PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.
The awards, which are like the Oscars of the food world, were announced Monday night at the James Beard Foundation headquarters in Chicago.
Martinez, who is from Mexico, delivered her acceptance speech in Spanish, saying, "It's an honor to win this medal, remembering all the immigrant workers in our restaurant industry."
South Philly Barbacoa, which opened in 2018 at 9th and Ellsworth, is famous for packing the streets of the Italian Market with a menu from scratch.
Martinez came to the United States in 2009 and says she started work as a dishwasher, then a pastry chef in Center City where she met her husband and business partner Ben Miller, who also served as translator.
When asked what was running through her mind when she won, her husband responded for her saying, "All the struggles that she went through...the achievement a woman gets in her career, especially a Latina, it makes them stronger."
Martinez, who is undocumented, has become an activist for the undocumented immigrant community. She helped create the support group called Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers' Rights, which provided free meals during the pandemic.
In May 2020, Action News' Alicia Vitarelli spoke with Martinez and her husband Ben Miller, who called all of the recognition they received from their restaurant "beautiful."
They were grateful, but said what is most important is their customers and feeding those in need.
"We live and breathe in this restaurant and it's an expression of ourselves," Miller said.
South Philly Barbacoa was also featured in Action News' Top 6 Mexican restaurants earlier this year.