't live without them.

 

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