Alex Atala, 54, on stage at MesaSP in Brazil. The chef and owner of restaurant DOM in São Paulo will return on the 28th of January for a lesson in Milan 10 years after the last time, and the evening before he will cook with Mauricio Zillo at Identità Golose Milano
We remember Alex Atala swooping in at the 2012 Identità Golose congress, electrified by a rare magnetism. Tattooed and muscular, he was the up-and-coming chef of a country eager to flash on the radar of gastronomy in the new millennium. On the day of his lecture, before talking about the techniques and delicacies of Amazonia, the former DJ from Sau Paulo but of Palestinian origin ventured into political declarations: 'Dear Lula', he thundered to Brazil's president at the time (who is also today's new president), 'extradite brigatist Cesare Battisti to Italy immediately', offering some unexpected titles to our newspapers.
A decade later, Atala speaks with the wisdom of the master. He knows he has marked the lives of many young cooks. Not only those of São Paulo, but of an entire country and continent. It was enough to observe the adoration of the Mesa São Paulo audience at the speech that closed the last edition of South America's oldest congress a few weeks ago. 'After 35 years in the business,' the chef suddenly declared, 'I am retiring from the kitchen of my restaurant. That can peacefully go on without me. And it is also the last time I will be on this stage'. Who knows if it will also be the last time at Identità Golose, the Milanese stage where he will return to for the second time on Saturday 28th of January 2023. We chatted backstage and he made some non-trivial statements.
In 2012, you told us about jabuticaba, pirarucú and priprioca, symbols unknown at the time, from the world's most biodiverse country. Today that heritage is acknowledged. What challenge awaits Brazilian cuisine?
A great social challenge. Now that cooks have status, the work of farmers must be recognised. Which must be emphasised in all its dignity. In Italy you have set the example: behind a great product there is always a person who struggles. In Brazil we are not so good: we hyper-process products for 200 million inhabitants but then we do not give value to those who work our land. The challenge of the next 10 to 15 years is to illustrate all the links in the food chain. And the first ones are the most important.
The Identità Golose Congress, March 2012, Alex Atala with Andrea Berton: they were the authors of a memorable four-handed dinner at Trussardi alla Scala
Atala with his fans in Sao Paulo
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world
born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes.
Chef Alex Atala of D.O.M. (two Michelin stars in Sao Paulo, Brazil) during his lecture on the 28th of January in the Auditorium at MiCo. All photos are by Brambilla-Serrani