Meet Denise, the Brazilian culinary expert for 196 flavors.
Denise was born and raised in Brazil, where she worked for many years as a lawyer before immigrating to the United States in 2002. Subsequently, she has become a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, cooking instructor, recipe and menu developer, and food writer with special expertise in the cuisine of her native country.
Denise is also the author of From Brazil To You, one of the most successful English-language blogs dedicated to Brazilian cuisine. The blog features Brazilian food recipes, stories, and photography of Brazil. Her recipes have appeared in Food Network Canada, The Daily Meal, Parade, Country Living Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, and many other influential sites. She currently contributes to The Latin Kitchen, Honest Cooking Magazine, and Epicurious Community Table.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
I was born and raised in Brazil, where after working for many years as a successful lawyer, I met and married an American, and in 2002 immigrated to the United States. I grew up watching my maternal grandmother in the kitchen and sampling all of her goodies. Many decades have passed, yet I still can recall all of the magical aromas wafting from her kitchen, and have fond memories of sitting at her table almost every day for afternoon coffee time. I have always been a food fanatic, so when I left Brazil, I decided to pursue my passion. Years later, during the time that I lived in Northern California, I attended culinary school and became a chef. I currently live in Texas with my husband and children.
Tell us more about your knowledge and experience when it comes to Brazilian cuisine.
Immersed in the culinary traditions of my region of Northeast Brazil, I subsequently became a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef in the San Francisco Bay Area. I then worked for a while in the catering business, including at one of the most prestigious, Elegant Events Catering, in San Jose. Years later, I became a cooking instructor, recipe and menu developer, and food writer with special expertise in the cuisine of my native country.
In 2012, I started to write a blog, From Brazil To You, as a way to educate my own children, and also the general public, about Brazil, its food and culture. It has become one of the most successful English-language blogs dedicated to Brazilian cuisine. The blog features Brazilian food recipes, stories, and photography of Brazil. My recipes have appeared in Food Network Canada, The Daily Meal, Parade, Country Living Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Duke University, and many other influential sites. I also contribute to The Latin Kitchen, Honest Cooking Magazine, Epicurious Community Table, among other publications.
What makes Brazilian cuisine unique? What differentiates from another Latin cuisines?
Brazilian cuisine has at its root Portuguese, African, and Indigenous influences. The Portuguese cultural and culinary influence is unique to Brazil, and distinguishes it from other Latin cultures, most of which were influenced by Spain as the colonial power—this was further strengthened by the fact that Brazil was the only colony in the Americas where the ruling European monarch actually transferred the residence of the royal court to the New World. Also, Brazil’s immense size (by far the largest and most populous Latin American country) and varied terrain and climate has permitted the development of a number of diverse and rich regional cuisines. These vary from one region to the next based on which food ingredients are adapted to that region, and also according to which group had a predominant influence in that particular area. Yet even after the arrival of various immigrant groups such as Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Lebanese, and Japanese, among others, Brazilian cuisine has continued to absorb their influences while still preserving a sense of national and regional identity. Finally, Brazilian cuisine is unique for some of its distinctive native ingredients. The unique mix of cultures, native ingredients, and local customs are decisive factors that differentiate Brazilian cuisine from other Latin cuisines.
What is your favorite Brazilian recipe or the most unusual dish of your country?
Since I love food so much, it would be hard to pick just one as a favorite. I would rather say that I have a special interest in desserts, and enjoy several regional dishes, especially some from my Northeastern region that are made from vegetable roots and corn. My home country has many unusual dishes… from tapioca crepes and cornmeal couscous to maniçoba, a labor intensive stew made from manioc leaves that have been ground and boiled for a minimum of 4 to 7 days to remove hydrogen cyanide from its leaves, to which is added salted pork, dried meat, smoked sausage and bacon. Another unusual dish is duck in tucupi, duck boiled in a yellow broth extracted from fermented cassava and also Amazonian jambu herb.
What other cuisines do you like or influence your cuisine?
Although I enjoy dishes from many different cuisines, I would say that I am particularly a fan of Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, and Southern American cuisines. But the cuisine that has most influenced me after Brazilian is American cuisine. After living in the US for more than 13 years and trying to adapt Brazilian dishes to ingredients available here, I suppose it couldn’t be any other way.
Which place would you recommend to visit in Brazil?
Rio is the destination chosen by most international visitors. But the rest of the country is full of ”unknown” beauty that is waiting to be discovered by them. I would recommend Recife and Fernando de Noronha Island, both in Pernambuco state, as well as Salvador, Bahia. Fernando de Noronha is paradise on Earth and the other two cities are beautiful and have rich histories, culture, and amazing food.
What Brazilian chef is a reference for you?
There are many great chefs back there. But if I had to pick one, it would be Chef Alex Atala and his elevated Brazilian cuisine with a focus on exotic regional ingredients.
What are the main difficulties in Brazilian cuisine?
I would have to say the limited availability of certain native ingredients, particularly those used in indigenous native recipes, some of which are not even available in many areas of our own Brazilian national territory.
What would you suggest if you had to prepare a complete Brazilian menu: starter, main course, and dessert?
That’s a tough question! I would say it depends on which region or even which state you are located in or the ambience you would like to evoke. There are so many interesting ingredients and dishes down there, all awaiting to be experienced. But if I had to pick a dish for each course of a casual meal, it would be from my home state, Pernambuco. Casquinha de siri (stuffed crab in shells) as a starter, carne de sol com queijo de coalho (sun-cured beef topped with grilled coalho cheese) for the main course, and bolo de rolo with coconut ice cream (Brazilian guava Roll Cake, with its up to 16 thin layers).