“We assume, of course, that you want the meat,” she said with a heavy Brazilian accent.
From unpretentious A-Frame in California to exclusive DOM Restaurant in Brazil, the common denominator is meat innovation. DOM is the highest Michelin star rated restaurant in South America. Alex Atala is possibly the most famous meat chef in the southern hemisphere. In Sao Paulo, where good food is a given, you either bring it hard or you are done. DOM walks the line between fine cuisine and odd food. DOM excels by upscaling Brazilian flavors with an emphasis on great meat.
Sao Paulo is the world’s 5th largest city with 19 million inhabitants, mostly carnivores. The city is littered with steak houses or “Churascarias” to appease the masses. Uncle Bob hit Fogo de Chao 3 of 6 nights on his trip. For the “Steak Out,” we needed to dig deeper. The 4 month waiting list for a
reservation did not deter us. Uncle Bob used the democratic power of internet beef engine Meatthepeople.comto bust open the 20 foot high exotic wooden door with a moment’s notice. You got me in.
The Jardins is to Sao Paulo what Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles or 5th Avenue to Manhattan. The interior of DOM is gothic indigenous hunting lodge with erect wooden canoes, taxidermy jaguars, French rococo black Murano chandeliers, drawing the wealthy, beautiful, international set and the special occasion crowd. The smartly dressed couple seated to my left got engaged while I pondered the raw filet with Jumbu (amazonian flower that makes your mouth tingle), first press olive oil with green peppercorn and some Hawaiian black salt. The future groom spilled red wine after offering up the diamond ring. The blood hued wine stain on the white pressed linen placemat contrasted fittingly with future bride updating Facebook status and texting mother. They are so cute at this age. First marriages are like childhood diseases; best to get them over with quickly, but I digress.
The check hurt. Uncle Bob shares the dream of bringing the meat to the people. He makes the sacrifice for you. DOM is too expensive. Staffed up with rockstar coiffed mixologist, and a wine stewardess hot alien Dr. Seuss character with special talents protecting the weary under the shade of the vine, Uncle Bob recovered from sticker shock. All bells. All whistles. Plastic magic. Don’t come here without it.
The ferocious and well documented Chef Alex Atala arrived like a champion
gladiator fresh from the coliseum. Hugging regulars and carefully eyeing every detail.
As an entrepreneur, you are one day away from moving back in with mom and dad.
It’s just the truth. Chef Atala hunted me down at the bar. Eyes gleaming with the zeal of a true believer, Chef Atala is the white tornedo. Chef Atala launches into
details of a recent hunting trip to Argentina sporting photos on his smart phone. He is a true carnivore who loves his work and honors the animal. Beef is his passion. Beef Passion is the moniker on the hybrid cattle and farming tecniques that he is pioneering in the Brazilian grasslands.
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“My job as a chef has changed entirely from 10 years ago,” Chef Atala says with wild eyes. He prattles on about science, agriculture, and sustainability in the international bovine dialect that brings us together. Chef Atala explains that it used to be easier to be a great chef. Italian or French. Get the best ingredients, throw them together artfully and you are there. In the last 10 years he has begun dialogue directly with the farmers, rice producers, and cattle ranchers to understand the ingredients to enhance culinary artistic expression and to improve protein sources. He is still learning to fully express himself artistically through food medium. In the future, he plans to incorporate more game and turtles into his dishes. He frowns and says bitterly, “you know hunting is illegal in Brazil.”
Here is his deal. Working with cattle ranchers breeding hybrid mix of Australian angus and Japanese wagyu cattle, Chef Alex eyes start to gleam with excitement. The Australian angus fares better in the Brazilian sun, he explains. The domestic angus suffer as it is too hot (Argentine angus is different). Australian has had longer exposure to tropical heat and loves the high quality water and grass that Brazil has to offer. Using super soil worm food to enrich soil coupled with rotation grazing, cattle per hectare has increased by a factor of three – I can understand why he says his job has changed. Chef Atala brags that the results are decreases: in cost, environmental impact, and pesticides – as rotation cycles interrupt tick problems. He claims that shoulder cuts on the hybrid are more tender than prime rib! I quickly grabbed his wrists, with thumb on pulse, looked him dead in the eye and I asked him to repeat the last statement. Chef Atala passed. “I can prove it. University did an ultrasound. Normally you can’t even eat the shoulder on a Brazilian angus. My goal is to use the entire animal.”. I had come to the right place. Beef prices are estimated to increase by 30% in the next 10 years. Clock is ticking. He says a chef’s job is now to work with the non traditional cuts to use more of the cow. Nothing is wasted. It is easy to serve filet mignon with sauce Bearnaise. Now we have to focus on creativity, sustainability and efficiency. It is the future. My lame tame order of tournedoes (filet) with Aligot (cheese potato mix) was rejected by Chef Atala who replaced with carbonized herb crusted end back strip steak, resting 24 hours then served medium rare black on the outside with vanilla and charcoal oil. Mandioca with salted bacalao (cod)/ egg yolk mayonnaise and onions as perfect accompaniment. Chef Atala trained in Belgium with time cooking in France, Catalunya and Basque country. He boasts frequent trips to Japan drawing from travels to inform his culinary efforts. You can taste it in his end product – his art.
Hit it….hit it hard.
D.O.M. Restaurant549 Rua Barao de CapenemaJardins, Sao Paulo, Brazilwww.domrestaurante.com.br
Tell them Tio Bob sent ya.
Uncle BobPhotos by Janina McQuoid