Alex Atala's Indigenous Delicacies

Inside the Kitchens of Brazil's Leading Chef and Amazon Explorer

There are two phases in Brazilian gastronomy—before and after Alex Atala. At 18 this ex-punk-DJ began an adventure that would not only change his life, but also the face of Brazilian cuisine. He traveled to Europe to learn with master chefs such as Bernard Loiseau and returned home to begin a revolution. His restaurant D.O.M. (an acronym for a Latin phrase meaning “God, the best and greatest”) is now 18th on the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list; in 2009 he opened a second restaurant in Sao Paolo, Dalva e Dito. But outside of the kitchen it is his work with the sociologist and Brazilian food expert Carlos Alberto Dória, which has resulted in a book, that Atala is most passionate about. “I work with indigenous communities in the Amazon, and with small producers and anthropologists to extend my research and to improve the availability of native products around the country,” says Atala. He has discovered and introduced unknown ingredients onto his menu, like priprioca, an Amazonian grass with aromatic roots previously used in the cosmetic industry; Atala started adding it to dishes, such as his signature dessert: banana lime ravioli with Priprioca caramel. Atala also discovered a variety of wild palm heart adaptable to sustainable farming methods, and he is on the hunt for Brazil's first edible mushroom. "There is a strong bond between nature and culture, and the kitchen is the perfect stage for this association,” the chef explains. “We don’t cook only to satisfy physical hunger or to entertain our guests. The kitchen can also be used as a tool for social responsibility and conservation.”

Get the recipe for Atala's trademark fettuccine—by way of Brazil—here.

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