Localism: it’s the food buzzword of the moment, used to describe a trend towards food produced locally and seasonally. The concept is on the minds of a number of SP chefs and restauranteurs, and is also epitomised by the Brazilian versions of Outstanding in the Field – alfresco banquets in bucolic settings that have gathered a cult following in the USA.
The banquets unite a hundred or so diners around a long table for meals that are created using produce sourced from within a few miles of the location, and cooked by notable chefs. In a radical departure from the bucolic bliss, São Paulo’s second edition – under the banner 'Gastronômade' – was hosted in the downtown heart of the city, in the Mercado Municipal, on 30 September 2012. In 2014, the event heads back to the rolling hills of São Paulo's countryside, with the boutique hotel Fazenda Catuçaba hosting Gastronômade on 22 March.
|Queijos Roni at the Mercado Municipal, supplying cheese for Gastronomade
But if the concept of using seasonal, locally produced ingredients in contemporary restaurant kitchens is a hot topic right now, it’s hardly a new one. It was the US chef Alice Waters who kick-started the locavore movement when she opened her trail-blazing bistro, Chez Panisse, in California, back in 1971.
Fast forward forty years, and René Redzepi, chef and founder of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma (voted best in the world for the third time running in 2012), uses entirely local produce in his mission to redefine Danish cuisine. Donning wellies and woolies, Redzepi heads for the forests and beaches near his restaurant to scavenge for interesting wild foods – an image of him, bearded and rugged on a windswept beach, even made the cover of Time magazine in March 2012, with the title ‘Locavore Hero’.
Gathering food in Brazil is a walk in the park compared to braving North Atlantic beaches. Weekends away in the São Paulo countryside can bear such bounty as bunches of bananas and bags of oranges, or fresh crab from the beach, hauled back to the city on Sunday nights.
Even here in the city, a spot of foraging isn’t out of the question: we’ve gathered mini avocados from a tree on Nove de Julho, not far from our office, and jabuticaba fruit near Parque Villa-Lobos.
A handful of restaurants in São Paulo are also making small steps towards reconnecting with the local terroir. Vivi Gonçalves, who opened her small restaurant Chef Vivi in 2011, sources most of her produce from in and around São Paulo. She works with small producers from fertile regions like the Vale do Paraíba, São Francisco Xavier and Salesópolis, as well as sourcing local fish from São Paulo’s wholesale market, CEAGESP.
‘It’s not easy,’ says Gonçalves. ‘The ideal is to develop a relationship with your suppliers, and that takes time and a lot of work.’ She sources seasonal and sometimes organic produce each day to put together a limited, daily-changing menu that will delight adventurous palates with its spontaneous approach.
|Brazilian sandperch with roasted tomatoes, at Chef Vivi
‘For me, food has to be full of flavour and nutrients. My menu is simple – it values ingredients and respects the seasons,’ she continues, though she says it’s hard to follow this philosophy to the letter. ‘We end up buying some imported products, like wines, olive oils and lamb from Uruguay.’
Another champion of local produce is Juliano Valese, the chef and owner of the tapas bar Torero Valese. His grilled scallops (vieiras frescas a la plancha) – a delicacy usually shipped to São Paulo frozen from Chile – come fresh from a small fishing village, Picinguaba, near the border with Rio, where local fishermen cultivate the shellfish in rafts.
Valese sources artisanal sausages, cured hams and black pudding even closer to home, from Angel Ribas of Pirineus Embutidos – a Catalan who uses local ingredients to make his Spanish-style delicacies in Jardim São Luis, in the south west of the city.
But the former chef at the stylish Emiliano hotel, Jose Barattino, is perhaps the city’s most vocal advocate of locally sourced and sustainable produce. His search for better local ingredients helped create a network of small organic producers throughout São Paulo state – now under the banner Familia Orgânica – who deliver fresh ingredients to the Emiliano restaurant, as well as to homes and businesses across the city.
We look forward to watching the trend sink ever deeper roots here in São Paulo, which is, after all, set in one of Brazil’s most fertile states. Locavorism: it’s not rocket science; but it might just be a delicious, locally grown rocket salad.
Chef Vivi is at Rua Girassol 833, Vila Madalena (11 3031 0079/ chefvivi.com.br). Read more on Chef Vivi
Emiliano is at Rua Oscar Freire 384, Jardim Paulista (11 3068 4393/ emiliano.com.br). Read more on the Emiliano restaurant
Torero Valese is at Avenida Horácio Láfer 638, Itaim Bibi (11 3168 7917/ torerovalese.com.br)
This feature was updated in July 2013, following chef José Barattino's departure from the Emiliano