It’s time to know the name Rahanna Bisseret Martinez

Publishing a debut cookbook as a teenager may seem premature, but for Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, it’s on time. In 2017, she became a finalist in the first season of Top Chef Junior At age 13, wowing judges with nuanced dishes like sweet potato and pecan pie with lemon thyme ice cream and cajeta drizzle, she knows how to create food that speaks for itself.

After stints in the kitchens of Bay Area legends Chez Panisse and Mister Jiu’s, Rahanna is currently completing her freshman year at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, an elite business school focused on the hospitality industry and often used as a training school for the upper tiers are known for restaurants and five star hotels. But the food inside Taste+We is unfussy and highly desirable, rooted in her Black, Mexican and Haitian heritage and the diverse communities that influenced her taste buds growing up in Oakland, California.

Imagine: maitake mushroom tacos drizzled with mole verde, oolong tea flan and impressive concha scones. Each recipe shimmers with joy and gratitude – for the peak season produce and the farm workers who bring it to our plates, for honoring long-standing cultural food traditions and creating new ones.

Here Rhanna and I talk about the great tradition of California cookbooks, the products she misses the most from the East Coast, and the recipes she draws on as a college student.

This is your first cookbook that is so exciting. Which cookbooks did you get your inspiration from?
When I was growing up, I would go to the library and get some cookbooks. I didn’t get my first cookbook until I was 13: Essential Emeril by Emeril Lagasse. He appeared as a recurring judge Top Chef Junior. He’s one of the people who inspired me growing up, so it’s a very special memory for me.

There are classic California books that have a huge impact on me because of the products and other ingredients that celebrate California (which are readily available throughout the United States) and that truly reflect a love and respect for natural foods and seasonality. Of course, I was particularly influenced by the cookbooks by Alice Waters, such as The Art of Simple Eating I & II, Chez Panisse VegetablesAnd Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook. All of these cookbooks reflect a concern for home cooking and an essential love for natural foods. I also looked at the book by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen In Bibi’s kitchen. I love the way the directions and recipe headings are interwoven, as if someone is telling you a story about their lived experience.

You write that your kitchen is driven by a desire for taste exploration and culinary inclusivity. What is your favorite unexpected flavor combination or favorite dish that came out of it in the book?
Oolong tea flan recipe has been one of my favorites for a long time. For me, putting a whole bowl of water in the oven when making a traditional tart can be a lot of work and a potentially awkward experience. Instead, I took inspiration from egg custards, which are easy to steam over a stovetop. I wanted to incorporate the subtle flavors of oolong into the pudding with the deep flavors of caramel and brown sugar.

You write a lot about your love of grocery stores in the book. What is your favorite ingredient to buy and why?
I love recipes and ingredients that give me a sense of nostalgia, just like people love certain songs that help them remember different emotions and moments in time. I love shopping for ingredients that give me a sense of nostalgia.

I go to school in a fairly rural area. Recently I was on spring break and went to NYC to visit my sisters. While there I was on a mission to get the ingredients to make the sweetest and saltiest snack I’ve loved since childhood. I immediately went in search of ripe mango, chamoy, lime and lemon, and powdered dried chili peppers.

What excites you about cooking for a new season like spring?
What I love most about food is that so much of it is seasonal. With spring here, I miss the citrus season in California. Especially after working at Chez Panisse we peeled and juiced so many varieties and the smell of it filled the air. It was so tasty. That being said, I’m so ready to explore the east coast farmers markets and gather new recipes and food memories. I am very excited about it.

Which recipes in the book do you turn to most often as a student?
I actually used the quicker recipes included in Book – only things like the quick guacamole, salsa molcajete roja and the savory salad. I recently celebrated my 19th birthday. For the first time in a long time I was able to cook a large meal for others and some of the recipes I prepared were the Quick Spicy Green Salad, Farmers Market Carbonara, Oat Horchata and a Tweaked Version of Me All green focaccia. I served ten people and it was so much fun sharing the book’s recipes with others for the first time.

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