Alex Atala is the chef at Sao Paolo’s D.O.M., which was rated the seventh best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino. Probably the world’s foremost evangelist of native Brazilian cuisine, the pioneering chef will be participating in the Tribute Dinner at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The dinner will honor chef Juan Mari Arzak, the chef and owner at the world’s #8 restaurant, Spain’s Arzak, and Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates President and CEO Ted Baseler. We had the opportunity to speak with Atala about the festival, the influence of Arzak, and what Americans can learn from Brazilian cuisine.
The Daily Meal: What are you most looking forward to at SOBE this year?
Alex Atala: It's going to be a great moment. Chefs will be able to exchange experiences and knowledge with other chefs, professionals, and food lovers. And it's also amazing to spend some time with friends who we can’t see very often. It's a good opportunity to celebrate with them.
What are you planning on serving at your dinner?
We are bringing a little bit of Brazil's flavors. My dish is going to be prawn with tucupi and tapioca: two ingredients that are very representative of Brazilian cuisine.
What do you think Arzak's influence on the culinary world has been?
Juan Mari is a revolutionary. He was one of the first Spanish chefs to go to France, learn with the French masters, go back to his country, and revolutionize the kitchen in his irreverent way. He has grace and empathy, and brings an almost anarchist happiness to our profession.
What Brazilian ingredients do you think Americans cooks should work with more often?
In my opinion, there are two things they should know and use. First of all, tapioca, which I know many chefs use — but few know that it's a Brazilian ingredient. Understand this ingredient better and all the applications that go beyond its pearls: that's an important legacy that Brazil leaves. And the second ingredient that I like is tucupi, which should always come together with the Brazilian sweet aromatic pepper and cilantro, which is so well-known in the U.S.
What are you working on these days?
We keep working on our research and discovery of Brazilian ingredients. We recently launched a campaign for the Brazilian government to recognize food as culture.
Do you have any new restaurants in the works?
We are planning to open soon a butcher shop which will work with amazing meat from a Brazilian producer. This shop will be in São Paulo and clients will have the option to eat there or buy the meat and prepare at home.
What do you think Americans can learn about cooking from Brazilians?
Brazilian cuisine still is an unexplored and unknown universe, and the new generation of Brazilian chefs is able to show and demonstrate much more than America expects.