My Brazilian Cookbook…
I am the product of a country rich in history with a deep gastronomical sense and sensibility. I come from a family made up of five generations of sugar cane and cattle farmers, a family filled with great cooks, from uncles and aunts, to cousins, and of course my father and my mother. My father was a true farmer, that was his life, with a great understanding of what that meant, a great knowledge of how to operate a sugar cane farm, how to maneuver a large cattle ranch, amazing butchering skills, and a great palate. I remember watching my father cook great Papa de Milho (Corn Custard) every season and break a whole animal into perfect parts, utilizing all of them for fantastic stews, braises, and his famous Churrasco at our house on the beach.
My mother, “the perfect picture of a Mom”, cooked amazing family meals daily, starting with her traditional avocado smoothie for my sisters and I before going to school, then great snacks when we got home, and finishing the day with a perfect dinner that always included desserts.
After growing up on the beach and loving ocean life, I set out for college with the intention of studying Marine Biology. But the smells and sights of great cooking, spending all of my young life around food, and living in a culture where food was a part of all gatherings and celebrations led my interests to cooking.
Where I come from, young men think about careers early on. Coming from a family of farmers and ranchers, this was in the cards for me. Apprenticeships were a standard for young men but becoming a chef wasn’t. In the early seventies a flock of French chefs began to arrive in Rio de Janeiro. They took over the kitchens of the finest hotels and Rio De Janeiro began to make a name for itself in the international destination scene. Great restaurants, bars, and places to gather started to spring up everywhere, and becoming a professional chef became a real possibility. Trade schools became a way for youngsters to get quick and specific training in the culinary arts, to be able to work right away and gain some much desired independence.
My first job in America was at a ranch in northern California, then as the regular dishwasher at Lucas Wharf Restaurant in Bodega Bay, where my life completely changed when I met the person who would become my culinary mentor, Chef Jaqques Arpi.
I moved from dishwasher to prep, from pantry to broiler to sauté stations, and finally became his trusted sous chef. I did it all, and felt like I was a real force on the crew, running a busy restaurant where anything less than two hundred covers was a slow day and that was invigorating. To be a good restaurant line cook, you really need to love it. It is a fast pace, loud, often merciless environment with a high turn-over and extremely high pressure. It was great. The day came when I was made Executive Chef and I remember it like it was yesterday. All of a sudden I was responsible for the staff, the money, the product, and everything else. I thrived in that situation and it became my life-long career and passion. Now I feel like I can provide a true life experience to the next generation of chefs.
During my early years of apprenticeship and the beginning of my career as a chef, my mother kept sending me her recipes and any other recipe she thought that I would like. I couldn’t use the recipes because I was cooking mostly French foods with Jacques and then Italian food after that, but I kept collecting. I built a good collection of material and books about my cultural cuisine and history, and when my Mom passed way I printed a small booklet of her recipes. I called it “Comidas Com Amor, Da Cozinha da Dona Gilda,” and I gave or sold it to anyone that was interested in Brazilian food. I just wanted everyone to know my Mom’s name, and what she meant to me a young cook in a foreign land trying to make it and compete as a chef.
After so many years working and running professional kitchens in restaurants, hotels, and catering companies, I found that teaching was going to be the next step. I took the position of Chef Instructor at The Prestigious California Culinary Academy, and later with more experience and more training and ability I joined what is considered by many the best culinary school in the country, The Culinary Institute of America. I learned that I was able to really help, coach, enlighten, inspire, and perhaps shape a young cook’s life, the way I felt mine was shaped by the people I came in contact with over the years.
The last twenty-five years I have devoted all my efforts and extra time to complete a deep study and research of my home country’s cuisine. It has been an amazing experience to learn so much and feel that I truly understand the beautiful cookery of Brazil. I have found many reasons why I cook the way I cook and some hidden aspects and influences from the Brazilian way of approaching cooking and product utilization. I am truly thankful to be able to experience Brazilian cooking and its culture of food the way I have done over the years. From a perspective of culinary experience and knowledge, I feel that it is the right time to talk about and share a little more of what I think is one of the great cuisines of the world. I hope you join me and enjoy this colorful and tasty ride.
– Chef Almir Da Fonseca
“Give me a little more time, it will be coming soon. Just adding some final touches.”