My story is a bit different from other chefs, in that growing up I never had a dream to be a chef. Actually it was the opposite, I wanted to do electric engineering in Brazil.
It wasn’t until I moved to England around 15 years ago and started missing my family’s Brazilian food that I decided to change course and become a representative of Brazil through cooking.
The origin story of a chef
Food was always important in my life. I come from a family that cooked a lot.
My grandmother in particular was an amazing cook. Her house was where people, without invitation, came during the week just to eat lunch. I always asked, ‘Who’s coming?’ and she was like ‘I don’t know’ and suddenly her house was full of people! Everybody wanted to eat in her house! Sometimes it was 5, but other times it would be like 30!
This was my life growing up, it was just food all the time. Then I moved to England, and I didn’t have that. Really missing my food, I decided to ask my mom and my grandmother for recipes and started cooking the recipes from my family. I never cooked before, but I knew how it was supposed to be, the seasoning, the texture, the taste.
One of my favourites to make was and still is my grandmother’s Malassado aka a fillet steak cooked with rich ragù recipe. The texture of a fillet steak is amazingly soft, but because it usually lacks flavour my grandmother’s recipe adds this incredible sauce on it! It tastes amazing!
I was really enjoying cooking. I even started cooking just for a few people in school, cause I used to live in a boarding house in the school I was going to in London, but then it got huge and a lot of houses and house masters were asking me to cook for their parties all the time. It was then that I began to think, oh my goodness, I am quite a good cook.
From cooking as an amateur, I soon realised that I wanted to be a successful chef who not only created beautiful food but captured the Brazilian taste. So I applied to Le Cordon Bleu in London.
The Honest Brazilian Taste
The great Brazilian taste is the great cassava, unknown to most in the UK, but crucial to many all over the world. Cassava is a root vegetable that is everywhere in Brazil, from the rich to the poor people and eaten from breakfast to dinner. It is in every single meal in Brazil. As soon as people discover cassava they realise just how amazing and versatile it can be!
A lot people nowadays are gluten free and cassava is an amazing replacement for gluten. You can make bread, cake, sauces. Anything you can do with cassava! That is the most brilliant thing about the Brazilian cuisine because cassava is found in most of the old dishes.
You can find cassava here in a lot of places: African shops, Asian shops, etc. Everybody uses it, but unfortunately people in England don’t know much about cassava and I think once they discover Brazilian cuisine they will start putting cassava with their own dishes like the cottage pie.
What defines my cooking from other chefs is that I’m just honest with the food and just let the ingredients do their thing. Brazilian cuisine has the influence of the Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, French, and Dutch. Our cuisine is like the whole planet in one cuisine and done in a very simple honest way.
So what I do is just translate it and make it simple, healthy, fresh colours, with history behind it because it is very nice when you see a dish that tells you its meaning and importance.
The Masterchef experience
I decided to compete in UK Masterchef the Professionals immediately after I finished my degree at Le Corden Bleu. I felt very strong because I was able to cook with anything that was in front of me. It was something that people thought, Luciana you crazy, how can you apply when you haven’t even worked in Michelin restaurants, you don’t have much experience. But I was feeling confident! I really wanted to show what I was made of and represent the school that gave me a lot of power to feel that I could compete.
The best part of the whole experience was when I actually left Masterchef in the semi-finals. I cooked a dish that belonged to Bahia, my state in Brazil. Being so proud to have African blood and to be Brazilian, I put this very rustic dish in this fine dining television programme with so many Michelin stars and one Michelin star chef judging my food.
As I put this very rustic, very African dish in front of them I honestly felt so proud of it. It was just simple and full of flavours but it didn’t look like it since that is the way the food should look. I was respecting my own roots and this was something with a lot of history and me on the plate.
It took a lot of courage to do that because usually contestants wouldn’t do a recipe that was made on a clay pot and didn’t look so appetising on that type of programme. However, it was so important for me to put my food, to put me on those dishes and to show on national tv what was Brazilian cuisine and what was me. This was something that I will never forget.
Success After Masterchef
I think the biggest achievement of my career so far was when I was able to cook my Brazilian food for the Prime Minister and 320 guest on the 10 Downing Street garden. Never have I heard of a Brazilian chef cooking their own food there. Usually when they go the guests want French, but no this was what I wanted, these were my dishes there, which was amazing.
At this moment I am travelling a lot. Teaching people and big companies more about our history, about our dishes, about our ingredients, why our cuisine is so exotic, so unique. I am really enjoying myself and seeing if I can get people happy and curious about Brazilian food. I can do a talk for an hour and there will be so many questions. People are very interested in something they don’t know.
I am also so honoured to be helping the Brazilian embassy in a lot of projects promoting Brazilian cuisine outside of Brazil. My passion now is serving as a representative of Brazilian cuisine.
To see more of what I do and to contact me visit my website by clicking here!