Friday 28th of March our group had a pretty unique chance: the ambassador of Brazil in Finland, Norton de Andrade Mello Rapesta, came with his crew to cook for us and tell about Brazilian cuisine. In addition to the ambassador there was Maila-Kaarina Rantanen, the director of Brazil-Finland cultural centre, the embassy’s chef Wagner Felix and other staff members present. This class was very interactive and probably one of the most memorable ones. Who can say that an ambassador has cooked for them?
The Brazilian cuisine is very broad and versatile with distinctive regional differences reflecting the country’s mix of native and immigrant populations, and its continental size as well; this is why we will concentrate to present mostly the basic facts and curiosities we learned during our class.
The class started with a TV cooking program like show, where we were the audience and the ambassador was the host. He was a true showman and the whole event was very entertaining filled with his stories and casual jokes filled with some information about the Brazilian cuisine. He said he felt like he was teaching a cooking class for future wives, as all but one of us was a girl. His opinion is also that Finnish women can’t really cook, so he needs to cook for them as he has done for his girlfriends here in Finland.Whereas he mentions that the world’s best female chef in 2014 is a brazilian called Helena Rizzo, whose restaurant is based in Sao Paolo.
The ambassador told us that the Brazilian cuisine has been influenced heavily by other cultures, the strongest influence coming from Europe and Africa. The regional differences can be big but the black beans are an important base everywhere. Feijoada is for example a typical Brazilian dish, that is a stew of beans with beef and pork, which is originated with the slaves in Brazil (then Portuguese colony) to who were given, by slavery lords, the unwanted remains of the pork (such as feet, nose, ears etc.) and cheap black beans to eat.
Despite the long coastal line fish is not an especially important ingredient in Brazil compared to all the beef churrascarias. Even though the ambassador himself considers paella to be his favourite food. He says that it is probably because his father is originally from Barcelona. Nowadays there is also a big influence from Asia, especially from the Japanese culture and sushi due to the big Japanese communities in Brazil.
In addition to the black beans and rice we were served Farofa, a toasted manioc meal and Picadinho carioca, which is a classic dish of meat that is cut in small pieces. The ambassador explained very precise guidelines how to prepare the tenderloin beef, which he considers is essential for its taste and can be easily ruined with wrong kind of treatment. In brief you should first remove the skin, then put a plastic paper wrap around it, twist it around and only after that cut it to tiny pieces.
The ambassador told us he had learned the cooking from his mother, that was a progressive, independent woman and ahead of her time obligating her son to learn all kinds of household skills, including cooking. Those skills were re-enforced during his study times when he couldn’t afford to take girls to restaurants and cooked for them at home instead. But as we witnessed he does not take cooking too seriously – for him it is all about the pleasure of fine ingredients and making a dinner party or a special lady happy.
After the cooking show we moved to the tables to enjoy the meal, which was actually mostly done by the embassy’s actual chef Wagner Felix. We enjoyed the meal in good feeling and continued interesting discussions.
An essential part of cuisine are the drinks and while eating we started to discuss about the topic. Energy drink made of guarana is a very popular drink in Brazil that the ambassador was drinking while cooking for us and recommended it highly for us. Our lunch was served only with water until one of the students, Maikki Järvi, brought a nearly empty bottle of cachaça to the table from the chambers of Macondo student club. Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. Also known as aguardente, pinga, caninha or other names, it is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail. The ambassador checked the bottle but said he prefers vodka himself.
When talking about drinks the talking turned to hangover. The ambassador had a very practical tip and recommended coconut water. It is said to be powerful refresher after a good sweat at the gym or in the morning after a drinking party. Because the coconut water is the key of the ultimate recovery you should always have it in the fridge just in case of an emergency. Or if you often keep late hours, take the fine men’s advice and make it a habit of having a class of a coconut water before going to bed.
The discussion continued from his personal history in becoming a diplomat to the 2014 FIFA world cup coming up in Brazil. The Ambassador wasn’t going to Brazil to see the games, he was looking forward to spend time watching games and drinking cold beer as long as he could do that in his own living room in Finland – far away from the heat and the football hooligans.
The relations between Finland and Brazil were also discussed, starting from Pedro II visiting Finland. It was also an interesting fact that Finnish-Brazilian relations has been tied together by cuisine or more concretely – coffee. After the winter war and the end of Second World War coffee was shipped to Finland from Brazil. A sign of its importance in Finland was that the day when the coffee arrived was actually announced as a national holiday that time.
Jenni Penttilä & Annina Piekkari