When a restaurant in Italy paid young apprentice chef Manoella Buffara not with money but with books and magazines, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Brazilian cook, affectionately called Manu, discovered a little-known restaurant by the name of Noma on the pages of a magazine and quickly wrote to its chef, René Redzepi, asking for a stage. The year was 2006 and the restaurant that went on to top The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list four times would also inspire a small restaurant built on foraging in the south of Brazil: Manu.
Before she opened Manu in Curitiba in 2012, Buffara would go on to complete several more stages at Noma and Alinea in Chicago as well as working in Italy and Alaska to expand her culinary repertoire beyond her native Brazil. With her level of international experience, she could easily have set up in the gastronomic hubs of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but she never had designs beyond her home state of Paraná. To Buffara, the southern states of Brazil are a little like Scandinavia a decade or so ago – full of hidden potential in the form of unexplored native produce and a rich larder spanning Atlantic forest, countryside and the South Atlantic Ocean.
But Buffara’s love of food and cooking goes back way beyond Noma. As the daughter of a farmer father and the granddaughter of a Lebanese man and his Italian wife, she grew up with a big appetite and exposure to a variety of different, exotic foods. Her grandfather instilled in her that she must sit at the table and use her hands to eat, which is something she now passes onto her two young daughters.
One of Buffara’s biggest learnings from her grandmother was the art of fermentation, which she now employs at the restaurant with a full drinks programme. She learnt to make her own beverages at home as a child, including kombucha and other fermentation techniques using sugar, milk and tea. She learnt about vegetables from René Redzepi and now serves a vegetable-focused menu alongside meats such as lamb, which is abundant in the region, and local fish.
The result of these varied global influences is Manu, a 20-seat restaurant serving a cuisine built from a chain of 35 local producers. Over a tasting menu of around 11 courses, plus snacks, Buffara serves elegant, intricate dishes such as a corn macaron with black onion; lamb, seaweed and custard apple; and lettuce with pork fat. Each dish is paired with a beverage such as fermented tea, organic wine or melon nectar.
Beyond the plate, Buffara is committed to a variety of environmental causes, such as waste reduction and sustainability. She is involved in a project to implement beehives throughout her city and is educating locals on how to turn waste into food. As Buffara uses her voice to push for change through gastronomy, Manu in turn is helping to put Curitiba on the global culinary map, showing it as the home of plentiful produce and original cuisine.
Alameda Dom Pedro II, 317
+55 41 3044-4395
Go inside Manu with chef Manoella Buffara:
Now read the interview with the chef on the 50 Best blog.
The Miele One To Watch Award celebrates a restaurant that is likely to enter the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in future years. The winner is chosen by the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants organisation from a list of restaurants outside the list that have received votes in the most recent round of voting.
Buffara will pick up the Miele One To Watch Award 2018 for Manu at the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in Bogotá on Tuesday 30th October.