Brazil more than beans as Miche­lin probes dishes

The China Post - - LIFE - BY LAURA BONILLA

Tickle your palate. Try some Ama­zo­nian ants with pineap­ple. Or how about some beet­root salad with curds? Brazil­ian gas­tro­nomic fare has far more to of­fer than the tra­di­tional sta­ples of beans and rice with cas­sava.

So say the ex­perts from the revered Miche­lin guide, who have edited their first Brazil edi­tion cov­er­ing the megac­i­ties of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

The guide re­views 145 restau­rants, the first Miche­lin has ever se­lected in Latin Amer­ica. A to­tal of 16 boast one Miche­lin star — 10 in busi­ness hub Sao Paulo and the other six in tourist mecca Rio.

Just one re­ceived the ac­co­lade of two stars — chef Alex Atala’s D.O.M. in Sao Paulo, known for its use of Ama­zo­nian in­gre­di­ents such as the ants, which leave a sur­pris­ing cit­ric aftertaste in the mouth.

Such del­i­ca­cies re­quire a portly wal­let with menu prices of be­tween 242 and 825 reais ( US$80 to US$270).

“As with all fine gas­tron­omy, it’s all about the prod­uct and in this coun­try, there are fab­u­lous prod­ucts to be had — fan­tas­tic fresh­wa­ter fish, fan­tas­tic veg­eta­bles, meat of ex­tra­or­di­nary qual­ity,” en­thused Amer­i­can Michael El­lis, Miche­lin’s in­ter­na­tional guides’ direc­tor.

The guides were first pub­lished in France more than a cen­tury ago to pro­mote au­to­mo­bile travel.

“The Brazil guide re­flects the fact there is a fu­ture. I was here back in the ‘80s when Brazil­ian cui­sine was beans, rice, farofa (cas­sava flour) and very, very cooked meat. The Brazil­ians love things well cooked.

“But things have moved on — 25 years ago we didn’t have what we have to­day,” El­lis ex­plained to a group of re­porters.

Atala and other young chefs have trav­eled afar to dis­cover new tech­niques, new in­gre­di­ents and new spices that “give Brazil its own culi­nary sig­na­ture,” said El­lis.

Taste the Emo­tion

Even so, to date Brazil still lacks a sin­gle three-star estab­lish­ment, an honor be­stowed only on se­lect eater­ies whose chefs are not just tal­ented but ded­i­cated to the point of bound­less ob­ses­sion with their culi­nary cre­ations.

“It is the emo­tion which makes the dif­fer­ence. Three stars mark you out, it’s some­thing you’ll hope­fully re­tain all your life. It’s some­thing or­ganic that hap­pens in your mouth and is very dif­fi­cult to re­pro­duce,” said El­lis.

“And ev­ery three-star chef, ev­ery artist, has a very per­sonal and dif­fer­ent way of pro­duc­ing it from all the rest. Then we’re into the realms of emo­tion.”

Miche­lin, whose ho­tel and eatery guides cover 24 coun­tries, chose Brazil as its first Latin Amer­i­can tar­get as “it is the most im­por­tant coun­try in Latin Amer­ica with a rapidly grow­ing mid­dle class,” ex­plained the com­pany’s brands ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent Claire Dor­land-Clauzel.

She noted that Miche­lin has been present in Brazil through its tire fac­to­ries em­ploy­ing thou­sands since 1927.

The cri­te­ria for award­ing gas­tro­nomic stars are the same around the globe, mean­ing a on­es­tar rat­ing in Sao Paulo is worth the same as in Paris or Tokyo, for ex­am­ple.

The Miche­lin in­spec­tors visit the restau­rants anony­mously and duly pay for what they con­sume, guar­an­tee­ing their in­de­pen­dence, the firm stresses.

On oc­ca­sion, they will iden­tify them­selves and ask to talk to the chef and visit the kitchen — but only af­ter they have set­tled the check.

The restau­rants with one or more stars earn their rat­ing only through re­peated vis­its by dif­fer­ent in­spec­tors, who make the de­ci­sion jointly.

Miche­lin has been com­pil­ing the Brazil­ian guide for more than a year.

In­spec­tors from Spain, Por­tu­gal and var­i­ous other coun­tries sam­pled more than 500 dishes be­fore se­lect­ing the 145 restau­rants that will fea­ture in the guide’s first edi­tion.

In the fu­ture, Miche­lin in­tends to take on Brazil­ian in­spec­tors and train them how to rate meals us­ing six cri­te­ria — in­gre­di­ents, cooking, har­mony and taste, chef per­son­al­ity, menu reg­u­lar­ity and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween qual­ity and price.

The guides al­ways use lo­cal in­spec­tors to pro­duce their rank­ings — but never for first edi­tions, ow­ing to the need for ex­ten­sive in­spec­tor train­ing at the out­set.

Miche­lin bosses won’t say for now which coun­tries they may in­clude in their next Latin Amer­i­can edi­tion.

But there are plenty of can­di­dates as the im­por­tance of gas­tro­nomic tourism in­creases.

“Gov­er­nors, min­is­ters, may­ors come to see us and ask us if we might pro­duce a guide” high­light­ing lo­cal fare,” said Dor­landClauzel.

“Cooking has be­come an eco­nomic tool.”

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