Rodrigo Oliveira’s Gastro Democracy

The chef from Sao Paulo, recently at Identità Golose Milano, tells us about his recent choices and future challenges

04-01-2019
Rodrigo Oliveira

Rodrigo Oliveira

On January 1st, Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro will take office as President of the country. After the hopes with Lula, the scandals with Rousseff and the recession with Terem, Brazil will start a new chapter in a history full of contradictions and antinomies. Fast climbs and impetuous slopes, economic boom and dramatic crisis, the lights and music of the Carnival in contrast with the misery of the Favelas.

A country where social differences are huge, where cooking, offering fine dining, is surely stimulating – thanks to the endless products, cultures and traditions available in a huge land – but demands many questions too. And indeed over the past few years Rodrigo Oliveira, a recent guest chef at Identità Golose Milano, has asked himself many questions.

The chef from Mocotò in Sao Paulo in Milan

The chef from Mocotò in Sao Paulo in Milan

Born in 1980, full of talent and skill, first he had to find his dimension to follow the footsteps of his father, who arrived in Sao Paulo from the very poor state of Pernambuco. Then he went in search of a balance that would make his passion for cooking and the social identity of his community meet. 

«Mocotò, the restaurant my father Josè de Almeida opened in 1973 is far away from the centre of Sao Paulo. We’re in the north of the city, in a working-class neighbourhood. Over the years we became a point of reference locally. We have managers and workers, families and artists among our guests. Our motto is “lots with little”. It’s a place for normal people who love our cuisine and nothing else. This is why when with Esquina, the second restaurant opened 5 years ago next to Mocotò, we got a Michelin star and reached the Latin America’s 50Best, we decided to close it».

It was a hard choice to understand: «The truth is, we had completed a journey. We wanted to show that such a goal could be reached only based on the food, not on the place or the commercially strategic location. Then we understood that that was not the kind of restaurant our neighbourhood and our most faithful clients need. That’s it».

Snacks at Mocotò

Snacks at Mocotò

This is the Gastro Democracy philosophy that for many years Oliveira and his family have been following with determination. They do so while enhancing Brazilian cuisine – something difficult to define, given the country is endless and there are a thousand different areas from which products and recipes may come – and paying a special attention to cost, accessibility, inclusion. Of course – and the positive reviews confirm this – they also focus on quality and flavour.

«We enhance tradition, use poor vegetables worth rediscovering, our favourite cuts of meat are those the others don’t use. We go against the tide, in other words. Our menu is 25 euros, and many can afford it once in a while. We have a mission and won’t accept compromises». Rodrigo Oliveira has packed all this in the suitcase he brought with himself at Identità Golose Milano, shaping a four-course menu with some pillars of his cuisine and typical ingredients from the region of Sau Paulo.

Corn couscous, tucupi, peas and vegetables 

Corn couscous, tucupi, peas and vegetables 

The beginning is a seductive mix of flavours and textures. The classic snacks from Mocotò: two cubes of tapioca, the one served with a slightly hot sauce was excellent, paired with a broth of cashew nuts and a slice of pork belly - one of the emblems of his dad José’s cuisine - crispy, soft and incredibly delicate. This was followed by corn couscous, livened up by two sauces: tucupi made with manioca and garlic, and one with peas.  On the side, a sour radish for a play of contrasts: the best dish of the night.

Baião de dois, beef cured with salt, red onions 

Baião de dois, beef cured with salt, red onions 

The main course was a classic beef dish. The beef is cured in salt and fried for a moment with a sauce of red onion with Baiào de dois  - basmati rice and vegetables -  (excellent) and chips of Parmigiano. The sweet end came with a Green and Yellow dessert, the colours of the Brazilian flag, in which the Butia sorbet meets a crumble of Brazilian nuts and passion fruit confit. A not-too-sweet dessert, the suitable end for a dinner based on true Pop cuisine – borrowing the term from Davide Oldani.

Green and yellow: butia sorbet, passion fruit confit, Brazilian nut 

Green and yellow: butia sorbet, passion fruit confit, Brazilian nut 

The new challenge for Rodrigo is conquering the US: “We have opened other restaurants in Sao Paulo and with Balaiowe’re continuing our project of research and inclusion in the kitchen and in the dining room. We’re opening a restaurant in Los Angeles in November 2019, always under the Balaio brand: we will bring Brazilian flavours, products and cuisine». As well as a philosophy that is challenging to follow, but can make the difference in times like these. 

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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