A Passion for Brazilian Flare: The Success of D.O.M Restaurant

© D. O. M.
© D. O. M.
The award-winning D.O.M restaurant in Brazil has gained critical acclaim since its opening in 1999, featuring in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and considered the best restaurant in South America by The Acqua Panna. Its renowned chef Alex Atala, a former punk and DJ, showcases the best of Brazilian ingredients, creating contemporary haute cuisine. With these impressive factors, we investigate the D.O.M experience and the reasons behind its success.

Almost a hidden gem, located in Barão de Capanema Street in the neighbourhood of Jardins, São Paulo, D.O.M.’s stylish interior presents a contrasting decor that balances classic with modern design. The limited number of customers served daily (seating up to 50) and its private events area state the commitment to offer exclusivity and superlative comfort.

A popular destination for many (including big-name chefs from Alain Ducasse to Ferran Adrià), D.O.M. serves a tasting menu by pioneering chef Alex Atala that celebrates Brazilian flavours. Atala is renowned for his use of modern techniques with Brazilian ingredients, some less known to the general public. Previously predicted by chef Marcus Wareing that Brazilian food would become a major hit, Atala combines native know-how with modern flair to produce a unique culinary experience using rare fruits and herbs harvested from the rich rainforests.

Born in Brazil, Atala discovered cooking by accident. A young punk-rock fan raised in São Paulo, he went backpacking in Europe in the 1980s, where he worked in Belgium as a painter before deciding to do a cooking course to get a visa. To his surprise, he discovered an aptitude for the kitchen and found jobs in France and then Italy. However it was not until 1994, when he returned to Brazil for the birth of his son Pedro, that he realised his calling was Brazilian cuisine.

Now one of Brazil’s most famous chefs, he has been featured in TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world (2013). He is devoted to Brazilian cuisine and carefully researches the Amazon region, visiting the Amazon three times a year and working with anthropologists and others to better understand the local people and their culture before buying their produce. From this he has discovered standout ingredients such as rare edible flowers, heart of palms and the floral priprioca root, previously used only for perfume.

Chef Atala is well known for not using foie gras or truffle in his plates but instead uses traditional ingredients like manioc, heart of palm and pirarucu (a large freshwater fish), and employs European techniques learnt from his travels to create complex contemporary dishes. These include wonderful combinations such as mushrooms and Brazilian honey, and yogurt snow with green papaya. The tasting menu is the best way to get acquainted with the gastronomic experience proposed by D.O.M., which is impossible to be captured with one single dish.

Giving preference to ingredients grown by small farmers, riverside communities and regional producers, promoting local culture is something that is always present in this restaurant’s menu. Some of these dishes include black, red and mini rice supplied by the rice producer Chicão Ruzene, who works with special kinds of rice in Vale do Paraíba. Encouraged by his partnership with chef Alex Atala, Ruzene built a laboratory in his farm for the research of new varieties, discovering high quality products and giving an incentive to other farmers from that region. Another product used is Pupunha Palmetto, supplied by the company São Cassiano, whose farm is in Jaú, São Paulo. The increasing demand for edible flowers and sprouts from restaurants like D.O.M. has also stimulated their production. Nowadays these gems from DRO are sought by eateries throughout Brazil and other countries, such as Bolivia and Argentina. Last, but not least, ants are seen as a food tradition in some indigenous groups in the Amazon region, particularly among the Baniwas, and the use of ants as an ingredient has been deeply studied by chef Alex Atala, as well as other great chefs and food critics around the world.

With such passion for Brazilian ingredients, Chef Atala, together with the objectives of the D.O.M restaurant, has successfully brought local Brazilian cuisine and produce to the forefront of the international gastronomic scene. Refusing to stay in the comfort zone, Atala has rescued the most authentic flavours with a contemporary twist.

Recommended reading: Alex Atala’s first book in English titled, D.O.M. Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, out in September. View the book here.