Manu Buffara has received critical acclaim for its tasting menu that has been recognized by World’s 50 Best and Best Chefs Awards. Paving the way for gastronomy in Brazil, Manu celebrates the culture and produce unique to the region of Paraná. Formerly studying journalism, Manu found her passion for cooking, realizing her way of communicating was not through words but taste. At Manu, she uses organic ingredients from carefully selected suppliers and her own garden. Manu’s devotion to sustainability and quality ingredients stems from her commitment to Curitiba, working with local communities to transform abandoned sites into urban gardens and educating locals on how to care for the gardens and feed themselves.
You started out your career in journalism, so when did you know that cooking and becoming a chef was what you truly wanted to do?
I went to the United States when I was 16 to learn English and one of the jobs I had was in a kitchen. Once I returned to Brazil, my parents told me that I could not be a cook and that I had to go to university. So, I chose Journalism, but during my education, I continued to cook and work in restaurants. My grandmother had told me that if I wanted to become a chef, I needed to work in Italy as a dishwasher first and try other jobs in the kitchen to see if I truly like it. So, I took one year break and went to Italy to get some experience. This was hard for my parents because they were determined that I finish university, so I ended up working at night and did my classes during the day to finish.
How would you describe Brazilian cuisine?
Brazil is such a big and diverse country and the cuisine is equally diverse. You can have a meal in south Brazil that uses completely different flavors from a meal in northern Brazil. Each state is really different because we are a country made up of many people from Europe, Africa, and many other places around the world, it is a mix of culture. Each cook is inspired by their own life and their own experiences and this influences the many flavors that are used.
In 2020, you planned on opening your restaurant Ella in Manhattan. What inspired you to take Brazilian cuisine abroad? And do you have plans on growing even more?
We were supposed to open a new restaurant in March of 2020, but as everyone knows, COVID-19 disrupted those plans. I was in New York in February of 2020 preparing everything, but we had to postpone the opening. We prefer to open when things return to a sense of normality and we want to open a restaurant for people when they are happy, so we have decided to open at the end of 2021.
Manu is my restaurant in Brazil and I decided to go with Ella in New York as my name is Manoella. I was inspired to share Brazil cuisine because internationally when you see a Brazilian restaurant it is most likely our barbeques or feijoada, but I want to show New York, which I think is the center of the world for food, what the true flavor of Brazil is. It is one of first Brazilian restaurants that will be more fine dining.
Over your career so far, you have won many awards, including being on the list of the top 100 chefs in the world. What is the reason so many people appreciate your cooking style and your food?
I think people like it because of the unique flavors that I use in my cooking, but it is not only because of the food. It is also about the work that I do in my community and in my city. It is how I think food can change a nation and how it is the future. Cooking is about everything from producers and the ingredients.
It is really nice to win awards, but when you open up a restaurant, you have a responsibility. People expect something amazing when they come to your restaurant and that is challenging for a chef. Each and every day, I am challenged to be better and make my food better. This is what I think is exciting in the life of a chef.
Sustainability and quality ingredients mean a lot to you. Why is this so important to you and how do nuts and dried fruits play a role in creating a sustainable menu?
We are living in a constantly changing world and it is more than just saying you are sustainable. We have to understand the importance of the food we select in the markets, and ask ourselves if this is sustainable.
Brazil has a lot of dried fruits and nuts and it is a part of our lunch and dinner every day. In the restaurant we use a lot of nut-based drinks from almonds and Brazil nuts. The flavor is so incredible and you get more flavors, like acidity when you burn the Brazil nuts and you make the oil. It is a pure and incredible flavor and it is something that more and more people are doing. These ingredients will play a role in the future. Dried fruit can also provide an alternative way of adding sweetness to your food and I think this is the responsibility of the chef to include the best ingredients possible.
How are nuts and dried fruits used in your cooking style and in general, in Brazilian Cuisine?
Today, we use all of the nuts. We use a lot of the different nut oils like cashew and Brazil nut oils. As I said before, our restaurant incorporates many types of nut-based drinks and we love to because of the unique flavor they bring. They are not only used in the restaurants, but in the homes of many Brazilians.
What is one thing that you have learned that you would like to share with our readers?
We have to look more closely at the food we consume and we have to understand the entire process that goes on behind the food we eat. I also like to encourage people to not use recipes, but be creative and cook more at home. Our kids are the future and they need to be able to remember what grandma’s kitchen smelled like and have the experiences and memories of cooking.
Quick fire round (short questions with short answers)
- What is the best part of being a chef? The connection with the products and people.
- What is the next big gastronomical trend in the world? People will look more for healthy foods.
- What nuts and dried fruits do you always have in your kitchen? Almonds, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, and really, just about all of the nuts.
Want to try a taste of Manu? Have a go at her recipe and let us know how it goes using #ShareYourNutFruitPower Cauliflower, Passion Fruit and Peanuts