Among all the dishes I tried at D.O.M., Alex Atala’s restaurant in São Paulo, I was most impressed with the crunchy black rice and green vegetables served with a chestnut milk from the Para region in the North of Brazil. The dish sums up nicely the culinary evolution Brazil has experienced in the last decade. It reflects the focus on and endorsement of the Amazon region, the technical skill of modern Brazilian chefs and the growing appreciation for local farmers - the rice grains come from the Valle de Paraiba’, in the outskirts of the state, where a local farmer found that specialising in rice permaculture helped to work as a social development plan for his community, something that started with him partnering with local chefs.
Atala’s cuisine and its appearance on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2006 has been one of the main catalysts for the international focus on a continent where high end dining was previously undervalued. If Atala sits at the forefront of this progress, Roberta Sudbrack is one of an increasing number of young chefs who are benefiting from the increased attention Brazil and Latin America is now receiving. A sort of culinary springboard.
Sudbrack is a master at the stovetop, during her time as a former presidential cook she dedicated much of her work in the kitchen to researching and paying homage to popular Brazilian tastes. You have, for example, the vermelho: a fish she dresses with a delicious vinegar made with ora-pro-nobis - a flower originally from the Minas Gerais region in the South East of Brazil that she now grows in her own garden in Rio de Janeiro. Sudbrack is just one of a new generation of chefs working in a bold and truly free way across kitchens in Brazil, it seems Atala might just the tip of the iceberg.
Chef Roberta Sudbrack and her creations.
FREEDOM AND SPONTANEITY
Speaking about Brazilian cuisine from an idea of a Nation is insufficient when trying to define the complex amalgam of cultures and ethnicities that make up the country. The cuisine of Brazil radically contrasts depending on the landscape from which it comes, there are just so many different expressions ranging from São Paulo to remote cities like Belem. But one constant is a strong appreciation for local ingredients. A movement that has gradually spread throughout the country with a number of different interpretations. "What is happening now in our kitchen is what happened in the twenties with Brazilian art. People who have studied away back and look with new eyes at his territory. A movement, a small revolution" says Italo-Brazilian chef Helena Rizzo. The kitchen of her restaurant Mani, is a clear example of this. With her husband, Daniel Redondo, a Spaniard, whom she meet while working at El Celler de Can Roca, she manages a kitchen that conveys freshness and freedom. Some of their dishes reflect popular flavours in line with European art, such as liquid spheres of freijoada served with pork carpaccio, a reference to a National stew usually cooked with offal.
Alberto Landgraf, restaurant Epice, is considered by Atala and several magazines as one the next great culinary talents of Brazil. Landgraf sits away from flying the flag of Amazonian products, flavours´s or memories. His kitchen is free from excessive spices and techniques. The pig is one of his favourite ingredients, for the simple reason that he has a great supplier that provides a perfect product. He also promotes the consumption of fish, trying to focus on the often unused varieties such as mackerel, grouper, sardines, snapper or monkfish. All done working with his fishmongers, a family with more than 30 years experience in the trade. His kitchen is moving in the extreme with influences from the Nordic regions and great French masters. He serves ingredients that many people consider offal - the skin of the chicken or pig’s ears. There are also the more subtle dishes like purple pickled onions, tapioca, cream and pine nuts - a stimulating dish that places acidity on the plate in three variations: the pickled, the fermented dairy and the citrus dressing.
Alberto Landgraf and one of his dishes.
Away from São Paulo's culinary centre, Rodrigo Oliveira at the Mocotó restaurant has successfully laid claim to the North Eastern kitchen through his interpretations of traditional dishes. The escondidinho – a creamy cheese - guest’s must dive in with confidence with the the spoon, cracking the golden surface to reveal a delicious puree mixed with cassava - a manioc root used in many Brazilian dishes. Oliveira shows that good food does not have to be complicated to be clever - this is palpable change in mentality among the new generation. The Vito restaurant was born five years ago, and began as a classic italian restaurant with most of the products from Italy. "After some time, thanks to Atala´s view, I realized that in a country like Brazil, full of amazing products , using foreign ingredients was just dumb. So I changed everything" explains chef Andre Mifano. Now Vito is a Brazilian restaurant, with deep italian influences, using 90% fresh Brazilian products, most of them organic and bio dynamic, farmed at a range of 150 km. The restaurant produces almost everything they serve including the 19 types of handcrafted bread and salami - Mifafano's proudest items. Jefferson Rueda is another reference in the Italian-Brazilian line, with his well known Attimo restaurant in Sao Paolo - 32nd on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
The unconventional dish you can try at Vito restaurant.
São Paulo may be the gastro-capital of Brazil, if only for the amount of restaurants and their competitive pricing. But the exciting city of Rio de Janeiro is also a treat for the palate with the aforementioned Sudbrack and the infamous Claude Troisgros family. Heir to a dynasty dedicated to haute cuisine in France, Troigros became fascinated with the atmosphere and exotic ingredients of Brazil so made Río his home and with his son Thomas directs the Olympe restaurant. They make dishes that combine the identity of their roots, a terrine of foie gras, alternating layers of fresh palm and served with rapadura, a brown sand of cane sugar. Pure Bossa Nova. One the younger generation of cooks to attract attention is Rafael Costa e Silva and his recent opening of the Lasai restaurant at a historic house in the Botafogo area. His career developed in New York and working as a sous chef at Mugaritz. The same as his wife Malena Cardiel who was head waiter, a role she will continue in their new place. “He built an important link with very special and unique suppliers around Mugaritz while he was working here. He did it with an unequalled charisma and tenacity while the best product was required”, says Oswaldo Oliva from the R&D department at Mugaritz. This is one of the big ones to watch in the food market this year.
Brazil is literally bursting with new and exciting culinary offerings right now. Pedro Artagao from the Irajá Gastro restaurant has a fun and casual atmosphere that plays to the free spirit of the Cariocan people. Dishes such as the pirarucu fish (one of the largest freshwater fish in the world) served with sautéed bananas and one of the National treasures of palm heart. In the same vein, there’s Henrique Gilberto and Rafael Mantesso who opened Belo Comidiaria in the city of Belo Horizonte. A relaxed bistro with good portions and fair prices. A treatment that results in a focus on raw materials with dishes that are not complicated. Such as their caramelised loin with sweet potato puree and grilled leeks. While, in the North East part of the country in the city of Belém, brothers Felipe and Thiago Castanho from Remanso do Bosque are working on their modern interpretation of Amazonian native dishes. They focus on local ingredients such a the jambu leave, Brazilian nuts and guarana. The brothers are constantly playing with modern techniques while looking for bold and authentic flavours that can impress both locals and visitors alike. They’re currently working and promoting cacao from Combu Island, in the vicinity of Belém. A native product, which not only use in their restaurant but has also led to interest from other chefs outside the region.
Brazil is bubbling right now. Bubbling with ideas, energy, creativity, stews and most of all, a unified energy across the culinary landscape. With the gastronomic focus already shifting to Latin America a fews years back and the World Cup for 2014 to be hosted in Brazil - attention on the country is set to increase further, something that can only act to propel the growing culinary scene even higher. What an exciting year it’s going to be.