In times when restaurants are specializing and looking more and more to focus on a single recipe or a single ingredient, Brazilian chef Jefferson Rueda decided to make an ode to pork in his latest restaurant, A Casa do Porco Bar, located in Downtown Sao Paulo, arguably the most important food city in Latin America.
Opened in 2015, the restaurant became an instant hit in town: in addition to concentrating one of the largest queues in the city (the waiting list will easily take more than two hours), it also skyrocketed towards the top of Latin America 50 Best list this year – A Casa do Porco now places second among Brazilian restaurants on the list (behind Alex Atala's D.O.M.).
Rueda says that its success comes from the passion that people have for pork – and in his hands, the meat is used in its entirety, literally from nose to tail: his recipes range from a pork tartar (made with cured raw meat) to a pork sushi, from the whole boned pork roasted in an open-fire barbecue grill to its head, served only under request.
But the creativity he imprints on his recipes and the casual mood of his restaurant (called a bar in the name) is also one of the reasons to the success of his business: there is a festive and almost playful atmosphere in the restaurant – such as all the pig toys scattered around the room and a replica of a small circus hanging from the ceiling in which all the characters are “played” by pigs.
On a recent visit to the city, Ferran Adrià said that restaurants like A Casa do Porco are the future of gastronomy. Many other chefs want to visit the restaurant when they are in São Paulo. “Last week, for example, I received Daniel Boulud as he was passing through the city and asked a common friend to come”, Rueda says.
After years of running gourmand restaurants in the fancier neighborhoods of São Paulo, Rueda chose a corner formerly occupied by crack users for his next business – two blocks from his wife’s restaurant, Bar da Dona Onça, located in Copan, one of the city’s most iconic buildings, designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer. “We've been living here in Downtown for 10 years, I wanted to be closer to my family. Also when I got the idea of the concept of the restaurant, I thought it could only work here, where there are people of all walkabouts”, he says.
Attached to the neighborhood
“Besides being open all day, A Casa do Porco is a democratic place, to eat some snacks or even try our tasting menu”, he explains (the menu costs around 25 euros). Rueda has also created a window where some sandwiches are sold at popular prices for those who just want to grab and go, such as one made with roasted pork and another vegetarian option. “I've even had the concern about vegetarian options in the restaurant. Next month, we're going to open a 100% vegetarian tasting menu, something unusual for a pork-centered restaurant”, he laughs.
Lately, Rueda has become even more attached to his neighborhood as well: last month, he opened a hot dog venue 200 meters away from his restaurant: at Hot Pork, he serves classic hot dogs made with handcrafted sausage with only pork meat (of course!) and no kinds of preservatives. All the other ingredients, from the guava ketchup to the buns, all are homemade as well. Next month, the chef will also open an ice cream shop, where he counts on the best pastry chef in Latin America, Saiko Isawa, who is already his partner at A Casa do Porco. The duo will serve soft-serve ice-cream at affordable prices, with flavors that range from chocolate and vainilla to native fruits.
“I've been in São Paulo for 24 years and thanks to this city I could achieve so many things in my career. It is a city that welcomed me very well, when I came from the interior. So I think it's my time to give back, making food more accessible”, he says. Rueda believes that it is the role of chefs today to work on serving better food not only for those who have much money to pay for it, but also for those who cannot usually go to fancy restaurants.
“We have to think about how to make popular food great: with fewer preservatives, less chemical additives, with healthier and better products”, he argues. “As a chef, my challenge is to feed more people better. I want to be a Brazilian chef for the people”.