My name is Maria Mercedes, I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My parents were part of a huge wave of Dominicans that moved to the island in the 70’s.
My grandmother had a food stall in a small town in the Dominican Republic, and my parents earned a living with a hot dog cart in our hood. So I’m a third generation cook. Mami taught me how to cook when I was 8, not because of a passion, but because I had to help in the house as it was customary.
I moved to NYC after high school and fell in love with food, new foods, not just Caribbean cuisine. I already knew I could cook very well, so I decided to go to a top culinary school (French Culinary Institute–now the Institute of Culinary Education) to be a professional one. Whilst in school I also worked for top restaurants in NYC like The Modern and Pastis and continued to do so years after graduation.
I moved back to Puerto Rico because my son was diagnosed with severe autism and my grueling double shifts were too much for my husband to handle alone. My family is in Puerto Rico.
Upon arrival I started a supper club with my brother called Underground Dining Club. That progressed into a restaurant called Gallo Negro that was built and owned by my brother. We had many years of success and accolades but it was very hard for us to recover after Hurricane Maria and on December 2020 it was closed.
In 2019, I was the first Puerto Rican woman to be nominated for a James Beard Award as a semi-finalist for "Best Chef: South."
Since then I've been doing consulting, popups, and private cheffing. At the moment I am temporarily living in Austin where I am part of the team at Ember, a woodfire restaurant as the Executive Chef.
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