Sao Paulo is a multicultural city with more than 10 million residents. The diversity of its population is reflected in the 52 different cuisines of the world spread around the city’s 12,500 restaurants. This dynamic metropolis, with a strong taste for the modern, has been the stage for what has been labeled as new Brazilian cuisine. Alex Atala, chef and owner of D.O.M., has revolutionized the local culinary vocabulary to create a new kind of cuisine. Once he finished his studies in hospitality, the celebrated chef worked with J. P. Bruneau in Brussels and received an internship at the renowned Hotel de la Cote d’or. He would later take on new challenges in several kitchens in Montpellier and Milan.
Learning French and Italian haute cuisine, helped Atala to build the foundation to develop new techniques and flavor profiles. His early preference for European cuisine was the result of a fluke: when he was only 19 years old, he enrolled at the Hospitality School of Namur, in Belgium, to get the visa that would allow him to stay on European soil. It was there that he found his true professional calling.
Infused with knowledge from abroad, the young chef decided to break the traditional patterns of Brazilian catering. He quickly realized he could not change European cuisine, which was not his own, and concentrated his efforts on what he felt was possible: improving Brazilian cuisine. With this idea in mind, he began his career in Sao Paulo, where his work in the restaurants Filomena and 72 aroused the curiosity of many gourmands. But it was not only his talent in the kitchen that caught the attention of the press and the public, but also his unique profile: a young chef with a rebellious past and “rocker” aesthetics, part botanical, part historical, and a great vindicator of a sustainability policy for the Amazon region.
In 1995, after receiving high acclaim for his restaurant Namesa, the chef made public his interest in innovative Brazilian cuisine. By then he had become a mature chef with very clear ideas.
D.O.M. (acronym from the Latin Deo Optimo Maximo) aimed for the top since its inception in 1999. In fact, the restaurant’s name is a clear declaration of intent. This modern temple of the Sao Paulo society, which adores him, is a place where ritual and attitude are as important as the food itself.
The restaurant’s interior shows careful attention to every detail, the flash of the cameras never stops illuminating the place, and often the diners publish on social media photographs of the dishes they are about to taste. Each new presentation is followed by murmurs and exclamations, and the unseasoned ants on a small pineapple cube are undoubtedly the most talked about dish.
The offer is divided into two tasting menus consisting of four and eight dishes, which vary with the seasons. Atala advocates for creative and innovative cuisine. That is the case of the fettuccine carbonara, where the pasta is replaced by hearts of palm shaped like noodles; the breaded oysters with tapioca pearls and salmon roe have a texture that is gelatinous and crisp at the same time, and a gelatin of green tomatoes with edible flowers, micro herbs and seeds are examples of his creativity.
The Brazilian chef uses the natural bounty found in the forests of his immense and beautiful country, like herbs, fruits, flowers, and fresh fish from the Amazon, from which he extracts exotic flavors such as the açai, jambu, pripioca, tucupi, pupunha, baru and beldroega. The use of indigenous products has led to the characterization of his food as contemporary Amazonian cuisine. Also, worth mentioning is the use of oysters and wines from the south of the country, white corn and tapioca, and a new variety of black rice grown in the state of Sao Paulo.
Atala has received significant international recognition, his last awards only serve to broaden his legend: in 2013, D.O.M. appeared as the sixth best restaurant in the world in the prestigious list of S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the British magazine Restaurant, and in the last four years, the same publication has selected it as the best restaurant in South America. ■