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Chefs’ Choice Award 2014

sponsored by Gaggenau

Alex Atala, D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil

As a tireless champion of Brazilian food, Alex Atala has helped put his country’s cuisine on the gastronomic map in a way few would have believed possible as recently as a decade ago.

The club-DJ-turned-chef also plays the role of explorer and cultural ambassador by delving deep into the Amazon, aided by scientists and anthropologists, to discover lost ingredients and bring them to his dining room tables. To eat at D.O.M, his São Paulo restaurant, is to take a trip into the unknown, into a near-forgotten past – but one that has been brought kicking and screaming into the present.

Atala’s immersive cooking style, in which he displays an instinctive ability to bring unused Amazonian ingredients to life, is underpinned by a classical framework. The chef started cooking during a backpacking trip around Europe, working in kitchens in Belgium, France and Italy, where he learnt the techniques he still uses today. Yet it was during those travels that he also recognized an interesting fact - just as he wasn’t able to master each country’s cuisine to the same level as native chefs, they wouldn’t be able to cook Brazilian food as well as he could. Thus the desire to replicate the achievements of his tutors, but on his home soil, was born.

As with any adventure, it has taken courage and an unswerving passion to be realised. When Atala opened his restaurant in 1999 his sole ambition was for it to make money; only over time has the self-acclaimed ‘punk boy’ turned D.O.M. into the leading destination it is today. In turn, the chef has prompted legions of chefs to follow his lead and transform Brazil’s restaurant landscape.

As Atala himself says: “Not all misfits are doomed.”

"Atala delves deep into the Amazon to discover lost ingredients and bring them to his dining room tables."

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