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Why Chef Rick Martinez Is Partnering with Corona for Cinco De Mayo 2022

Trends and Insight 82 Add to collection

Chef Rick Martinez on why he’s promoting Corona’s new Seltzeritas, the story behind his new cookbook and how he’s going to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Why Chef Rick Martinez Is Partnering with Corona for Cinco De Mayo 2022

May 5th, 2022 represents the annual arrival of Cinco De Mayo - an opportunity for Mexicans to celebrate their victory over the French empire. It’s a day for colourful costumes, good music and delicious food. The arrival of this year’s festivities is also made special by the fact that 2022 represents a return to some semblance of life pre covid-19. Corona wanted to celebrate this fact with the release of their new Seltzeritas. Served in flavours including lime, mango, peach and strawberry, they serve as strong compliments for those looking to indulge in a Mexican beverage on such an occasion. 

But for chef Rick Martinez, the Seltzeritas become especially enticing when paired with entries from his brand new cookbook. Inspired by Rick’s travels through Mexico, the book features 104 of his favourite dishes, and is meant to showcase the existence of Mexican cuisine beyond the often-cooked enchiladas and nachos. With both the cookbook and the Seltzeritas releasing just in time for Cinco De Mayo, it proved a great opportunity for a collaboration between Rick and Corona, marking their second consecutive year of working together and allowing both parties to promote the other’s work. 

Just in time for Cinco De Mayo, Rick sat down with LBB’s Josh Neufeldt to discuss this year’s effort. 

LBB> This is your second year in a row working with Corona for Cinco De Mayo. How did this partnership start, and what has your experience been like?

Rick> It's been great! It had a very different tone from last year because of the pandemic. And one of the things that was most impressive to me was Corona's effort to support local businesses. They were making donations to the Restaurant Relief Foundation which was helping to support local businesses that had suffered through the pandemic. As someone who has worked in food for a number of years, and who has many friends who are chefs or line cooks or tied to the restaurant industry, I knew firsthand how bad it was for restaurants. Through the entire pandemic, it was just a struggle on so many different fronts. It just seemed like regulations were always changing and that it was never going to end. The fact that Corona stepped up and was encouraging people to order from these restaurants and the way they were contributing and giving back to the communities impressed me. So that's how it began. 

But obviously, this year has been different. The reason I was interested in returning was that what Corona wanted to achieve was very similar to what I wanted to do with my cookbook. As it stands, Americans love Mexican food, but I think they have a very limited repertoire of what they actually know how to cook from a Mexican cuisine standpoint. I also think that a lot of people live in parts of the country where Mexican ingredients are hard to come by, or maybe the Mexican restaurants in their communities may not have the boldest flavoured food on offer. And so the idea this year was that we're going to bring those bold flavours together by combining my recipes with Corona’s new Seltzeritas and their sweepstakes. Giving people that very authentic, bold-flavoured experience around Cinco de Mayo really appealed to me, and so I wanted to work with Corona again this year. 

LBB> What was the process of developing your new cookbook like? And what challenges did you face?

Rick> My original pitch to the publisher started with the fact that Americans love Mexican food. Look at how ‘Taco Tuesdays’ are a thing. If you look at the amount of money that's spent on buying food, Mexican food is one of the highest in the entire restaurant category. And yet, people make the same things over and over again. I think the repertoire is probably about five dishes: enchiladas, burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos. Even as a recipe developer, when I'm approached by a media organisation, I'm often told ‘we want you to develop a Mexican food recipe, but it needs to be an enchilada or a taco’. But Mexican food is so much more than that. 

My analogy is comparing Mexican cuisine to Italian food 40 years ago. Back then, Italian food in the United States was really just red sauce and pasta. But then, a lot of authors started writing about Tuscan food and Sicilian food and Northern-Italian food. All of a sudden, we had the vocabulary to start talking about regional Italian cuisine. And so now we're at a point where we Americans understand that there are different regions and different types of food in Italy. That's why I wanted to do the same thing with Mexican food. To me, the only way to do that credibly was to go and eat my way around Mexico. So in 2019, I bought a car in Mexico City and I just started driving. It was one of the most incredible, if not the most incredible and life-changing experience. At the time of writing the book, I'd travelled about 20,000 miles and visited 156 cities. (Now, I'm probably closer to 30,000 and 300 cities.) I think I love road trips generally, but when you are in a car and you're seeing the geography change - seeing plains roll into deserts, going into mountains and tropical rainforests and passing by the farms of corn and agave which turn into mangoes and then oranges and pineapples and bananas - it's amazing. And what’s even better is that after that, you can stop and taste the changes in the geography and the culture. This book represents the 104 dishes that I enjoyed eating the most during this road trip. 

The biggest challenge was the fact that I was about two-thirds of the way done with the research when the pandemic started. I had the choice in March of 2020 to return to New York City, which is where I lived, but in my mind, I was like, ‘Do I really want to get stuck in my apartment, in cold March, and during a pandemic?’ And I decided that instead, I was going to find a beach. Initially, I imagined hunkering down for three weeks while the pandemic passed before continuing on with my research. That obviously did not happen. Instead, I ended up falling in love with the town I was in (Mazatlan) and I ended up buying a house and then I rescued a chocolate labrador. And now I live in Mexico! So that was another thing that just completely changed my life, the way I look at food and the way that I look at my career.

LBB> Part of the campaign asked you to pair the Seltzeritas with your new recipes. How did you go about doing this?

Rick> I started by considering the flavours of the Seltzertias themselves. Each of the flavours - lime, strawberry, mango and peach - are all fruits that grow in different regions of Mexico. (Peaches are in the northern region, mangoes and limes are in the southern region and strawberries are in the central region.) In the case of lime, that one was fairly straightforward. It's one of the universal flavours of Mexico that will go with probably 99.9% of all Mexican foods. Limes exist in every taqueria and you always squeeze a little bit of lime over everything that you're about to eat - oftentimes in your drinks as well. So for that one, it was fairly simple. 

The thing that I really like about the strawberry, mango and peach flavours was that they're probably a little bit more unexpected tastes, relative to a Mexican food pairing. But because so many Mexican foods are really spicy and really rich, and the Seltzeritas provide this sweet component, I think they add a special dimension. Each pairing is like a symphony in your mouth where you have these highs and lows - toasty flavours, caramelised flavours - and then you get this pop of sweetness and this pop of brightness from a peach or a mango. Also, in Mexico, dried chilies have a lot of fruity flavours. It's harder to understand in other countries because oftentimes the chilies are old and may or may not have as much flavour, but in Mexico, they're very floral and very fruity. So you can also find those sweeter notes in your guajillos or in your chipotles and moritas, and those notes will likely be accentuated and complemented by flavours like the peach, strawberry or mango. 

LBB> Do you have a favourite recipe and pairing? 

Rick> I say the pollo al pastor is my favourite dish, and I have actually made it the most out of any of the other recipes. It is really good. Some of my favourite parts of it are the pineapple and the onion that are roasted underneath the chicken. They just pick up all of the juice and the chicken drippings and they're just so incredibly flavorful. If you can get a good pineapple, you can have this caramelised, sweet pineapple with the chicken flavour and the onion flavour and then that marinade, and it's so, so incredibly good. 

To me, the mango and the peach pair really well with that. You get the very tropical sweetness of the pineapple, and then you either get the mango which picks up the tropical notes, or the peach which gives you those stone fruit notes. They’re both really good pairings. 

LBB> Behind every good recipe, there’s an equally good story. How did you learn to make your version of pollo al pastor?

Rick> For those who aren't familiar with pollo al pastor tacos, they're normally made with pork. But rotisserie chickens are very popular in all parts of Mexico, and when I was in Guanajuato, I came across this rotisserie chicken stand where the chickens had this bright red colour. The smell was intoxicating and when I tasted it, I said "Yes, this is going in the cookbook."

It had never occurred to me to make an al pastor chicken before, so it took me a while to perfect the recipe. Additionally, I had to find a way to try and replicate the flavour of a chicken spit-roasted over an open fire while contending with the fact that not a lot of people have a rotisserie grill in their house. It was hard, but I used chipotles which create the smokiness, I used agave syrup to add a little bit of sweetness (something which also comes from the Seltzeritas), and all in all, I feel like the final product is a really nice version of the chicken al pastor I had in Guanajuato.

LBB> As someone who has appeared on Bon Appetit and on Youtube, how does the experience of producing content for an ad compare to your prior experiences in the content creation world?

Rick> The biggest difference for me is the freedom to choose. Everything that I do now, I do because I want to, not because I'm being asked to do it. When Corona approached me last year, I was very impressed with what they were doing from a corporate citizenship standpoint. And then this year, it's a very different campaign, but again, I like the idea behind it because I do think people love Mexican flavours and want to try new things, and like I said, that's what I'm trying to do with my book. Effectively, because I can say yes or no, this year's campaign was one I wanted to be a part of, and so I said "yes." That's probably the biggest difference. It's also more fun for me, because the projects that I say yes to actually make me feel like I have a personal connection with the desire of the brand I'm going to work with. It just makes it more natural and more real to me.

LBB> How will you be celebrating Cinco De Mayo?

Rick> I'm in New York for the book tour, and for Cinco de Mayo, we're having a block party at The Fly in Brooklyn. The dish that we are going to be making is the pollo al pastor, which I'm super excited about. I'm proud of the recipe, I think it's really good, and I’m delighted to be serving it this Cinco De Mayo.

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 05 May 2022 16:27:00 GMT