Daniela Martins – Restaurant Lá em Casa, Belém – the cuisine of the Amazon
Among the many cuisines found in Brazil, the cuisine of the Amazon is the one that most retained the oldest traits derived from the indigenous populations of the Amazonian forest before the arrival of the European settlers.
Restaurant Lá em Casa, in the city of Belém, capital of the state of Pará, is a pioneer in the preservation of this cuisine, as well as in the dissemination, in Brazil and abroad, of this gastronomic culture based on a multitude of rich local products.
Today the kitchen of the restaurant is in the hands of the chef Daniela Martins, daughter of the deceased founder of the house.
Daniela Martins – Chef’s Portrait
photos credit by João Ramid
Daniela, what is the main goal of your restaurant?
Is to serve traditional Amazonian dishes and to surprise the customers with these unique and delicious flavors.
How long have you been doing this?
The restaurant was created in 1972 by my grandmother Anna Maria Martins and my father, chef Paulo Martins, who passed away in 2010, and became recognized as the Ambassador of Amazonian Culinary, due to his work of valorization and disclosure of the ingredients and techniques of the kitchen of our state.
And it’s still a family-run restaurant?
Yes, after he left us, his family has been in charge of the business –my mother Tania, my sister Joanna Martins and me. We are proud that since the opening of the restaurant we strive to maintain the same quality of our food, valuing and promoting the rich and special Amazonian cuisine.
Was it much difficult to move from an ancient house to a big touristic space like these former docks in front of Belém’s bay?
Not difficult, but the change forced us to rethink some processes and some dishes, because in the Docas, the internal structure is very small so we need to have an external production kitchen to perform some pre-preparation and we had to make some small adjustments on the menu. But I believe the venue compensates for any adjustments that had to be made.
Did this change influence your cuisine? Did it change at all – some recipes, the menu, the way it’s served?
The change has hamped a constant change of menu, so we chose to assume the traditional Paraense cuisine style, being that place that serves the traditional dishes of our kitchen, leaving the creation of complex or more creative dishes for special moments and events.
How do you see your role as chef and restaurateur working inside the Amazon, a symbol of menaced earth’s nature?
I believe that any Amazonian chef needs to be aware that his work is very special, since he has the possibility of working with a gigantic sociobiodiversity and this requires a great deal of research and knowledge. In addition, when valuing the ingredients that come from the forest and all the culture allied to them, we are giving value to biodiversity and possibly so, avoiding it to be destroyed. And the cook has the role of presenting, in the form of food, a good part of this diversity, to the Amazonian, the Brazilian and the World. When we decided to focus on traditional cooking, this did not stop us from launching novelty, because there is so much ingredient and traditional food culture that even doing what many have already done for hundreds of years, with the research we do, we can always present dishes and ingredients that people often did not know anymore.
Do you feel that Amazonian cuisine is in risk, due to the pressure of the big businesses towards the forest?
This risk always exists, because the strength of the big companies towards the forest is always great, but I believe that in the last 20 years we have had a very strong regional cuisine and that serves as an inspiration for local, national and even international chefs, so with that, this risk is reducing. However, now the political situation in Brazil worries us a lot because the prospects for the near future are not good.
How do you keep an environmental and sustainable attitude in the restaurant life?
We work sourcing ingredients and beverages that reflect their local region and character, sourcing native meats and plants, supporting local and small-scale producers, working with local community and organizations. Our suppliers are, for the most part, small agricultural producers or extractive communities, who live in harmony with the natural environment. Olus, all our river fishes are unfarmed products.
Can you tell some of your representative dishes?
Pato no tucupi (duck in tucupi sauce): a roasted duck boiled in tucupi sauce (made out of cassava roots), jambu leaves (Brazilian herb), served with rice and “farinha d’água” (special kind of flour from Para, made of cassava).
[Chef Daniela shares her recipe for Duck in Tucupi Sauce. Take a look at this delicious recipe!]
Maniçoba: cassava leaves (called maniva) milled and boiled with smoked cuts of pork (loin, sausages, ear, rib, trotters and tail). It’s served with rice and “farinha d’água” (special kind of flour from Pará state, made of cassava).
Filhote “Pai D’Égua”: Filhote (fish from Pará) sliced and grilled on a hot plate over a layer of fresh Brazilian nut sauce, and jambu (Amazonian herb) rice.
Is there any technique that is typical of the region that you use in your kitchen? Could you mention it?
Yes, we have several, and may mention the proper techniques to treat river fish, both pre-preparation and cooking that changes according to the species, as well as cassava fermentation techniques. Also, the preparation of fish and seafood in the ember with specific leaves, or the preparation of the duck in the tucupi that involves roasting and cooking to soften the normally hard meat of the duck — as you can see in the following recipe.
Thanks, Daniela! That was really interesting!
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