How about topping a pineapple dessert with a lemongrass-flavored leaf-cutting sauva ant?
“We eat insects, and maybe we don’t know that. Honey is insect secretion,” said the tattooed and bearded Atala, 45, in an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York. “There is a clear mental barrier that I propose my customers to break through.”
Atala, who is in New York this week to cook a private dinner at the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, has earned a reputation as a culinary trailblazer with his foraging for Brazil’s unique local ingredients and his redefinition of the country’s cuisine.
He’s on Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. D.O.M., his restaurant in Sao Paulo, ranks No. 6 on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s Best Restaurants (it was No. 4 last year). His $300-per-person private dinner at the festival tomorrow, “A Night at D.O.M.,” sold out quickly after tickets went on sale in May.
The dinner, sponsored by Bank of America, will feature some of Atala’s signature dishes such as heart-of-palm fettuccine carbonara and lime-and-banana ravioli.
“I’m super happy that chefs and critics are open to Amazonian ingredients,” said Atala, a former amateur boxer and disc jockey who discovered a love for cooking through a backpacking trip in Europe.
With his success, Atala makes time for charity. His treks in the Amazon introduced him to deforestation. He sends food regularly to indigenous people, including the Baniwa Indians.
“It’s my way to say to people, please it’s super important to try to give back,” Atala said.
This year, he traveled to New York to cook alongside Daniel Boulud and Daniel Humm at a fundraiser for the Brazil-based Pele Little Prince Research Institute that provides health care to children.
When he cooks Friday night, some of the proceeds will support the childhood hunger-fighting nonprofit Share Our Strength and the Food Bank for New York City, two of the festival’s beneficiaries.
Atala did a cooking demonstration in New York last week for Gastromotiva, a Sao Paulo-based program that teaches culinary skills to underprivileged young adults. He has hired some of its graduates.
Last year, Atala started his nonprofit ATA Institute, a think tank that promotes fair-trade practices in the Amazon region and aims to improve the lives of its residents.
“As chefs we can push boundaries in the kitchen and show that cuisine can be helpful not just for ourselves but also for our environment and the local people.”
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