At 14 years old, Helena Rizzo turned her back on an impending - and no doubt extremely successful - career as a model. There’s no question she had the looks, but when entertaining friends she discovered a connection and aptitude for food and cooking that simply couldn’t be ignored. As it turned out, the catwalk’s loss would be the international restaurant scene’s gain.
Now in her mid-30s with nearly 20 years of professional experience under her belt, Rizzo oversees the critically acclaimed São Paulo restaurant Mani with husband Daniel Redondo. In the city’s upscale Jardim Paulistano suburb, the restaurant, which opened in 2004, marries traditional Brazilian ingredients and culinary philosophies with modern technique and a dash of international influence. Unusually, the husband and wife team work side-by-side in the kitchen creating such delights as the eponymous maniocas (a Brazilian root vegetable similar to cassava) - which are baked and served with tucupi froth, coconut milk and white truffle olive oil.
The Brazilian-born cook’s ability to effortlessly reconcile a respect for tradition with contemporary techniques and evolution in cuisine is part raw talent and part experience. Since the very beginning of her career Rizzo has sought to work under chefs that share her broad culinary outlook: a journey that culminated at seminal Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca - currently rated number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list - where she met her Spanish-born future husband.
Her roots may now be planted in São Paulo but Rizzo sets a model example with her determination to push Brazil’s - and indeed Latin America’s - cuisine forward while staying true to the source material.
(Photographer Credit MIRO)