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Esthela Martínez

I was born in a ranch made from pine tree and my bed was made of horsehair. It was me, my mother and my six brothers. Our kitchen was made of standing sticks. My mother cooked when we were little but early on she taught us to work as well. I had to kill the chickens or the pigs or the deer and do my part on the ranch. We had a milpa and I learned early how to pick corn and make tortillas. I also learned how to make beans. My mother made traditional foods and used a molcajete to make salsas. I loved eating tortillas with cheese and purslane.

When I was eighteen, I had to learn trades like knitting napkins and I had to learn how to wash and iron clothes because that was what my mother did to support the family. We used to create sticks that were used to prepare the corn. All of this was taught to us by my mother. I never knew my father. We sold bread from town to town as well. Every six months, we would visit the city to stock up on goods that we needed at the ranch.

I couldn't study after I turned eighteen but I do know how to read and write. I know a little bit about bookkeeping and obviously I know a lot about cooking but I would have liked to study gastronomy but that wasn't feasible for me. I dreamed of going to school but that wasn't meant for me. Instead, I learned how to milk cows and slaughter animals so that our family could eat.

I married at eighteen to a man named José Ángel. Two years later, I began to have children and I had two girls before I came to Baja. Some friends came to Baja California and they couldn't find the type of homemade cheese that I used to make so they sent for me to come live with them and make cheese. When we were here in Valle de Guadalupe, I had a baby boy. But I lived here, right where we are today, on the side of the restaurant. I have been here for more than twenty years.

I started to wash clothes, kill chickens, sell food and the workers who were building the haciendas and wineries in this area used to come and eat my food. When I saved some money, I bought some sheep. I started with two sheep. They would last me for two days of food. We would cook them in an underground oven called a pozo. Today, I have sheep, goats, cows, chickens and pigs.

For the majority of the time that I have lived in Valle de Guadalupe, I have worked in a casual manner. My restaurant didn't formalize until five years ago. This property was donated to us by close friends and my reputation began to grow and so people would come by to eat but I didn't have tables or a stovetop or anything. The day came when friends and family gave me an envelope with money and that allowed me to begin buying furniture and equipment for my restaurant. I opened at 630am every morning and fed all the workers who built this wine region.

A few years ago, a man came and ate eggs and machaca on a Sunday. I was very busy and six days later, they called me to tell me something in English and since I didn't understand anything, I kept hanging up on them. They told me I won a prize in London. They tried to get me to pick up my prize but I couldn't go because I hurt my leg. I have still to go and get that prize but a lot of media picked up the story and came to feature my restaurant.

I love my little restaurant. I wish I could spend time with all my clients but some days, it is just not possible. My children help me on the ranch and in the kitchen. We do the best we can.