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Since she was a little girl, Chef Maritza Paz longed to cook with her mother in the kitchen; now, the native of Peru is helping to bring that love of cooking to others.

Paz, 53, the former executive chef at Inka Heritage on South Park Street and the owner of the popular Chef Paz in West Allis, will share her expertise with other budding restaurateurs on Saturday at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Road, where the Latino Chamber of Commerce is presenting the free workshop on how to start a restaurant. 

“This is the first time we invite a chef to talk about their experience,” said Mayra Medrano, a member of the board of directors for the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County.

The workshop kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public, and is designed to help those who want more information on how to start a restaurant in Dane County, including city and state requirements as well as required licenses. Information will be provided in Spanish.

Paz has had a long and impressive career that began in her home country and has taken her to Miami and now Wisconsin. Throughout the years she has catered events and weddings, including an anniversary dinner for the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation at the governor's mansion. In addition to such high profile events, she's volunteered her time giving cooking lessons at community centers.

“I love kids," Paz said. "I am more than willing to give free lessons to kids at schools and put time aside to teach them.” 

She specializes in Peruvian cuisine, which combines Incan, African, Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Italian influences. She takes advantage of it all.

Ricardo Gonzalez, owner of the Cardinal Bar, had Paz cater for the bar’s anniversary. Five years ago, Paz approached Gonzalez, handing him a business card for her catering services. He decided to give her the opportunity.

“I am always impressed with the creativity, presentation and taste of everything that she prepares,” Gonzalez said. “Everything I hear about her food is wonderful. It is on my list to go and check out Maritza’s restaurant.

“The only bad thing about her (current) restaurant is that it is not here,” Gonzalez joked.

The chef said she hopes to leave her restaurant in the hands of a relative when she opens a restaurant here in Madison next year.

Paz grew up in the city of Iquitos, along the shores of the Amazon River. Her mother, a chef, was part of a segment on a daily cooking show that was filmed at her home. She also had her own business catering for the army, navy, air force, government organizations and other events.

While her mother taught her how to cook starting at age 12, Paz added the artistic flair on her own. She believes that the dishes are small works of art which show a little of her personality.

“I never studied to be a chef, I am only experienced,” said Paz.

A divorced mother of four, she made the decision to move to the United States in 2002, leaving her kids behind with close relatives. Her first job was in the home of a Spanish family. The family owned a business and traveled internationally, and took Paz everywhere they traveled.

She cooked for dignitaries all over the world, traveling all across Europe and the U.S.

“I was able to open my eyes to new culinary experiences and stretch my horizons,” Paz said.

After that, she took a job as a dishwasher at a Cuban restaurant. No one knew of her cooking capabilities and she had to prove she was worthy of being in the kitchen, she said. A month later, she became the executive chef.

With 35 years of experience, she decided to begin her own consulting business in which restaurant owners contacted her to organize or reorganize restaurants.

Daniel Rodriguez, owner of Inka Heritage, has known Paz since they were kids. Paz said Rodriguez asked her to be part of his restaurant in Madison when they coincidentally met at a Peruvian restaurant where Paz was working in Miami.

Paz was the executive chef at Inka Heritage until she decided to open a restaurant in West Alllis. In 2012, Chef Paz opened on 9039 W. National Ave. It's earned raves from Yelp diners, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Carol Deptolla noted in a review that "Food here is presented with polish and care.... the food was satisfying and lovely to behold."

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