Brazilian Tradition and Progression with Rodrigo Oliveira

To earn a place on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list is an incredible achievement. To have two restaurants on the list is nothing short of amazing. At Mocotó in Sau Paulo , Chef Rodrigo Oliveira continues the traditional Brazilian cuisine made so famous his father Seu Zé Almeida, refining it ever so slightly. The restaurant earned a spot on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list every year since its inception in 2013 and placed #27 this year. Itching to expand creatively, Chef Oliveira opened his second restaurant in 2013, Esquina Mocoto, serving Innovative Brazilian cuisine, which arrived at the #41 spot for 2017. Aspire Lifestyles is excited to learn that Chef Oliveira will expand to Los Angeles in 2018, his first restaurant outside of Brazil.

Chef Oliveira took time to discuss his restaurants, and the dining scene in his home of Brazil, with Aspire Lifestyles’ Director of Dining Ann Hill.

Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurants?

Chef Oliveira: Brazilian cuisine is diverse, festive, colourful, healthy and delicious. I would love to show the world that we are more than just beautiful beaches and Carnaval. We are creating a new Brazilian cuisine and now is the moment to discover and present new products, techniques and even a new language. Brazilian chefs nowadays are focused on excellence and innovation. They are reconnecting with tradition and facing new challenges in that area. My feeling is that it’s a process we’re only just beginning.

Aspire Lifestyles: You have made the astonishing achievement of two restaurants on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Your father must be proud that you are continuing his legacy.

Chef Oliveira: It was a big surprise to have two restaurants on the list. Mocotó, being more traditional and typical, has always attracted more attention in terms of the list. To our surprise, the Brazilianness of Esquina Mocotó was also noted and the two places were honoured with a place on the list. Mocotó even went up one place, whereas we were thinking that with two restaurants on the list, the votes would be divided and Mocotó would fall. We’re very happy.

Aspire Lifestyles: That being said, what are your favorite aspects of each restaurant?

Chef Oliveira: What I love about both restaurants is the inclusiveness, the fact that with good food in a good and welcoming environment can be for everyone, it doesn’t need to be exclusive. Mocotó is my home, the history of my family and our land and it has overcome a lot of prejudice and barriers. We serve a type of food that for a long time was looked down on. Esquina is the result of its surroundings, with more freedom of expression, a cuisine of São Paulo. They are two different expressions of Brazilianness.

Aspire Lifestyles: When friends come to town, where do you take them, both to dine and to get an insider view of Sao Paulo?

Chef Oliveira: There are a few places close to Mocotó that I love, so whenever I get the opportunity, I take people to the following:

Bar do Luis Fernandes – the best bar snacks and beers in the city, this place is considered an institution and it is closely run by the Fernandes family.

Sushi Hiroshi – Julio Hiroshi is a great chef who makes the classics of Japanese cuisine as well as some of his own creations in an informal setting that’s full of personality.

Casa Garabed – Armenian food run by the same family for more than 60 years, in a converted garage. You must try the esfihas (or sfihas, a pie-like dish originating from the Levant) and pastirma.

Chef Oliveira: To see the city from a different perspective, I recommend the Cantareira State Park. Apart from the contact with nature, you also get an impressive view of São Paulo.

Aspire Lifestyles: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country)? Why?

Chef Oliveira: Los Angeles. It was a recent discovery and a surprise because I found an extraordinary quality of restaurants there. I’m still really impressed and every time I go, I discover something incredible. The street food is excellent and could be something from a restaurant. There are also places like Republique that serve chef-led food full of soul and roots. Aside from the restaurants, there are markets and quality products, making it a really attractive and fun place for chefs.

Aspire Lifestyles: You get to take 5 chefs to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?

Chef Oliveira: It would have to be Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, Alex Atala, Gabrielle Hamilton, Alice Waters and Julien Mercier. They are all incredible in their professions and excellent company. I would take them to a restaurant in Brazil, my homeland, and it would be Tordesilhas. It has the best feijoada (a Brazilian meat stew) in the country and some great cachaças – Brazil at its best.

Aspire Lifestyles: How has your placement on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?

Chef Oliveira: Beyond the placement on the list and all the press that comes with that achievement, what has touched us profoundly is the connection with the rest of Latin America. For a long time, Brazil saw itself as a little detached from the Latin world and this list has helped us connect with great chefs and kitchens that for a long time were not a reference for our work in Brazil. Today we can see and we can prove that we have more in common than we have differences, despite the language barrier. Today, we recognise ourselves as Latinos and this award is a great bonus.