'Restaurants shouldn't flock to capital cities - sometimes they belong elsewhere'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Manoella Buffara is the chef and owner of Restaurant Manu, in Curichiba, South Brazil.

The winner of the World's 50 Best restaurant One to Watch award for South America in 2019, Manoella Buffara is a force of nature. 

The daughter of a farmer, Manu grew up in a little-known region in the Brazil, Paraná, surrounded by chickens and cows, eating fresh produce right from the source. 

On the importance of provenance

When she was fifteen, her family moved to the state capital, Curichiba, so that Manoella could pursue her education. 

Her mother's family, of Italian and Lebanese descent, were bound by the rituals of food and meals. 

"We were always involved in food - cooking, respecting ingredients, respecting the environment and nature and everything.

"You can read people's personality when they serve you food. You can see it on their plates - my grandfather always told us that." 

Aged 17, Manu went to the States, where she did an internship at a hotel in Seattle - first front of house, working her way up the ranks until one day the chef suggested that she try a shift in the kitchen. 

"I was like: 'no, no, no. You don't pay enough.' It was always about money, I was a teenager, you know. But he said he thought I would be really good in the kitchen so I caved." 

Not one to shy away from adventure, a year later, Manoella went to Alaska to work on fishing boats and eventually in a restaurant - "again, to make money," she laughed. Another year passed by and the young woman backpacked around, working in bars and in fast-food restaurants as she went. 

When she was 19, she returned home to Brazil, where, she said: "I told my mother: 'I want to be a cook' - but her mum, aware that it was considered a lowly position at that time, flat out refused. And so young Manu studied a hotel management course for two years, and headed to Europe to work at two Michelin-starred Da Vittorio, in Bergamo, Italy.  

In 2007, the chef applied for a stage at Noma, where she spent three months before returning home to Curichiba, where she managed a hotel for four years. 

Aged 26, she opened her own restaurant, Manu. From the start, the chef wanted it to be producer-led, and now works with approximately 70 small suppliers from in and around the city. 

"Six months before, I did a lot of expeditions around the city. That's why we have a lot of small producers - we have a guy that just produces Manioc flowers for us - they became the main suppliers for the restaurant." 

"Everything we use is from a 200km radius around it."

Oyster, palm heart and marrow

"The restaurant is made for the people here, for the producers and the people." 

Describing her food, Manu said, "it's my personality. It's the mood I'm in. It's about the soul. It's about the producers, nature." 

Being a short drive from both the ocean and the mountains, she said, puts the restaurant in a great position when it comes to produce. 

"Manu had to be here. Not in São Paulo. The restaurant is made for the people here, for the producers and the people." 

Though many customers at Manu are locals, many also come from afar. 

Everything they serve is an ode to the region: dishes like cauliflower with dry roe served with native passionfruit; barbecued fish served with fennel and fish head salsa. Seasonal vegetables feature heavily on the menu, as does fish and seafood. 

"South Brazil is a massive producer of fish and seafood. When people think about Brazil, they always think about meat." 

For Manu, the purpose of the restaurant is to tell the story of its roots, as well as sending a political message. She is a fervent advocate for environmental change, starting from within our food systems.

"It's about the importance of valuing the land where you began." 

"I think it's crucial for people to understand that the food systems that we are living in today. A lot of people don't care about what they're putting in their mouth. Chefs and clients don't care enough." 

"As chefs, we need to inform and educate. That's our job in the future and now. We need to help people to understand how to eat better." 

Additionally, the chef believes that it is her role to pass on what she knows about nutrition to people around her, from her children, her customers, her suppliers to further afield. Not so much about being overweight or not, it's about the quality of the food you're eating. 

Cured beef in hierba matte, sugar apple and coconut bacon

"If you don't want your kids to eat chocolate, don't eat chocolate either. Or eat good chocolate and buy good chocolate for them. Not the industrial one. Sometimes we need to make those changes ourselves." 

"Every restaurant in the world needs to care about that." 

Where should chefs start, you ask? 

"Maybe start with producers, thinking about what you buy for your restaurant. You can even teach producers how to eat better." 

The Brazilian government is also doing its bit to impart change, she explained, but as many other national entities, not as fast as she would like to see. 

"We have a lot of poor people here. TV and marketing is still impressive on a lot of people here." 

Despite this, Manu says she isn't worried. 

"It's due to change. It will change, but we need more people, more chefs, normal people to understand and think about public politics. I am not worried." 

Inside Manu


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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 24th February 2020

'Restaurants shouldn't flock to capital cities - sometimes they belong elsewhere'