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jan 25, 2018

Brazil's new haute cuisine is gaining worldwide recognition

From afar, Brazil's culinary reputation may at first appear to be associated to its world-renowned churrasco (barbecue) tradition and its signature cocktail, the lime and cachaça-based caipirinha. But a new generation of chefs, interested in traditional and local ingredients, are creating a new style of fine cuisine. Blending delicate flavors and unique textures through their mix of ingredients, this new wave of gastronomy is reinvigorating Brazil’s vibrant culinary identity.

One of Brazil’s most famous chefs, Alex Atala, has been bucking the trends for decades with his interest in Amazonian ingredients as opposed to steakhouse cuts. It has paid off for the chef on a personal level, earning his restaurant D.O.M. 16th place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and becoming the only Brazilian eatery to be double Michelin-starred.

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil) teamed up with English-language media including the BBC, CNN and Vice providing unique insights into the best of Brazilian culture. In the series, Atala speaks about how Brazilian cuisine has evolved in recent years.

“Not long ago, Brazilian chefs looked up to Europe, especially France and Italy, for guidance. That started to change some 15, 20 years ago when some French chefs began doing French cuisine in Brazil with local ingredients”, Atala explained. Since then, according to the chef, Brazilian chefs have adopted techniques from European cuisines but have focused more and more on ingredients unique to Brazil.

Atala’s interest in unique ingredients proved to be a forerunner to a culinary trend that has taken off in recent years across the country, and is slowly changing Brazil’s reputation as a food destination. While certain ingredients like cassava remain a popular base for many dishes and, owing to its numerous and diverse manifestations, is gaining popularity in Northern hemisphere kitchens too, thanks to its gluten- and fat-free qualities. But more region-specific ingredients are also coming into the spotlight, with chefs also hoping to create sustainable ways to produce ingredients for greater demand.

One such chef is 26-year-old chef Thiago Castanho, whose Belém restaurant’s star dish is a barbecued popular local catfish, known in the Amazon region as filhote. Another popular dish at his restaurant, Remanso do Bosque, is an oyster that can only grow in the clean water among the mangroves where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

“In order to grow them, the local people have to take care of the river, as they will only survive in clean water,” says Castanho in the BBC series. “It is a very sustainable activity. But it is also very good.”

Other Amazonian ingredients that are gaining popularity are delicacies like jambú, a bitter, zinging herb that slightly numbs the tongue, as well as varieties of corns, seeds, nuts, spices and flours. Nor is the Amazon the only source of culinary inspiration. Speaking in the series, sociologist Carlos Alberto Dória talks about the potential for different Brazilian food traditions to become better-known.

“Brazil has a huge variety of regional cuisines”, says Dória. “And they are determined by ingredients, culture and cooking techniques rather than by geographical boundaries which are used for marketing and touristic purposes.”

The video, made by Apex-Brasil in partnership with the BBC, is the first part of a series detailing Brazil’s most interesting and unique contributions to the world stage. You can watch the BBC’s video about the new wave of Brazilian cuisine here, along with the other three episodes from the series, or check out Vice’s look at new ingredients here