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Roots to Revolution

Miele is proud to announce the winner for 2018 Miele One To Watch Latin America: Restaurante Manu in Curitiba, Brasil.

The progressive chef – whose talent first captured the attention of Alex Atala of D.O.M (Number 30 on the 2018 World’s Best list) – is often seen as an icon for a new wave in the evolution of Brazilian cuisine. At the core of what she does, however, are her traditional family values, passed down through decades.

Her refined, modernist creations hint of her extensive experience of working at some of the world’s leading restaurants, including Alinea and Noma. Yet it was family that taught Manoella Buffara all about food.

“I believe that my influences are made and were being developed in my life, through my roots, family and culture,” says Manu, as she is commonly known. “My grandmother influenced me a lot because of the love and affection (she put into the food she prepared for us). My grandfather taught me to care about the quality of the product that I bought; and my father about the land and all that it gives us, and the care we must have for the environment. These are part of my foundation (as a chef),” shares the journalism graduate who had all of three months of formal culinary training before embarking on her career in the kitchen.

Manu grew up on her father’s farm, surrounded by the land’s bounty. And now, at her eponymous modern Brazilian restaurant, she crafts beautifully delicate plates that not only serve as radical reinterpretations of Brazilian flavours, but also puts the spotlight on local produce. “We’ve always focused a lot on vegetables because that’s where I started working with food (having grown up on a farm),” says the chef who also has been working on an urban gardens project since 2011. With her restaurant in Curitiba situated just half an hour from the sea on one side and the countryside on the other, she also takes the effort to work directly with producers to bring in the best that nature – and nurture – provides her with. A chef who is as connected with the land as she is with her kitchen, Manu is also respected for her efforts in promoting biodiversity and preserving traditional ingredients – not just through highlighting them in her cuisine, but also through encouraging growers to explore the potential of their trade.

Her late grandfather is no less an important figure in her life. “Even today, in the street markets in Curitiba, everyone sees me and says ‘Oh there’s Buffara’s granddaughter’. He was so well-known for always tasting and trying the product before he buys them. He used to say: ‘If I’m buying it, I have to try it.’” The Lebanese patriarch’s influence goes beyond instilling an inquisitiveness in exploring new ingredients and a penchant for quality products. “Whenever I brought boyfriends home, my grandfather would say ‘if he doesn’t lick his plate clean then he’s no good – because a man without an appetite won’t value his woman either’. Food was always a priority for him: it’s important to sit at the table to eat, use your hands to eat, and be in contact with your food.”

Buffara House Rules

Yet it is her Italian grandmother who Manu never fails to mention. Manu credits this lady, with her patient, down-to-earth ways of the kitchen, for her ability to cook by feel: to know if something is at the temperature, has achieved the correct cooking states, or if a dough is ready for the oven. And if anybody asks if Manu picked up fermentation techniques from her stage at Noma in 2006, she will let you know that it was her grandmother who taught her how to make kombucha: “My grandparents didn’t have much money, so they did a lot of fermentation from sugar, milk, tea.” Like her frugal grandmother, Manu also takes effort to utilise her ingredients to the maximum degree: be it the conscientious decision to use smaller whole animals for meat – as the restaurant only serves 20 diners each day; or creative employment of potential food waste, such as using banana peel as a substitute for meat in cooking beef Milanese.

Manu’s grandmother might work with plain ingredients and simple equipment, but she found ways to nourish her family deliciously through her resourcefulness and ingenuity. And the matriach continues to cook Saturday lunch for the entire family to this day. “My grandmother cooks very well, and her best dish – one that makes me cry with joy – is shrimp stew with chuchu (chayote),” enthuses Manu. But beyond taste memories, recipes and techniques, the most priceless knowledge she has imparted in Manu is this: that food is a language of love. “There are no dishes from my grandmother on my menu, but you will find the love she taught me.”

Just as Manu’s progressive cuisine has its roots in the family wisdom passed down through generations, Miele builds upon its heritage to move forward. Every progression, every step into the future is a celebration of the company’s past, one that tells of ingenuity, innovation – and a will to constantly improve.

“We at Miele stand not only for high quality and fascinating innovation but also for first-class cuisine and stylish pleasure,” said Dr. Axel Kniehl, Executive Director Marketing and Sales for Miele. “Manu’s commitment to better her community, passion for excellent local food and love of cooking which she acquired early on in life, deeply impresses and inspires us. So we are very happy to congratulate Manu and the entire team on the restaurant winning this award.”