The Macallan Icon Award 2021

The Macallan Icon Award 2021

Rodrigo Oliveira and Adriana Salay

São Paulo, Brazil

The Brazilian couple marrying gastronomy and community

To understand the impact of Rodrigo Oliveira and Adriana Salay’s social initiatives, it is necessary first to understand the values behind Mocotó, the restaurant that began almost 50 years ago with chef Oliveira’s father, Seu Zé. Known for hearty comfort foods like the namesake cow’s foot soup, Mocotó serves the food of the Sertão, the impoverished backlands region in Brazil’s northeast where Seu Zé was born. It has appeared in every edition of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and achieved global recognition, but the restaurant remains firmly rooted in its own neighbourhood on the outskirts of São Paulo, where it serves to nourish the community.

It was that same community that Mocotó turned towards when the global pandemic first hit in early 2020. Seeing that the Covid-19 crisis was exacerbating already high levels of poverty in the working-class neighbourhood of Vila Medeiros where the restaurant is located, Oliveira and his wife set up Quebrada Alimentada, an initiative serving nutritious daily lunchboxes and monthly food baskets to those in need. Now 20 months on, they continue serving hot meals to 100 people a day as well as 400 monthly crates of staple foods like rice, beans and organic vegetables. Though demand remains high, they plan to eventually stop what was meant as an emergency measure and are working on ways to educate the community and provide them with skills that will lead to employment.

Quebrada Alimentada is just one example of the natural generosity and inclination to help that both Oliveira and Salay have in spades. A teacher, historian and activist who handles Mocotó’s communications, Salay has delved deep into Brazil’s poverty and hunger problems as part of her PhD programme. She met Oliveira some years ago when she enrolled in a course at the restaurant and fell in love with his vision for greater equality. The couple now have two children together.

At the core of Mocotó is the principle of inclusivity and the idea that everyone should be able to eat delicious food, regardless of socioeconomic background. With no tasting menu and an à la carte serving signatures such as tapioca dice and pork crackling bites, the restaurant is at once completely unpretentious and an icon of São Paulo’s gastronomic scene – one that serves the simplest of regional cuisines that both nourishes and delights everyone from local residents to international diners. The idea that everyone has the right to eat delicious food with dignity is one that has seamlessly extended to their social projects, making Rodrigo Oliveira and Adriana Salay natural winners of The Macallan Icon Award 2021.

Read the article about Rodrigo Oliveira and Adriana Salay and watch the video: 

The Macallan Icon Award celebrates an individual whose work is effecting long-lasting change in the industry. Four individuals were shortlisted for the prize, with Oliveira and Salay proclaimed the winners on 4th November 2021. The other shortlisted candidates were:

- Leandro Cristóbal – Café San Juan, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Norma Listman and Saqib Keval – Masala y Maíz, Mexico City, Mexico
- Rafael Rincón – Comida Para Todos Chile and Fundación Gastronomía Social, Chile

In 2021, due to restaurant closures caused by the pandemic, no vote was held for Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Instead, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants is holding a special ‘Pasado y Futuro’ edition to be unveiled on 22nd November, recognising the top 100 restaurants of the last eight years of the list, and a series of individual and special awards that celebrate emerging talent.


Previous Winners

Discover more about the previous award winners

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