She walked from France to Spain - and wrote a book about her spiritual, culinary trek - The Miami Herald

Author: Ana Veciana-Suarez

Originally published on November 16, 2016

One doesn’t usually associate the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the famous medieval pilgrimage route known as the St. James Way, with food. Blisters and shin splints, yes. Spirituality, of course — but not the aromas and tastes of savory salt cod and cream-filled almond cake.

But that’s exactly what Miami Beach resident Yosmar Monique Martinez imagined after her first 33-day trek in September 2011. Initially, at the suggestion of a friend, she had considered writing a book about her experience, but she was reluctant to begin because so many chronicles of The Way had already been written. She sought something different.

“The journal I had kept was full of all the aches and pains and not much else,” Martinez recalls. “But then months later I was on a morning walk in Miami Beach when it came to me. I realized I had to write about food.”

The result: a self-published culinary voyage, “Tastes of the Camino: 30 Authentic Recipes along the French Way,” that focuses on the dishes encountered along the Camino Francés, the most traveled route to Santiago de Compostela. Martinez will be at the Miami Book Fair Kitchen Stadium Saturday, Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. discussing her book and her journey.

The recipes cover a wide geographical area, from the Basque country to Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla and Leon, Galicia, and, of course, Santiago. Unlike most cookbooks, this one is not divided by the traditional sections of appetizers, entrees and desserts. “The book is organized in the order of the journey,” she explains. “I wanted people to experience what I was eating as I was walking along the way.”

The book involved years of research and three more Camino treks — in April 2013, in September 2014 and in June 2015. Back home she experimented with each recipe at least three times, making sure she chose dishes that were typical of each Spanish region and that used local ingredients as well. She then asked friends to test the recipes to ensure they could be easily prepared by others.

“I also wanted to make sure that the ingredients could be found at a local store, but if you can’t there are always the online Spanish specialty stores,” she says.

The book includes recipes for such well-known dishes as tortilla Española (Spanish omelet) and paella mixta (chicken and shellfish paella), but there also are quite a few unfamiliar gems: poached pears in red wine, Galician flambéed liqueur, grilled squid and rosemary Marcona almonds.

Despite the arduousness of the hike, Martinez said she had “some amazing dishes” along the Camino and she made an effort to mention specific restaurants in the book. For example, she cites a bakery, Chez Monique, on the main street of Saint Jean Pied de Port in the Basque region of southwest France. “I’m sure it gave me the energy, and even the psychological push, that I needed to start the steep descent into Roncesvalles,” she writes about the bakery’s almond cake.

Martinez, 44, came to cooking as she did to the Camino — circuitously. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, she was born in Venezuela and lived in four different countries by the time she was 9 as her father’s job assignment with a multinational company changed. After that she grew up mostly in Brazil.

“Because I moved around so much, I didn’t grow up in the kitchens of my grandmothers and aunts as so many cooks did,” she says. “But I was always intrigued with cooking and by 12 or 13 I discovered I had a palate. When we would go out to eat, I was the kid who would ask all these questions about the menu.”

When it was time for college, however, she chose a traditional path, getting her bachelor’s degree in economics and marketing at the University of Pennsylvania and later an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. She worked corporate jobs, for start-ups and non-profits, mostly in brand management, but the kitchen called. So, in 2002, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris and interned at Pierre Hermé Paris, a famous and innovative pastry shop.

Back in the San Francisco Bay Area, she taught at cooking schools on the side until, nine years ago, she and moved to South Florida because she wanted “a convenient port of entry” to Latin America. Here, through her company Whisk & Spatula, she spends her time giving private cooking lessons, mostly to housekeepers of wealthy families but also to those who want to perfect a technique or host a big charity event.

In 2010, when her mother called her to ask if she knew anything about the Camino, she was “in the middle of a midlife crisis. I had gotten a job that was very difficult to get and then realized maybe I didn’t want it.”

Eventually Martinez and her mother made plans to walk the Camino, though neither of them were experienced hikers and Martinez had never been particularly religious. The trip, however, was transforming in many ways. In addition to writing the cookbook, she serves on the board of the national American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). She also helped start its South Florida chapter.

“All the towns and villages along the Camino have the truest sense of farm-to-table [cuisine]” she says, “and while you’re walking you keep life simple and positive.”

She hopes her cookbook readers find a similar peace and focus.

“I hope people take away the importance of enjoying food with friends as we did [on the Camino],” she adds. “There is such a conviviality at the table when you’re in Spain. Every meal is something special.”

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