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Book Review: D.O.M: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients

Book Review: D.O.M: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients
DOM: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients by Alex Atala
Phaidon:
£35
 
World-renowned chef Alex Atala is on a mission to introduce the world to the strange ingredients of his homeland, with a little help from his new book. Chris Anderson meets the boy from Brazil.
 
A year before it hosts the FIFA World Cup, and three before the next Olympic Games, Brazil gets the spotlight for an entirely different reason next month. Chef Alex Atala launches his first ever English language book, DOM: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients.
 
There is a reason that this may attract more attention than the usual recipe collection, however, as Atala has toured the length of the country, visiting remote villages and cultures, and describing in detail 40 Brazilian ingredients, from the familiar, such as tapioca and local chillies, to the more unusual – if you ever needed a recipe for ‘ants and pineapple’, this is the book to acquaint yourself with.
 
But Atala has never been one for convention. After training in classical culinary techniques in France and Italy, he returned to Brazil in 1994, determined to highlight the country’s own food. His restaurant DOM opened in São Paulo in 1999 and is currently ranked No 6 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, with contemporary dishes featuring cambuca fruit, manioc root and tucupi juice, amongst other fare. “I take native Brazilian ingredients, not used widely in restaurant cooking, and heighten their taste using classical culinary techniques, like the palm heart fettuccine dish,” he reveals. “At the heart of my cooking is the staple mandioca [a white starchy tuber with a delicate taste], or the pirarucu – an Amazonian fish that weighs up to 300kg.”
His choice of ingredients certainly piques the interest, as has his mission to make them more known on the world stage – Time magazine featured Atala as the only chef in its annual list of the 100 world’s most influential people, although this is in part due to his role as an activist and campaigner, forming the ATÁ Institute to help develop sustainable farming methods, protecting the forest and its tribes. Flame-haired and heavily-tattooed, he seems like an unlikely candidate at first. “It all started when I found out that there isn’t any kind of edible mushroom in the whole country,” he says of his culinary quest. “So I hooked up with anthropologists and scientists here, who are trying to discover and classify new products, including foods from the Amazonian region.”
 
Foods which in time make it onto his menu – at DOM or his more recent opening from 2009, Dalva e Dito, which Atala says is a different concept, ‘focusing on Brazilian heritage food, such as rice and beans.’ It makes us wonder if there is one ingredient in particular that he has liked more than others. “One of my favourite discoveries is a fragrant Amazonian root called priprioca,” he reveals. “The natives here use it as a scent rather than food, and with help of a perfumer I developed an extract for both savoury and sweet dishes.”
 
So the ants were not a surprise, then? There is a whole chapter dedicated to them in the book, with their taste described as ‘lemongrass, with notes of cardamom and ginger.’ Atala even recounts trying a dish featuring them for the first time, intrigued, then quizzing the villager on which herbs she must have used, only for her to reply: “Son, there are only ants.”
 
Of course, edible maniwara ants may be something not easily found by the average wannabe chef outside of Brazil, but to recreate these dishes at home does not seem Atala’s intent. For anyone who has not yet visited his restaurants to experience some of these ingredients first-hand, it educates and informs, providing the discovery he was hoping for. As the man himself concludes: “It’s a link between the world of nature and the man-made cultural world.”
 
DOM: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients by Alex Atala
Phaidon:
£35
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19 August 2013
By: Chris Anderson
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