Both Indians and Brazilians stress on good food, says Guto Souza of Boteco
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Chef Guto Souza hails from the small town in Minas Gerais in Brazil. His love for food and an innate wanderlust have taken him to the far corners of the world, from Rio to Lisbon, Amsterdam, Goa and Pune, carrying with him the smoky flavours of the Brazilian churrasqueira (charcoal grill). Now, he has launched a restaurant in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex that focuses on Brazil’s rich culinary tradition, while also offering special dishes inspired by the chef’s travels. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Tell us about your culinary journey in India.
I came to Goa in 2004 to learn how to cook Indian food. When we landed there, we looked around and decided to stay there for a year and do nothing. The next year, I opened a small steakhouse in Majorda in south Goa. It became so popular that by the end of it we were selling 500kg of steak every month. After a few years in Europe, I returned to Goa yet again and opened up a South American restaurant in Baga in 2013.
In 2015, I met my business partner Praveesh Govindan, who wanted to start a chain of Brazilian restaurants in the country, starting with
Pune. And we opened the first Boteco in Koregaon Park in 2016. We also started a second, smaller version of the restaurant in Pune, serving snacks and grills. People really liked what we were doing in Pune, so we decided to open our first restaurant in Mumbai.
What are the challenges of a meat-focused menu in India?
Well, when we say our focus is on meat, we mean all kinds of meat, right from lamb to pork to chicken. We make our own sausage. And everything we serve on the table we make here. Any steak we serve is imported from Brazil. The way we cook our meat in the Brazilian churrasqueira is what gives it the distinct flavour, rather than the meat itself. We also work with local ingredients, especially seafood. One of the challenges here is that there is a strong vegetarian culture in India and we had to adapt to that by using things like paneer and Brazilian cheese dishes as there isn’t too much in Brazilian cuisine that is without meat.
Do you see any similarities in the approach to food across Brazil and India?
Both Indians and Brazilians stress on the importance of good food. We have over 3,000km of coastline in Brazil and seafood is very big for us, just as it is here in Mumbai and other parts of coastal India. In Bahia in north-eastern Brazil, seafood is cooked in coconut curries, coriander, chillies and turmeric. I have a dish on my menu, Moqueca de Peixe, which is inspired by my country and will be familiar to the Indian palate as well.
What is the Indian ingredient that you love working with? And what is your favourite dish?
I absolutely love cooking with Indian spices, especially cardamom. I use it in savoury dishes and also in sweets. I make crème brulee with cardamom. I love biryani and I have also learnt how to make a mean biryani myself. I met the cartoonist Mario Miranda and I used to eat meals at his home every week, and it was his wife who taught me how to make biryani.
What is the one cooking technique that has got you all excited?
So we have this dish on our menu called Escondidinho, which is made with dried steak that we prepare from scratch. We also smoke our own meat, and in Pune we have an entire freezer where we age our meat, for different periods depending on its use. And basically, my favourite techniques are connected with preserving meat through ageing, curing and smoking.
What is your favourite food city—tell us about a memory from there?
It would have to be Tokyo. I recently went there and I was just so inspired. The fish market in Tokyo is magnificent. It is so clean you can lie down between the fish, and the quality of the ingredients is absolutely incomparable. All the food I saw and ate was so amazing that I went a little crazy and I told my brother (who lives there) that I wanted to make a meal inspired by the place, and it was beautiful. It was almost like I couldn’t help myself, and I just had to cook with these ingredients in order to pay them tribute