Janaina Rueda, the chef-owner of casual bar-restaurant O Bar da Dona Onça and fine dining destination A Casa do Porco in São Paulo, has been named as the recipient of the American Express Icon Award for Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants ahead of this year's ceremony on 3 December.
Both inside and outside the kitchen, Rueda or 'Dona Onça' as she's known, meaning 'lady jaguar', is a culinary force for good, with a huge sense of social and professional responsibility, working tirelessly to promote positive change in her immediate community and Latin America's chef community in general.
Speaking of the award, which recognises her outstanding contribution to the industry, she said: "It is very rewarding and exciting to be recognised with an award like this. My hope is that this space will help to raise awareness about important issues, such as the debate on diversity and the search for an increasingly inclusive and democratic gastronomy. It is our role, as food agents, to support the most vulnerable, especially in this pandemic moment. The time for change is now!"
In both her businesses and community projects, Rueda practices her belief that good food should be accessible to all by serving healthy, plentiful and affordable food. At her casual diner Dona Onça in the city centre, she serves hearty dishes like a chicken stew called galinhada and at more upscale A Casa do Porco, where she cooks with her husband, they have a tasting menu priced at less than $30 per head.
Working in the community, Rueda has spent years teaching school cooks to how to replace processed foods with nutritious homemade dishes. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, and the couple had to close their restaurants, Rueda mobilised nearly 1000 chefs and hospitality workers from all over Brazil to successfully pressurise the government into providing financial relief, whilst also feeding those most vulnerable.
Recognising Rueda's indomitable spirit and efforts in Latin America, William Drew, director of content for Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, said: “In these challenging times for the industry, Janaina Rueda has given herself to vital recovery efforts. She is a true believer in everyone’s right to access good, healthy food, and champions gastronomy as a lever for social change. Her drive to inspire positive change makes her the perfect recipient of this award for 2020."