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An Open Letter to the Chef at Le Gray: Bringing Love from France...
On the occasion of the Brazilian Gastronomy Festival organized at Hotel Le Gray, Chef Paulo Machado and chef Erik Nakonechnyj were invited to Lebanon to share three nights of Brazilian culinary wonders. Before dinner I had the chance to meet with the chefs and ask some questions about the Brazilian cuisine and its origins. Of course I got a preview of the dinner they have prepared that night...
Chef Paulo Machado went to law school in São Paolo where he started cooking for himself during university days. It was never planned to have a career change or to be a professional cook until, in 2006, Paolo left his country to undergo some serious training at the Paul Bocus cooking School in France. After working with many renowned chefs like the famous Martín Berasategui, Paolo went back to Brazil working at the center of research on Brazilian food. in 2010, invited by the embassy of Brazil in Kenya for a cooking presentation, the idea was appreciated by many and here started a journey to introduce Brazilian cuisine to the world, Lebanon being the 12th country they visit since. “It’s very hard to find Brazilian food outside of our country, this is why we bring with us on average more than 100kgs of goods every time we travel,” Paolo explained.
Erik Nakonechnyj, who is second in command, fell in love with Lebanon the minute he set foot in it. He talks about food with such passion and emotions. I didn’t want my chat with him to end... Erik has been a professional chef for the last eight years. He graduated in the advertising field and never thought that the day would come where he would be a culinary ambassador for his country.
The two met in 2006, while Erik was completing intensive courses at Paul Bocus in Lyon. They became friends and colleagues. In 2010, Erik opened his restaurant, a premiere where he decided to serve Italian cuisine using Brazilian elements. Today, Erik is proud to showcase gastronomic Brazilian food around the world.
During their stay in Beirut, the two chefs went to Ksara, Anjar, Baalbek and Zahle to explore feeling the taste of Lebanon. “Let us clarify something,” the chefs tell me. "Brazilian food is not only about beef and black beans. Brazilian food is much more than that offering a large variety of rich ingredients and exotic mixes. And since it's not popular all around he world we make sure to send the hotel or restaurant a list of ingredients and the menu to check what is available on premises and then get the local chefs to get more acquainted with the ingredients and then cook together to prepare for the event."
The main specialities of Brazilian cuisine:
- Cassava: A local starch is a typical native carbohydrate that’s gluten free
- Pao de Queijo is a variety of small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls, a popular snack and breakfast food in Brazil. Cheese buns are distinctive not only because they are made of cassava or corn flour, but also because the inside is chewy and moist.
- Feijoada is a stew of beans with beef, which is a typical Portuguese dish. The basic ingredients of feijoada are beans with fresh pork or beef. This stew is best prepared over low fire in a thick clay pot. The final dish has the beans and meat pieces barely covered by a dark purplish-brown broth. The taste is strong, moderately salty but not spicy, dominated by the flavors of black bean and meat stew.
While enjoying some drinks at the cigar lounge, chef Paolo offered me some specialty food he brought with him from Brazil:
- Tapioquinha Amazonian granola. Tastes like rice cakes. Gluten free. Healthy. Comes from cassava.
- Jaboticaba: black. Juicy fruit, left with its Skin. Looks like current. Crunchy seed. Strong tenant
- Hibiscus: A plant, yes a plant cooked with sugar. An interesting strong sweet and sour taste. A beautiful red flower that's edible.
- Carambola (star fruit) confit: Crunchy constancy. Sweet.
Now was dinner time up at Indigo on the roof. Some things I was happy to learn...
- Dinner is gluten free except a small part of dessert: the sponge cake
- The menu is a tasting from different regions of Brazil
- Chefs loved cooking with the staff at Le Gray which were all open minded
- Almost all Brazilian dished contain Garlic and Onions. I was happy to have a special version prepared for me without those ingredients
- Cassava, Pao de Queijo or Feijoada... I was happy to add some interesting flavors to my portfolio of knowhow
We arrived at 9pm, welcomed with a Brazilian drink "Cachaça". Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. Also known as aguardente, pinga, caninha or other names, it is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Cachaça mixed with lemon and lime having a slightly sour flavor.
Setup tonight was beautiful as always. Dimmed lighting, round and square tables, full set of cutlery, candles and the famous decorative flowers Indigo has been known for since their opening. We were lucky to have a table facing the kitchen where I could see all the chefs at work, along side the Brazilian chefs. Fine wines were pouring, jazz music was playing in the background and we were ready to enjoy a Brazilian dinner.
An interesting approach towards exotic food... The two Brazilian chefs worked alongside local team on introducing some street food from the different regions of Brazil...every dish include rich ingredients, spices and a lot of passion. An interesting mix of different textures combined beautifully in a fine dinning manner. A premiere in Lebanon.
During dinner, chef Paolo distributed colorful wish bracelets to all, tying them around our wrists: Brazilian Wish Ribbons or “Fitas do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia,” as they are known in Brazil, are worn as a fashion accessory as well as a good luck charm. All you need to do is tie the ribbon around your wrist with 3 knots. Make a wish for each of the 3 knots you tie. Once the Wish Ribbon wears out and falls off your wrist on its own, it is believed that your 3 wishes will come true.
On the menu: Mise en bouche:
- Caldinho de feijão: Black beans soup win cassava flour. Strong beans flavor soup served warm and Tapioca, which gives a crunchy endnote. Like the traditions impose, the soup is drank straight from the cup so don't ask for a spoon
- Pão de cumbaru: Bread made with special nuts from Brazilian Cerrado
- Pão de queijo: Round bread filled with yellow cheese, slight chewiness and enjoyment combined
- Biscoito de polvilho
- Escondidinho de bacalhau: Codfish, Cassava and cheese pot pie
- Casquinha de siri: Crab shells with ginger, peanuts, chili and coriander
- Bobó de Camarão “Typical Afro-Brazilian specialty” (Grilled Andaman praws in Dendê oil, coconut milk and manioc cream, Acaçá and Farofa
- Moqueca capixaba de peixe e farofa de banana da terra: Typical southeastern fish stew with flour-toasted banana
- Carne de sol com molho de melado e pimento biquinho e pirão de queijo coalho: Sundried beef tenderloin with molasses sauce. Coalho cheese-chili purée
- Pato no tucupi com jambu e farina d’água: Amazonian leg of duck in wild manioc fermented juice. Jambu herb and manioc flour
- Tasting of Brazilian delicacies: Brigadeiro, Quindim e Bolo de Rolo Romeu e Julieta, Pé de moleque de castanhas brasileiras: Creamy chocolate and condensed milk fudge, egg yolk and coconut pudding, guava sponge roll and Brazilian nuts brittle
This was my first encounter with a full-fledged Brazilian cuisine. Thanks to Erik and Paolo. This tasty experience has made me want to visit Brazil and its rich street food. So, let's all hope they come back again next year for more intimate encounters with Brazilian food... Or I might just go visit them there one day...