Manoella Buffara is a top chef of the new generation of Brazilian High Gastronomy. Her restaurant o Manu won the One to Watch Award for Latin America’s 50 best restaurants 2018, promoted by The UK publication Restaurant Magazine. The prize means that, according to the outlet, her restaurant was considered the most promising one in the whole Latin America in the last season. In 2012 (the restaurant’s first year) she was awarded Best New Chef by Guia Quatro Rodas, a Brazilian Publication.
Manu is the 34-year-old mother of Helena (4yo) and Maria (2yo), holds degrees in journalism and hotel business and has travelled the world to work as an apprentice in some of the most popular restaurants. She’s been to Chicago, Alaska, Italy and Denmark, where she had the opportunity to work with legendary chef René Redzepi, the head chef of Noma, listed five times as the best in the world. In Copenhagen she learned techniques and reinforced the work philosophy she would embrace: value the local production and the small producer and also respect the seasons and flavors of nature – concepts linked with the central idea of circular economy.
She was born in Maringá, west of Paraná, and raised in her father’s farm, where she developed a big appetite towards the land and the connection with ingredients that feed us – especially those abundant in the Atlantic rainforest. The basic elements of her recipes, used in food tastings in a 20-cover-menu serving, come from a chain of 35 local producers, who apply responsible initiatives in plantations in their urban communities or from small farms in the countryside or the coast of the state.
Her mission, she says, is “to educate people through what we eat” and “to defend high-quality food, diversity and local producers”. In an exclusive interview with Bluevision, Manu talks about her work with farmers, her way to educate using food and her vision about how it is possible to produce in integration with nature.
Bluevision: Tell us about your journey since Maringá, your first contact with gastronomy, and your gastronomy education until opening Manu.
Manoella Buffara: I took part in a student exchange program in a ski resort in Seattle and I needed to work. I was supposed to clean snow, but since there was no snow that year, I had to find something else and took an opportunity from a hotel, where I started serving tables and ended up working in the kitchen, which I loved. When I got back to Brazil, even though I was young, I already knew I wanted to turn that into a career. I took the Hotel business course along with the Journalism course and searched for opportunities outside Brazil. I managed to go to Italy, then Denmark and did internships in several restaurants worldwide. When I returned, 12 years ago, I started giving classes and, as soon as I had the chance, I started the Manu Project and made it what it is today.
Bluevision: When did the philosophy that guides the Manu Project start getting its shape: To value local ingredients and small producers and not to follow consolidated formulas?
MB: I was raised this way since I can remember. My father is a farmer and my grandfather was a fisherman in Paranaguá; in other words, I’ve always had close contact with people who deal with farming. My father, for example, always made a point of being near the gardens, and I loved it too. In Manu, I decided to do something I believed in, dedicated to a greater good and thinking towards the future.
We need to understand that we don’t cook just to fill stomachs. There’s a whole sequence of events which involves more than buying food, but also educating the producer and developing with them more intelligent ways to produce. My concept has always been: products with less transportation, less pollution and generating income to the local community, a more organic result.
Bluevision: How does this idea of valuation of product and local producer work?
MB: My partner Andrey Lucas and I work with community gardens and use in our menu the products we serve everyday in the restaurant. I plant the ingredients, have my own seeds and coordinate my producers to plant for me. In these community gardens, they produce for their own use and benefit, and also sell a part to the restaurant. It’s a joint effort with them, which is more organic, and the menu is set according to Mother Nature. We study the weather, the climate and the rain period to be prepared and to know what food will be available to plan the meals and recipes we can create.
Bluevision: Give us an example of how this relationship with producers works.
MB: The most evident case occurs with Nininho (fisherman and farmer who lives in an island three hours away by boat from Paranaguá). He finds different products and shows them to me. Therefore, we use elements such as açaí, jussara, manacabiu, and tomatilho, among other things he finds in the forest. We also need to teach the producer to be more concerned with the soil, the environment and the business. Once we have transmitted the idea, it ends up progressing, bringing more knowledge to the products and creating a friendship and work chain. The most important is this: teaching people how to eat better, learning about the product and generating income.
Bluevision: You use the phrase “educate people through what they eat” as a mission. What does it mean?
MB: I believe that stress and bad eating habits are the cause of many illnesses. We need to stop to eat, live the moment we eat, be happy at the table, not talk about negative things, and be concerned with what we put in our mouths. Education in the kitchen is a way to introduce new flavors, new products and ways to cook for Brazilian families. In our work with the community gardens in Curitiba, I also give lectures that more than 200 families attend.
Bluevision: How do you believe that high gastronomy can be presented as a means to produce in a more sustainable way?
MB: When you receive awards, you win, but people also start listening to you. We need to leave a message; it’s not just about the glamour. When you are given this voice as a chef, it’s nice to be able to pass information, and this has helped to change people. Over the last five years, we have noticed that people are more conscious with their eating habits, more people are buying from fairs and open markets, and becoming more aware consumers for themselves and as a whole.
Bluevision: In conclusion, you are regarded as a great chef and with a high potential to be an international name. How do you intend to project your work to foster a sustainable model and a typically Brazilian gastronomic culture?
MB: We need to intensify this culture, walk hand in hand and bring a message: We need to be responsible for our waste, teach our children to have better eating habits; we need to know where our food comes from and who produces it. This needs to be valued. We need to understand that it takes time for a product to grow, that there’s human labor involved, that it waited for the rain and the drought to be ready for them to eat. Becoming aware of all of this helps us think before wasting. Gastronomy has to be regarded as a circle and we need to make ends meet.
Content published in March 11, 2019