Chayote, bacuri, cumaru and priprioca: not heard of, let alone tried, any of these? You’re not alone. Most Brazilians, and 99.99 per cent of foreigners haven’t either. Which is what chef Alex Atala is hoping to change with his new book D.O.M. – Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, published internationally, in English, by Phaidon in September 2013, and in Portuguese by Editora Melhoramentos in November 2013.
It’s a thrilling immersion into Brazil’s larder of native ingredients – one that is amongst the most diverse in the world, with the country’s jungles, forests, mountains, rivers, coasts and vast expanses of backland. Each ingredient is the theme for a section – with over forty in total – starting with a personal account by Atala and followed by a handful of recipes, some of which feature on the menu at his highly acclaimed São Paulo restaurant D.O.M..
A weighty hardback, the book looks like it was carved straight from the forest, with a rough, woody cover and lime-green edging. Atala writes in an easy yet informative way, sharing memories from throughout his career, from his research trips to the North of Brazil and recalling the characters he has met along the way.
|Alex Atala (left), snapped round the camp fire
More importantly, perhaps, Atala shares his treatise on ingredients as a way to maintain local cultures and traditions, and to protect the land – something that he works towards through his ATA Institute (institutoata.org.br), which aims to create fair and sustainable supply chains for those ingredients.
Atala has got a long way still to go with this ambition, as readers will realise to their frustration when they dive into the book’s recipes. Of the sixty recipes, more than half feature ingredients that you won’t find in São Paulo’s wealth of supermarkets and delis. And only a handful – those using Brazil’s few successful exports, namely cachaça, Brazil nuts and tapioca – are doable abroad.
Some are one-liners – take the cube of pineapple topped with a lemon-grass-tasting saúva ant, for example. Others fill entire pages and involve the mastery of modern techniques like sous vide and foams, using the sorts of gadgets – Pacojet and Thermomix, for example – that you won’t find in most kitchen cupboards. Others open with instructions to pickle, infuse or cure for as many as 30 days. But then, nobody gets to be one of the top chefs in the world by keeping things simple.
Those not up for the recipe challenge will still find Atala to be a natural storyteller and a passionate advocate for his country’s cuisine; and his food – photographed in dramatic, sharp focus, with vibrant colours against black backgrounds – to be fascinating. So look, read, salivate and learn. And then book a trip to the North, or a table at D.O.M., to continue the culinary adventure.
'D.O.M. – Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients' is published by Phaidon (RRP £35; $49.95 US); and in Brazil by Editora Melhoramentos (R$149).