Until a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro I thought Alex Atala at D.O.M. in São Paulo was the only chef diving head first into Amazonian ingredients in Brazil. I was wrong. Another chef, Roland Villard, at Rio’s Le Pré Catelan inside the Hotel Sofitel on Copacabana Beach, is just as intimate with these exotic ingredients. If not, more so. The French chef, serves an 11 Course Amazonian Tasting Menu that ranks among the best meals I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
A giant black door that must be at least 15 feet high separates the outside world from the wild jungle inside. This is D.O.M., Brazilian chef Alex Atala’s signature restaurant and is included on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s Top 50 restaurants. Many would say it belongs in the top ten. Atala, a one time DJ, was trained in classical French cuisine, though he no longer serves foie gras and truffles on his menu. He serves strictly Brazilian food, the flavors of his youth, though he has reinvented them masterfully.
A few months before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began, I was traveling around the Amazon rainforest observing the contamination that occurred there as a result of petroleum for an article with Penthouse magazine (forthcoming). One of the most highly publicized cases against the oil industry in the Amazon is in eastern Ecuador, where Texaco (now owned by Chevron) operated for decades. The case of Aguinda vs. Chevron/Texaco has been in courts for more than a decade and seems to be nearing an end. A judge in Ecuador estimated the damages caused by Texaco to be about $27 billion, making it the largest environmental lawsuit on earth (though the BP Gulf spill will likely dwarf this one), though Chevron continues to fight against that verdict.
I was walking back to my hotel from La Chonta restaurant in Pucallpa, Peru recently and noticed a glowing shrine in the back lot of a building. I stepped into the lot to take a closer look. It almost looked like a Voodoo or Santeria shrine. There was a venerated image with a heading La Diosa del Amor, the Goddess of Love. Candles were all around it and small offerings sat with them. A man came out from the backdoor of the building and saw me peering at the shrine.
Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, is where the highway ends. From here the roadless expanse of the Amazon begins, extending far into Brazil. Fruits and vegetables arrive to the city from the Rio Ucayali and its tributaries and, what is not consumed here directly, are then filtered by road into the rest of Peru. While Pucallpa does not have a massive tourist lure (though there are a few tourists that make it here, mostly Peruvians), there is a considerable amount of interesting things going in and around the city, especially for the adventurous Foodie.
Amazonian markets tend to be either great or terrible. Some rely heavily on local produce and gather fruits and vegetables from the surrounding rivers, while others seem to be just drop off points for processed and packaged food. Pucallpa’s Mercado Numero 2, just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, is great.
For much of the past month I’ve been traveling throughout the Amazon in Ecuador and Peru while researching oil contamination and exploration, so it was with great interest that I watched Crude, which was released on Tuesday in North America. The film outlines the court case Aguinda vs. Chevron-Texaco that has had 30,000 people in the Ecuadorian Amazon face off against the American Oil giant for a good part of two decades.
Over at the New Yorker, staff writer David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (which we reviewed here), gives an update of some of the recent findings of Pre-Colombian mounds and earthworks in the Upper Amazon basin of Brazil –… Read More →
It took a French band in Brooklyn, New York to really turn me on to Chicha, the psychedelic Amazonian cumbia that came out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 1960’s. Cumbias Amazonicas were inspired by Colombian cumbias but added Andean melodies and surf guitars, wah-wah pedals, organs, and synthesizers. Chicha soon spread out from the jungle to the migrant population in Lima and blended even more with popular music in Peru of the time.
Writer Huw Hennessy, who I recently met in the Galapagos, has written an account on the Ecuadorian rainforest that I think all should read. In the Independent (What lies beneath the rainforest – Nature, Environment – The Independent) he discusses the Chevron disaster – and the ensuing $27 billion lawsuit… Read More →