For Rosa Martinez, one of the chefs featured in We Are La Cocina (Chronicle, June), sharing food with others has always been a central part of life. As a child in a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, she sold tamales and other foods her mother prepared in the town square. After emigrating to the U.S., Martinez made a living as a domestic worker in the Bay Area, saving enough money to buy a home. She now owns and operates a catering company, Origen, and every year, she invites her former employers to her backyard for a picnic.
Martinez launched Origen with the support of La Cocina, a small-business incubator in San Francisco’s Mission District. Founded in 2005, the organization offers an affordable commercial kitchen space to low-income entrepreneurs, primarily women of color and those from immigrant communities. Many chefs involved with La Cocina got their professional starts through acts of personal hospitality. “The cooks at La Cocina, nearly all of them, began their businesses by welcoming people into their homes,” says Caleb Zigas, the organization’s executive director.
The forthcoming book, coauthored by Zigas and Leticia Landa, La Cocina’s deputy director, gathers more than 100 recipes from 50 chefs hailing from 19 countries, including the U.S., and also shares each chef’s story. Zigas and Landa began considering a cookbook about 10 years ago, as a way to amplify underrepresented voices and celebrate their successes. “They are stories of talent, of innovation, and, in no small part, of overcoming adversity to achieve economic freedom,” Zigas says. “For us, food has always been about the people that make it, and we wanted to use a cookbook as a way to introduce as many people as possible to the work that these women do to achieve independence for themselves and their families.”
In keeping with an overarching theme of hospitality, several of the book’s recipes are for party foods, meant to be eaten by hand and with friends, such as momos (Nepalese dumplings), onigiri (Japanese rice balls), and Jamaican beef patties. The book also lays out the ground rules of hosting a taquiza, which Zigas says “is basically a Mexican potluck, built around the taco.” He adds, “The host provides warm tortillas, salsas, and sides. You bring your best filling—and don’t forget the tequila.”