Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa, an activist for immigrants’ rights, is one of 10 finalists for the Basque Culinary World Prize, which honors those who use gastronomy as a force for change.
This prize, to be announced July 16, is not exclusively for chefs with charitable or social projects. “We are interested in chefs with projects that demonstrate innovation, research and creativity,” the website says. The prize includes a grant of 100,000 euros to be spent on a project of the winner’s choosing.
“She has led the initiative #Right2Work to promote a public dialogue about the conditions for undocumented workers in the restaurant industry and to generate meeting spaces for exchanging information and support for those who need it most,” the website says.
“The Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, awarded her the Nationalities Service Award for her fight for immigrant rights and for her contribution to making the city a celebrated gastronomic destination. Inspired partly by her work, the local council has now passed a resolution that recognizes work as a human right, regardless of a person’s immigration status.celebrates a chef of any nationality who demonstrates how gastronomy can have a positive impact in fields such as culinary innovation, health, nutrition, education, the environment, the food industry, social or economic development, among others.”
South Philly Barbacoa, which specializes in lamb tacos, now operates at Ninth and Ellsworth Streets.
Through her husband and business partner, Ben Miller, she said: “This recognition is a great honor for our restaurant and an opportunity to go deeper in our work of engaging chefs in the narrative around their undocumented workers. Our conversations about sustainability need to include the people who sustain our food system too, and we need to face the truth of inequity and injustice with unity in order to shift our culture into an inclusive and dignified space where can all prosper. "
Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has told her story in the fifth season of the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table and the Netflix series Ugly Delicious. She also was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the mid-Atlantic region.
Martinez is involved with the 1149 Cooperative, a space for community-oriented food projects and events, which operates out of the restaurant space at 1149 S. Ninth St. that was the former home of El Compadre, a sister restaurant.