Food & dining

Q&A

Going from ‘Neighborhood Kitchens’ to telling farm stories

STACEY DOYLE

Margarita Martinez explored the diverse ethnic food of New England for two seasons as the host of “Neighborhood Kitchens,” a WGBH television series that delved into the immigrant experience through recipes and stories of neighborhood restaurants. On the show, Martinez, whose own ethnic background includes Puerto Rican, French, and German roots, learned Polish recipes in South Boston, Cambodian in Lowell, and South Indian in Somerville. “Those stories from people in the community and people from the restaurants were really moving. How passionate people were about food and sharing their culture really came through,” Martinez says. Although the show, which won a New England Emmy in 2014 for instructional programming, will not be back for a third season, Martinez is continuing to tell stories as a spokesperson for Cabot Creamery, the 1,200-member dairy cooperative owned by New England and New York dairy farmers.

She wrote the introduction and contributed recipes to “Cabot Creamery Cookbook: Simple, Wholesome Dishes From America’s Best Dairy Farms,” a collection of 150 dishes, many contributed by Cabot-member farmers, that make use of the cheese, butter, and yogurt produced by the co-op. Martinez, 33, grew up outside New York and lives in Boston with her husband, a medical resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is also an actress and will be appearing in Lyric Stage Company’s production of “City of Angels” in March.

Q. What was the best thing about sampling ethnic cuisines with “Neighborhood Kitchens?”

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A. I loved going to the different neighborhoods and connecting with different community members who wanted to talk about where they grew up, where they lived, why they came to the States, or why they’re so passionate about where they live now, whether that was in Dorchester or South Boston or Lowell or Cambridge. It was great to hear people so passionate when they said things like, “I learned these recipes from my mom in Brazil. She said learn to cook because then you’ll always be able to make money.”

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Q. Did you enjoy all the cuisines you sampled?

A. People ask me all the time: “Did you eat anything bad? You always said everything was great.” I can honestly say everything I tried I really enjoyed. At a Polish restaurant, I had lard with bacon bits in it. The chef posted about it online and people got really disgusted. I was like, don’t knock it until you try it. It was really good. Probably the thing that was most foreign to me was the Cambodian episode that we did. I loved their soups and putting in different ingredients like pineapple, shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, and fuzzy melon. Sometimes Boston gets a bad rap. People think it doesn’t have a large culinary and cultural menu to offer. But that’s totally not the case.

Q. What’s different now that you’re visiting farms for Cabot rather than urban kitchens?

A. I’ve loved visiting the farms. Last month I went to Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vt., that’s run by Bob and Beth Kennett. Bob oversees the farming operation and his wife has a thriving bed-and-breakfast operation. Being a dairy farmer is not a 9-to-5 job. We were sitting around a table and Bob told me and my husband that for the first 13 years he never took a vacation. He never took a day off. He was always there for the milking.

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Q. How is the book organized?

A. What’s unique about the book is that there are 16 farm family profiles. You get to have an inside look into what these dairy farmers do and it’s everyone from people who have just started a farm in the last 10 years to people who have had a farm in the family for 200 years. One of the realities of dairy farms is that a lot of these farmers have to have other businesses. There are recipes that are served through catering businesses and dairy stores and bakeries and bed-and-breakfasts.

Q. You also contributed some recipes.

A. Yes: a grilled cheese with apple, red onion, and apricot jam sandwich. I also have a Monterey Jack, guava, and arugula sandwich, which is toasted on a croissant. That one was inspired by growing up with guava cheese puffs always in the house because my father had a wicked sweet tooth. This is my savory version of that.

Q. You’re now giving your own cooking demonstrations. How is that working out?

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A. I’ve hosted a lot of cooking demonstrations but it’s definitely different to be on the other side of it. It’s fun getting to do demonstrations and talk about these recipes and what they mean to me. After doing a demonstration at Northeastern, a girl came up to me and said, “I’m Puerto Rican too and I try to serve guava to so many people and they don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m so glad you’re doing this sandwich.”

Interview has been edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@gmail.com.