You know that I love entertaining at any time of year, but especially in the summer when we can toast on our terrace with the sun setting over Central Park in the background.
Monday was one of those spectacular New York City nights and I invited some special friends over to play….

If you have ever had upscale Mexican food in New York City, you have Zarela Martinez to thank for that.
Zarela’s dream as a young cook in Mexico, Texas, and then New Orleans, was to bring authentic Mexican food to New York.
She accomplished that and then some. She is a pioneer and a role model for women restaurateurs.
In 1987 when she opened her legendary restaurant, Zarela, on the upper east side, New Yorkers had no idea how elegant Mexican cuisine could be. She changed the game!

Zarela and I have a lot in common. We both spent much of our lives in Texas (I was born there, she reluctantly attended boarding school in El Paso where my mother grew up), we both started our culinary careers as caterers, we both love music and dancing, and we both came to New York to follow our dreams (at the time, mine wasn’t yet food, but singing and dancing on Broadway).


Zarela’s Restaurant

pam and zarela

Zarela and me in my kitchen

I have known Zarela for so long that I can’t even remember when or where we first met, but I had many incredible meals (and margaritas) at her restaurant before she closed it in 2011. At Flirting With Flavors we have done a few Mexican-inspired cooking parties and when I prepare the menus I often think, what would Zarela make??

Last week we decided to have a culinary playdate at my apartment where we could spend the evening cooking, dancing, and singing. You should know by now that I like to play when I cook, and there is always time for a little singing and dancing while the water boils!

Zarela taught me a few of the simple yet sophisticated Mexican dishes that she is known for, and she also taught me some new dance steps!

dancing in kitchen

Zarela has recently launched an online video series and you can find recipes for all the dishes pictured below, and many others, on her website.

One of my favorites is what she calls her go-to appetizer, Hearts of Palm Puree or Ensalada de Palmitos, which she serves with jicama matchsticks. It is so rich and creamy, it’s really hard to believe there is no cheese or dairy in this recipe! It takes about 5 minutes to make. You have no excuse- you have to try it!!

grilling tortillas

Zarela warming up some fresh tortillas

We figured we would have too much food for just the two of us, so we invited our friends Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page to join in the fun! And they brought dessert!

making dessert

Andrew whips up a little cream for his chocolate bundt cakes

Andrew and Karen are prolific authors and their books have done so much to uplift American food and wine culture. Their groundbreaking book, Becoming A Chef, is a must-read for any food professional or aficionado!

plating dessert

Plating the chocolate bundt cakes, with whipped cream and fresh berries

My friend Sharon Friedland joined us as well. She is a huge fan of Zarela’s cooking and celebrated countless special occasions at Zarela’s restaurant. She was so excited to share a meal with her!

It was a perfect combination of food, wine, margaritas, and personalities.
Zarela has been such a big influence on all of us, and it was a pleasure to eat her cooking once again.

whole party