maître d’ - Mani, São Paulo
Written by Poonperm Paitayawa
Chef Helena Rizzo’s vegetable-focused cooking is the new gastronomic vision from São Paulo.
Catalan-born Daniel Redondo and Brazilian ex-model Helena Rizzo met in the kitchen of critically acclaimed El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain. They tied the knot and returned to São Paulo with Mani, a culinary brainchild that marries indigenous South American produce with Mediterranean flair and avant-garde hipness. The carte menu is vast and liberatingly Brazilian-Spanish, while the extended tasting menu is available at dinner.
Rizzo, who heads the kitchen, has found her expertise in greens, roots, and fruit. ‘Maniócas’ is a signature medley of roasted Brazilian roots finished with a sumptuous froth of tucupi, coconut milk, and truffle oil. For more subtle touches, fresh oysters are creatively paired with delicate cucumber gel and pearls of lychee sorbet; and the finely shaved white flesh from Sicilian lemons is served, replacing cheese, with mushroom-tossed capellini, adding aromatic bitter-sweetness to the humble, yet perfectly cooked pasta. The meat-laden dishes are also unrivalled. ‘Arroz de China’, for example, is a velvety risotto cooked with beef tenderloin cubes, sweet Chinese sausage and meat floss. It arrives with a funky side dish of sharp and citric tomato salsa.
This casual and lively restaurant, with its entrance wall featuring temporary installations by upcoming artists, has already become the scene for São Paulo socialites.
Source of life
‘Mani’ is the source of life. In South American folklore, Mani was a little baby girl of virgin birth and a granddaughter of a Tupi chief. Despite her indigenous origin, Mani’s skin was reported as white as the moon and her eyes as dark as night. This unusual beauty attracted visitors from other tribes, but on her first birthday, Mani passed away unexpectedly. Her body was buried at home and in the ground, from which sprang an unknown plant yielding a white-flesh fruit. Ever since, the Tupi Indians peel, cook and eat the fruit, grind it into powder and also make alcoholic beverages out of it. ‘Mani’ became known as manioc root (‘yucca’ and ‘cassava’ in other parts of the world) and is a great staple in Brazilian cuisine.