Known both in Brazil and abroad as a tireless researcher in the cuisine of her country, chef Mara Salles has been commanding for more than 25 years one of the most awarded restaurants of Brazilian cuisine, Tordesilhas, in São Paulo.

Although the heart of its menu has always been the recovery of recipes that are typical of the various regions of the immense country, today these dishes are made with a more modern technical precision, and often also with an authorial intervention of the chef.

Its ingredients are first class, and its recipes, sometimes little known even among Brazilians, are appreciated in a warm atmosphere.


Mara, when did you open Tordesilhas?

I started to work as a cook in a small restaurant called Roça Nova en 1995, when I decided to quit my job as a secretary in a big bank. Then five years later I opened Tordesilhas with my mother Dega and my sister Zélia.


You grew up in the interior of São Paulo state. Until when did you live there?

I was born in the countryside, in the region of Penápolis city. I lived up to 11 years old on a farm, then went to the city of Penápolis where I stayed until I was 18 years old. Only then did I move to São Paulo, capital of the state, where I did a lot – I did theater, I was an executive secretary – before dedicating myself to gastronomy in the mid-1980s with my mother.



Did you have any training as a cook?

I started cooking inspired by my mother, who always cooked very well. I did not do any cooking school, but later I was invited to teach at the Faculty of Gastronomy because my experience in Brazil was very great. I have always been interested in popular and traditional cuisine. I was born in the countryside, I lived with that abundance, with the land, with the pig, the milk, the cheeses; all this gave me a very important basis: the most important lessons of gastronomy that I had were on the farm.


How was the restaurant at the beginning?

Our aim was to serve cuisine inspired by traditional Brazilian food and by a rich diversity of ingredients, what was not normal at that time, when the best restaurants in São Paulo used to serve French or Italian food.


Do you keep the same path today? How would you describe the food you serve now?

I offer a kind and warm Brazilian food, just like we eat at home, but with technology applied to it, in a welcoming atmosphere. My aim is to show a very hidden side of Brazilian cuisine and culture, aspects that are unknown by foreign customers and even Brazilians themselves.



Are there classical recipes from all over Brazil?

Yes, there are dishes from different regions of the Country, although mainly made with seafood products. Our fishes and seafood are fresh and our supplier does a very serious job of approaching and supporting sustainable fishing. So, as we work with very good fishes, the demand for them is great and therefore our meat offer is very restricted.


How do you manage to have ingredients from different parts of such a huge Country as Brazil?

A significant part of our vegetables are organic and produced at no more than 100km from São Paulo. More and more we are developing suppliers with whom we have a direct relationship, we have no link with brands of beverages or foods. We make research with good cachaças (Brazilian sugarcane spirit) and have an important offer of them. Plus, we have maybe the only “chili waiter” that I know, who is in charge to prepare all Brazilian chili preserves we pair with different type of foods.


Restaurante Tordesilhas


Can you mention some of the dishes that are representative of you work?

Caruru is an Afro-brazilian dish original from Candomblé ceremonies. It is prepared at Tordesilhas with fresh fish, organic okra, acaçá (a rice flan), and manioc flour in dendê (palm) oil, and served in a bowl with a design that resembles the recipients used in Candomblé offerings.

Risoto Mulato, with pork ribs and collard greens, is inspired by feijoada, whose sauce gives the risoto the flavor and color of feijoada.

Fruteira is a dessert made exclusively with a mix of native Brazilian fruits of the season.


Thanks a lot, Mara!


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Chef Mara shares this mouth-watering recipe: BARREADO / for 20 people. Take a look at the complete recipe!

Brazil, Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 2017: Opening of the sealed clay pot of tradicional “Barreado” – dish” after 14 hours of cooking in Restaurant Tordesilhas. – Werner Rudhart VISUM