Our journey to alternative restaurants led or owned by the best chefs around the world hits South America, a continent where local gastronomy is blooming, heading to upcoming Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants. For years, Chilean, Peruvian or Brazilian cuisines have been seen as exotic, ethnic. But now, with more South American chefs gaining prominence in the restaurant industry spotlight, recipes such as arepas and ceviche, and ingredients such as cassava and chiles have become more and more familiar.
In their own countries, many chefs look for more casual, affordable ways to serve dishes by experiencing the product in the territory it comes from and embracing the culture that cultivates it.
Famous names – such as Alex Atala, Virgilio Martínez and Leonor Espinosa – are running casual food concepts in their own countries also to allow more people to have access to their food. “Chefs' Satellite Spots”, the series of articles published by Fine Dining Lovers, focuses its second stop in some businesses located in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. Get to know those which are worth your visit.
Chef behind it. Leonor Espinosa, from Leo
Type of cuisine. Colombian cuisine on a slightly higher gourmet scale
Opened in. 2015
With Misia, Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa, crowned the Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2017, expanded her influence on Bogotá’s culinary scene – and has started a new chapter in her career focused on highlighting the ingredients and techniques of her home country. Misia, which now has two locations in Bogotà (in Downtown and Chapinero neighborhood) is a more casual restaurant. It gathers concepts that are part of Colombian local cuisine such as popular food celebrated in markets and popular festivities, refreshment kiosks that sell many fruits juices and other beverage, and the wood stoves that, according to her, “congregate the flavor of our land”.
The menu serves Colombian food with local ingredients and popular, uncomplicated tastes. For breakfast, yogurts with a wide range of fruits (like banana and pineapple) and cassava or cornbread please all tastes. For the adventurous guests, Spinosa serves homemade butifarra (a pork and beef local sausage), with onion, lettuce, and white corn bun and beef steak with two fried eggs on top, boiled cassava or patacón (fried green plantain).
For the main dishes, the options vary between pork meatballs with sweet pepper sauce, sirloin with Caribbean black sauce or a Seabass fillet with crab stewed in coconut milk, and mashed green plantain, all wrapped in a plantain leave. Sandwiches, soups and also arepa de huevo (fried arepa with egg) and carimañolas (empanada-like patties made of yucca flour), are served all day long in this local eatery.
Misia focuses on regional cuisine from Colombia's northern coast in a relaxed atmosphere, where Spinosa merges herself in her family references to serve a hearty, delicious, fresh food.
Chef behind it. Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, from Central
Type of cuisine. Peruvian
Opened in. 2018
For a chef always aiming for the top, it was not surprising that Virgilio Martinez, from awarded Central (his Lima-based restaurant that is currently number six in The World’s 50 Best list) sought the highest valley in Perù for a new restaurant. Mil is located in the Sacred Valley, 3,500 meters above sea level, amidst the archaeological ruins of Moray, in the city of Cuzco – known for its dizzying landscape and its strong cultural heritage dating back to the Incas.
The region, made up of huge stone depressions cut into the earth, acted as an important agricultural area for the Incas – and has also been one of the main suppliers for the ingredients used by Martínez and his wife Pía León, the other half of the creative mind behind Central who was awarded in the last weeks with the Latin America's Best Female Chef in 2018, in their menus.
The different ecosystems up and down the mountains, that has always inspired the couple of chefs, was also determinant for the concept: the restaurant only uses ingredients of the region, nothing is imported and everything seems to show the expression of this sacred land: the variety of products, among herbs, vegetables, seeds and, mainly, tubers. For many visitors, those ingredients are unprecedented, because extremely local.
The menu also has typical local ingredients already known: chocolate, for instance, which is made from a local variety, chuncho, in small batches – all with scientific rigor, from the processes of fermentation of the seeds to the final bar. Even water and salt, for example, are also collected and sourced locally.
Another important point related to Mil is that, by using these ingredients, they are also working to keep them alive not only in tradition but also in the dishes – something that is very much linked to the work of chefs in Central. So much so that in the same building is Mater Initiativa laboratory, run by Martínez’ sister Malena Martínez: a space of investigation and experimentation that works like a cornerstone for all the other projects led by the chefs – León also runs Kjole restaurant, in Lima.
Many recipes are prepared in pre-hispanic techniques, such as huatia, a dome-shaped artisan oven, and pachamanca, a kind of underground oven made of stone. Everything there seems to evoke a distant past, but with a contemporary approach. The simple, rustic décor, with adobe walls and thatched roof, and drawings of local botanicals, allows the stunning landscape around to shine: and it is breathtaking – literally, in this case, since the high altitude can cause lack of oxygen for the less accustomed person.
Hot Pork / Sorveteria do Centro
Chef behind it. Jefferson Rueda, from A Casa do Porco
Type of cuisine. Hot dogs and soft serve ice cream with a chef approach
Opened in. 2018
On a corner in Sao Paulo's downtown area, chef Jefferson Rueda, from acclaimed A Casa do Porco, seeks to serve street food with a high-quality focus. To do this he divided the area of a building to serve a hot dog with a purist bent on one side, and on the other, soft serve ice cream with Brazilian flavors.
In his walks, through the streets of the city, he came up with the idea of creating a street food business with quality ingredients and inventive twist – but keeping it at a very affordable price. Rueda spent the last three years studying every aspect of the classic hot dog to create his own recipe of the sausage – made 100% with pork meat.
At Hot Pork, he also serves homemade buns, guava-based ketchup, tucupi-spiked mustard, and pickled onion, the only dressing options available – rare in a county where dressings (that vary from mashed potato to corn and even vinaigrette) are never too much. There is also a vegetarian version of the sausage made with tofu and mushrooms called The Not Pork.
Just around the corner, Rueda serves soft ice cream in traditional flavors (like chocolate and vanilla) but also some curious Brazilian tastes, mainly made with local fruits, like cupuaçu (a tropical rainforest fruit, with a unique flavor that can be described as a mix of chocolate and pineapple) and jabuticaba (a thick-skinned dark berry).
More than the ice cream itself, the Sorveteria do Centro (Downtown Ice Cream Shop, in English) also offers toppings to perfect the whole experience: from Japanese-style moshi to jams, from dehydrated fruits to dulce de leche.
Chef behind it. Alex Atala
Type of cuisine. Brazilian traditional
Opened in. 2017
Bio is the biggest project from the acclaimed chef Alex Atala, from the award-winning D.O.M. Not only because of its 140 places spread in two floors but also because it is one of the most ambitious of the chef, who also owns two other restaurants in the city: Açougue Central and Dalva & Dito.
As the name of the restaurant itself seems to say, Bio is Atala's attempt to create his most sustainable business – with the challenge of being more affordable and still work all day long. The main challenge is fighting against food waste.
From the creativity of the kitchen team (led by chef Raul Godoy) in dealing with avocado seeds, mango peels, cabbage stalks and other parts that usually end up in the trash bin, recipes such as a leek pesto that, instead of pine nut, uses the toasted seed of the avocado, and a farofa made of herbs stalks came up.
Located in a corner building in Itaim Bibi neighborhood, the cozy and well-lit room is a multifunctional space for a cup of coffee well-paired with a pão de queijo, an açaí bowl at any time of the day or even a proper meal with options that vary from salads to local meat cuts (from grass-fed animals, of course), served with Brazilian traditional recipes, such as rice and beans.
Tapioca – a Brazilian cuisine icon – has its own place in the spotlight: they are made by order in a “tapioca bar” in the center of the room, and combine fillings such as homemade ham, cheese, dulce de leche and others, that the client can choose as he wants. There is also a salad station, an open kitchen with a charcoal grill, and a bar where diners can order cocktails and artisanal sodas made with fruit skins and vegetable peels.
Bio also focuses on healthier recipes, a growing trend in the restaurant industry, according to Atala. He also says that the purpose of the restaurant is to make the diner feel part of the food chain, to understand his role in choosing what he orders to eat, which the chef believes consumption awareness really means.
“Our order, our action have a true influence on the whole food chain. As individuals, we must understand that what we order or choose to eat has an impact and can be a tool for transformation”, he says.
When Alex Atala developed the Bio concept, he stated that waste would be as next to zero as possible. Today he says he has learned to work with the orders he places with his suppliers. “It was necessary for our team itself to relearn how to cook, not only looking at what they wanted to use, but what would be discarded”, he says. It is still a learning curve for all of us.