Mar 13, 2009
Brazil is in vogue in Brazil. Ever since Europeans and Americans fell in love with all things Brazilian, from caipirinhas and bossa nova to Gisele and her Havaianas flip flops, Brazilians began to see their country with new eyes. With all the new restaurants in São Paulo proudly serving banana, black bean or coconut dishes, it’s hard to believe that up until recently, native products, like cachaça (sugarcane spirit), goiabada (guava sweet) and rapadura (hardened sugarcane molasses) were shunned by top chefs. Brazilians always enjoyed their local food at home or at their favourite pub, but fine dining had to be French or Italian-based. The more imported ingredients like saffron, funghi and aspargus, the better.
The first to challenge this view were French chefs who moved to Rio in the 80’s. Laurent Suaudeau and Claude Troisgros, amazed by the exotic fruits and vegetables, introduced them into their classical French cuisine. Now, a new generation of chefs in São Paulo is following their lead, and finding sophisticated ways of cooking with Brazilian ingredients that were once considered too pedestrian.
Shortly after opening D.O.M., in 2000, Alex Atala began pairing black beans with foie gras, and giving fresh fishes from the Amazon a place of honour on his menu.
Since then the trend picked up, with the recent opening of restaurants where local takes preference over imports. At the charming Maní (pictured above), model-turned-chef Helena Rizzo and her partner Daniel Redondo (ex-Celler de Can Roca) give the humble manioc royal treatment, with a drizzle of truffle oil. A sparkly cachaça jelly and Brazil nut shavings crown her foie gras terrine.
More food expert than chef, Ana Luiza Trajano opened early in 2006 Brasil a Gosto (pictured below, its bar area) – a high-design place on a leafy, secluded street - after a long exploratory voyage throughout the country to research regional recipes and customs.
She serves lighter, up-to-date renderings of traditional dishes such as fish stew (moqueca) with rice and also her own combinations of native ingredients, such as tucunaré, an Amazonian fish, served with manioc. And a starter of queijo coalho, a white cheese that is charred on the outside, commonly eaten as a snack at the beaches of the Northeast Region (Nordeste).
At Capim Santo, in the same Jardins district, young chef Morena Leite, from Bahia state, is turning fruits like jabuticaba and pitanga into sauces, and baking ritzier versions of the coconut and guava sweets of her childhood.
Now there are even newer restaurants specializing in Brazilian food. Dalva e Dito, for one, which I described in detail here. And soon-to-open Chafariz.
Brasil a Gosto: Rua Professor Azevedo do Amaral, 70, tel. 55-11-3086-3565, Capim Santo: Al. Ministro Rocha Azevedo, 471, tel. 55-11-3068-8486 D.O.M.: Rua Barão de Capanema, 549, tel. 55-11-3088-0761 Maní: Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210, tel. 55-11-3085-4148