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I pre­fer the cuts and scrapes and burns! bring It on. If I can do It, I’m sure a lot of women can do It

WKND - - Chef Speak -

lose your eyes and imag­ine a bar­beque. Any bar­beque. What do you see? Chances are, a ma­jor­ity of you con­jured up im­ages of a bunch of men stand­ing around a grill or pit, ca­su­ally bast­ing skew­ers of meat or deftly flip­ping burg­ers and sausages with a pair of tongs. Or maybe you saw fil­leted fish on a big fire, sur­rounded by a bunch of men ready to break out into some sort of fire dance. We’ve al­most taken this set­ting for granted; men cook the meat — and we don’t like be­ing chap­er­oned around the fire — and this is how it will al­ways be. Well, not al­ways. Def­i­nitely not at Chamas, in the Crowne Plaza ho­tel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Here, at this Brazil­ian- style chur­ras­caria, amongst the brigade of chefs ro­tat­ing skew­ered meats over char­coal flames and tend­ing to brais­ing ribs — you know, manly men du­ties — is a diminu­tive mas­ter griller. And she is the one giv­ing the or­ders.

When she’s not watch­ing ev­ery bit of hot food leav­ing the kitchen, Brazil­ian chef Larissa Mazzoli is rather timid and shy. “My English is not so good,” she says, coyly try­ing to dodge the cam­eras. The 24- year- old chef is the first to be show­cased in a new se­ries of cu­rated culi­nary videos ti­tled ‘ Kitchens of Dubai’ ( avail­able on Youtube) and she seems re­lieved to be away from the prob­ing mics and lenses. “Was I good?” she asks, ner­vously. “Did any of that make sense?” Her short video is on the finer­ies of cook­ing var­i­ous cuts of meat — just like they do at bar­be­ques in Brazil — and she jokes that her hands were trem­bling. “I’m more com­fort­able in the kitchen. I can speak to you through my food bet­ter than I can on cam­era,” she says with a laugh.

I thought she would be more in­tim­i­dated about giv­ing or­ders to a bunch of surly men, some­thing she ad­mits is not al­ways easy. “There aren’t a lot of women in my po­si­tion, so it’s def­i­nitely some­thing dif­fer­ent for a lot of these guys here. Also, I’m re­ally small,” she says ( she means short and pe­tite), ges­tur­ing with her hands to her stature, “and I think that makes things a bit harder.” But, she adds, this isn’t her first rodeo and that she has seen it all, ever since her early days as a chef in train­ing.

Larissa was pas­sion­ate about cook­ing from a young age, some­thing she says her pa­ter­nal grand­mother nudged her into by way of her de­li­cious food. “She was al­ways the des­ig­nated cook and when she cooked, ev­ery­one ate. It was that good. She used to bake the best breads in my home­town — Jun­diaí, about 60km from São Paulo — prob­a­bly the best I’ve ever eaten,” says Larissa. In fact, when she was 17 years old, she went to work at a bak­ery, in­spired by none other than her grand­mother. Her bak­ing stint led to a bit of an epiphany, es­pe­cially when you think of how all the top chefs in the world are all men…

“Bak­ing is def­i­nitely a man’s job,” she ex­plains. “You wake up early in the morn­ing and haul gi­ant bags of flour and su­gar and other in­gre­di­ents… and, to make things worse, the vat that you mix the dough in is not on the floor, but el­e­vated. That means you re­ally have to put your back into it, lift­ing those bags up to empty them into the vat. It was ex­haust­ing work,” she says. “I did that for a year, bak­ing some­thing like 200 loaves of bread every­day, and I was done.” But not with­out a sense of irony, it seems.

“The truth is, in most restau­rants, women are made pas­try chefs. Even in Brazil, I would have found a job as a pas­try chef eas­ier than I would other po­si­tions in the kitchen. I think it should be the other way around. Men should do the bak­ing and pas­tries and women should do the hot food!” Which

makes per­fect sense, be­cause we all know how much we love mom’s food. Right?

Hav­ing started out at such a young age, Larissa quickly gained a few ma­tronly men­tors. “We should never for­get those who first gave us a hand early in our lives,” she says, re­mem­ber­ing fondly the ex­ec­u­tive chef and her sous chef, Pa­tri­cia and Ka­rina, re­spec­tively, who watched over her dur­ing her early years in the kitchen, and with whom she still keeps in touch to­day.

“They men­tored me and pushed me to be a chef. Pa­tri­cia al­ways said that I would one day be a great chef,” she re­calls. “I still re­mem­ber the day when she called me and said ‘ send me your CV’. That was it. Four words. I stut­tered try­ing to ask her why and for what, but all she said was ‘ send me your CV’. And then she added it had to be in English. If you think my English is bad now, imag­ine what it was like back then!” she says and laughs. That was about four years ago, when Larissa was barely 20. Need­less to say, her English has got­ten a lot bet­ter.

“So, in the mid­dle of work, I got some­one to help me type out my CV and I sent it to Pa­tri­cia. The next thing I knew, I was head­ing to Dubai for a job!” she says. “I was re­ally wor­ried that I wouldn’t get the job or last long be­cause of my lack of English/ com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but I was lucky

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