Everything has gotten so much busier for Cristina Martinez.
So much bigger.
Ever since last month, when Bon Appétit magazine named the small eatery Martinez and her husband, Ben Miller, run out of a South Philadelphia rowhouse as one of the top 10 best new restaurants in America.
"Happiness can't be bought. But two unimaginably delicious tacos and a bowl of consommé can, and the bill is $12," the magazine raved about South Philly Barbacoa.
(The place is truly crazy good. Go if you haven't.)
And while landing a spot on the "Hot 10" list of the premiere food mag is an amazing accomplishment on its own, it's all the more special for Martinez, 47, and Miller, 32. Before opening their small spot on 11th and Morris Streets last year, the couple sold their food from a truck on a South Philly street corner - and even for a time before that from their one-bedroom apartment.
It's also a recognition that thrusts Martinez and Miller further into a spotlight they have conscientiously sought: not just as chefs praised for their cooking, for their traditional Mexican barbacoa (delicious slow-roasted lamb and spicy pancita sausage tacos and hearty lamb consommé), but as activists working to shine light on the plight of undocumented immigrants.
People like Martinez. She crossed a desert on foot to come here. Along with 11 million other undocumented workers in this country, she now toils amid the naked hatred and bombast and bigotry of this carnival campaign season. And now she runs one of the best new restaurants in America.
"More than three times busier," Martinez said, describing how the couple's already-thriving business has gone through the roof since the Bon Appétit honor.
It wasn't yet 10 a.m. when I stopped in Thursday. Martinez and Miller had been at work since before the sun rose and they would work well into the night.
They sliced onions and chopped cilantro as they talked, Miller translating for his wife. There was no time for a break. There was salsa to be made. Lamb to be butchered. Barbacoa to be steamed.
They were hosting an art show on Friday and catering a wedding Saturday. Telemundo was coming for an interview. Then there's the Bon Appétit party in New York next Thursday. The magazine is sending a car for Martinez, so she can cook at the event.
Plus, Martinez had job applicants to interview. With all the new business, they are hiring.
But even amid all the attention, Martinez and Miller have decided to scale back the restaurant to weekend hours. Partly because in Mexico barbacoa is traditionally a family weekend meal, and that's always been their goal. Partly because Martinez and Miller have been working themselves to the bone. And partly because the couple have always wanted to keep the business intimate.
As much as it is about the food for Martinez and Miller, it's also about the message they've always tried to give voice to: The undocumented workers who helped build and now sustain the restaurant industry need to be acknowledged and given dignity. Now.
"We want to keep it in our hands so we can be there and give our whole story," Miller said.
So they can tell Cristina's story.
How as a child she awoke before dawn on Sunday mornings to watch the men of her town heft boxes of steaming barbacoa onto trucks to sell at market. How she learned to cook at age 6, and how beautiful the sun looked coming over the mountain as the family set up their market stall.
How 10 years ago she decided to leave her barbacoa business behind in Capulhuac, in central Mexico, to come to America so she could earn money to send her daughter to nursing school.
How on the first of the 15 nights she spent in the desert, hungry and thirsty, with the scorpions and the rattlesnakes and the men who robbed her, she stared out into wide-open desert sky, into the stars and the blackness, the nothingness, the nada, and prayed.
How she slept on couches until landing a job at one of the best kitchens in Philly. How she fell in love with Ben, who worked in the kitchen beside her and learned Spanish from rented telenovelas.
How when she was laid off because of her undocumented status, she sold her food from wicker baskets in the Italian Market.
How it makes "her happy and brings her life" to cook for those who like her are so far from home, who have no time to cook with all the work, who live now in this hateful breeze blowing through our country.
How her door is open to everybody. How her food is for everybody.
How she cried when she found out about the magazine honor. And then went back to cooking her barbacoa.