Silvia Martinez, The Great American Recipe winner, tells her family history through food, interview

Great American Recipe finale, photo provided by PBS
Great American Recipe finale, photo provided by PBS /

Crowned as the first season’s The Great American Recipe winner, Silvia Martinez impressed the judges with her bold flavors in her Mexican heritage dishes. While the PBS food television show captivated viewers with the stories that flavored the recipes, the idea of the American melting pot shows that food is the universal language. During a recent conversation with Silvia, she revealed how her food connects her to the past, present and future.

Viewers connected with The Great American Recipe on many levels. Whether it was a new version of family Friday night programming or appreciating the bounty of flavors that influence American cuisine, the culinary competition was more than just crowning a winner. It was an invitation to sit at the table and have a conversation about food and culture.

While viewers were drawn to Silvia Martinez and her Mexican cuisines, the food blogger has been sharing her food story online for years. During her conversation with FoodSided, Silvia shared how her writing transformed in a way to chronical her family history. Since no one had really been writing down these recipes and traditions, she looked for ways to ensure that there was an archive going forward. From there, other food enthusiasts were eager to read her work and cook along.

For example, Silvia shared how her grandmother would make a special salad every Christmas. For her, that dish was not just the flavor of the season, it brings back the memories of all the women in the kitchen sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying spending time together. That sentiment might not be an ingredient in the recipe, but it brought flavor to the dish. Sometimes the memory of togetherness is just as important as the technical part of the recipe.

As Silvia told that story, it is one that many people can appreciate. Similar to the concepts seen on The Great American Recipe, it is the traditions that bring people to the kitchen and the table.

Looking back at her The Great American Recipe experience, Silvia found throughout the competition that she learned from her fellow competitors. While each person had their specific flavor preferences, it was apparent that there are similarities throughout the food offerings.

Silvia recalled a fried egg dish that her mother would make with salsa and avocado. She saw how that recipe related to Foo’s rice dishes with fried eggs. The flavors were different but the concept of a fried egg adding to the luscious flavor was clear.

Even though Silvia is most comfortable cooking Mexican cuisine, she is ready to branch out into other flavors. Whether it is Robin’s Mediterranean flavors or the Foo’s Asian spices, it goes to show that The Great American Recipe is about finding the commonalities across food and culture.

Still, given that many fans of the PBS The Great American Recipe show are excited to cook along with the recipes featured during the culinary competition, Silvia offered some simple advice to start incorporating some versatile flavors into a variety of dishes.

While some people might know the holy trinity in Southern cuisine or mirepoix, Mexican dishes often feature tomatoes, onions and a serrano pepper. That simple concept can be used with many proteins. Once a cook masters that base flavor combination, they can build on it.

In addition, Silvia shared an idea for a pantry staple that can help home cooks feel more comfortable cooking Mexican inspired recipes. For example, she recommended having chipotle peppers on hand. That smoky quality can enhance many recipes. More importantly, Silvia said that even just a little chipotle can make a difference in dish, even for people who are slightly spice adverse.

Although Silvia drew inspiration from classic, comfort food Mexican recipes during the culinary competition, she mentioned that she would not change what or how she made. She felts that each of the dishes, even if one or two was not perfect, reflected her culinary point of view. It told her story.

While she has been crowned The Great American Recipe winner, Silvia sees this victory as just one part of her culinary story. Cooking with her family, keeping those food traditions going forward and inspiring others to tell their culinary heritage is important. It appears that there will be many more opportunities for her to inspire others to get into the kitchen, cook and make memories.

Silvia Martinez, The Great American Recipe winner season 1, has her recipes featured in the PBS show companion cookbook. In addition, Silvia’s blog, Mama Latina Tips, has many recipes as well as cooking advice.