It was while I was learning the craft of cooking that I realized that I needed to better understand my relation with the pan, the fire, my work space, and the kitchen.
In my evolving process I realized that the foundation of that relation began with the ingredient and it was not possible to understand the ingredient without understanding its surroundings, i.e, nature. And we must have in mind that nature has amongst its components an element that is often overlooked: the man.
After having understood that, my relation with nature and pans began to deepen and transcend the boundaries of the kitchen. By using Brazilian culture, the flavours of my childhood and with the traveler’s spirit I inherited from my family, I started to create my recipes. Always curious, restless, and interested in every detail, I realized that cooking is the main link between nature and culture and that useless creativity is absolute nonsense.
Now, although being widely acknowledged as a mature professional, I realized that I needed help and that it was essential the participation of other knowledge, other expertise, other disciplines to put into practice all the potential of the opportunity offered to me.
So I decided to found an institute to structure the networks and look for ingredients of a cuisine that was not only good to eat, but that was also healthy for those who make, eat and produce.
Thus was born the idea of ATÁ. An institute. An agency. A gathering of friends that life has brought me, each one for a reason, each one from a different place and with a specific expertise:
Sérgio Coimbra, Maurício Amaro, Georges Schnyder, Rubens Kato, Roberto Smeraldi, Rafael Mantesso, Beto Ricardo, Ilan Kow, and Ricardo Guimarães, each one contributes in their own way and makes this dream come true.
In our individual paths, Roberto Smeraldi created the Amigos da Terra; Beto Ricardo, the ISA; Maurício Amaro and I, the Retratos do Gosto; Kato and Rafael help to foster all the ideas; Sérgio, a very talented guy, is obsessed with perfection and details, and records moments for eternity; Georges, a fellow from long battles of the Prazeres da Mesa and dreams from the Amazon, brings some of his experience with palmitos, açaí, and life _ particularly of Marajó; and Ricardo Guimarães, from Thymus, as a conductor, outlines the future, rationalizing past and present.
Such union was almost organic due to our individual journeys. Today, with Instituto ATÁ already formed, organized and on full activity, we are proud of its first steps.
Our dreams are great and ambitious but will be fulfilled through very specific practical actions.
Retratos do Gosto - An operation that aims to enhance ingredients with gastronomic potential. The small farmer becomes the protagonist and part of the profits from the sale of the products is invested in research or in the structuring of the ingredient and/or of its region of production.
Serving insects - In the Amazon I found a variety of ants whose taste evokes lemongrass. In my travels around the world I took those ants and influenced other chefs, or rather, the product had an effect on them. Top restaurants worldwide began to review the possibility of serving insects. I am happy with this small victory but the great one is yet to come. Understanding that there is a culture behind that taste and strengthening that culture may be the primary task of this work.
Jiquitaia, a Baniwa chilli – In a joint action with OIBI (Indigenous Organization of the Içana Basin) and the Instituto Socioambiental, we are now introducing the Baniwa chilli jiquitaia into the market, or better, salty chilli produced by Baniwa women. In addition to being a fascinating ingredient for the gastronomic world, it is part of the defense of the feminine culture of cleared land, an indigenous agricultural system of Rio Negro, already listed as a Brazilian cultural heritage.
Sustainable meat - Comrade Roberto Smeraldi has been challenging a powerful and voracious market: the meat one. It is now possible to produce a more environmentally friendly meat. It is possible to decrease by more than 50% the grazing areas and breed the same amount of cattle in Brazil. The greatest dream is the recovery of these depredated areas, perhaps producing all the autochthonous ingredients in an integrated way, generating once again real benefits to a region and the men who live there.
Cerrado Vanilla - As a chef, I have learned that vanilla is part of the universal flavours, being appreciated by all cultures in all corners of the planet. I was surprised to see a wild vanilla in the Brazilian environment of cerrado. One of the dreams of this Institute is the taming and structuring of a consortium of families in the cerrado areas, generating supplementary income to the poor and a high quality product with a Brazilian DNA to tables around the world.
Honey of Native Bees - The pursuit of trade regulation of honey of native bees is one of the most representative projects of the Institute. A deeply Brazilian ingredient, yet without legislation, thus not traded, this honey presents substantial organoleptic features, great gastronomic potential, and medicinal properties. The usage of this product can benefit the gourmet universe and chefs, generate income for the poor, and extend its benefits to the environment. Let me explain: bees are indicators of healthy biomes. The production of this honey, together with the conservation area, can generate income for the protection of regions today neglected. In other words, well structured production can generate financial benefits for the self-preservation of areas that, with rare exceptions, are now unprotected.
Other issues on the ATÁ horizon are:
The sea - Sea resources can be exhausted. The production of algae is one of the possibilities suggested for the gourmet market, besides supplementing the income of an important niche of society.
Fish-farming - Our endemic marine or fluvial species can and should open market for higher quality ingredients.
New ingredients - Understanding the biomes can provide sustainable management of a range of products almost unknown to Brazilian tables, as the coconut apple, a sponge formed in the center of the kernel when the coconut blossoms out; the Brazilian mushroom; and the special varieties of rice and beans used throughout Brazil.
Manioc - It is the fundamental root of Brazilian cuisine and it needs to be valued and explored in all its potential.
Oil diversity - Brazil possess a gigantic oil diversity. We have to better explore from already known cores as those of pequi, avocado and jaca to less popular ones such as patauá and the numerous coconuts and seeds in the Amazon forest and Brazilian cerrado.
Game - The game trade and the management of fauna according to current regulations can and should be one of the missions of ATÁ.
The chain structure and the rational, scientific usage of our natural resources point to a better eating, better living, better nature. And ATÁ is at their service: it wants to review the relation between man and food.
Today, we came to make our intentions and actions public. Here, we reunited people close to us that have sensitivity, knowledge, prestige, and power to join and help mobilizing society towards the causes of ATÁ.
The ATÁ Manifesto summarizes our inspiration and commitment so that you think over and decide to adhere.
I put myself as an instrument of those causes but I need the support of friends so that together we can change reality in a more effective and quick way.
If you are willing to come along, contact me or Nara to formalize your participation.
I am sure that we will have a lot to celebrate together.Alex