Behind the Scenes: Banzeiro

Inaugurated in December of 2009, Banzeiro already won culinary awards before completing its’ first year.

In command of the restaurant is chef Felipe Schaedler, 24 years old and originally from Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil. After completing ICIF culinary school, he moved to Manaus in 2007, the same year his family opened the Italian Pizzaria Di Fiori. At this time, Felipe went to study gastronomy in the kitchens of A Figueira Rubaiyat in São Paulo and then later on in Lá em Casa in Belém  under famed Chef Paulo Martins. Two years later, the idea of opening his own restaurant came to mind in which he would focus on regional food. Many people I have met during this trip to the Amazon mentioned this restaurant. “If you’re looking for regional food, go to Banzeiro” one said. “If you’re looking for fish, go to Banzeiro” said another. As it turned out, Banzeiro specializes in fish, hence the name pertaining to waves, water and fish.

Chef Felipe Schaedler at the helm of Banzeiro

Apéritif: Tambaqui soup (light and clean fish soup to open the palate). Not many restaurants here serve Aperitifs…

Starters:

Sardinha Frita

Bolinho de Tambaqui

The young chef created signature dishes such as the Filet of Pirarucu battered in local Uarini flour (‘Little egg’) accompanied by home-made Baião de Does and vinaigrette.

Others include Grilled Amazon filet-mignon flambeed in Cognac topped with banana and Coalho cheese; Garnishes: Broccoli Rice and Roasted Potato. Each plate serves 2 people (something I find quite unusual but here in the North of Brazil, it is not out of the ordinary). With a wine connoisseur commanding the kitchen, the restaurant holds 59 different kinds of wine from both South America and Europe. He proposes a Portuguese Alabastro Reserva 2008 to accompany the grilled meat.

Manaus boasts a lot of local restaurants, where decor isn’t flattering but the food is clean, delicious and of good value. Most restaurants serve fish, all kinds of fish so what makes Banzeiro so different if it is serving regional cuisine? Banzeiro remains to be one of the only new and sophisticated restaurants offering amazonic gastronomy. He serves the same kind of fish such as Pirarucu and Tambaqui, both grilled but the plating of the dish is more unique. I wouldn’t compare his dressage to those I have seen in France, as it is a different kind of gastronomic culture here, where people don’t really care about whether they can see their reflection on the plate and how the mustard leave curves into the main ingredient. Rather, here it is about taste, it is about reminding them of their tradition, of their culture, of their grandmother’s food when they were young; and they want the food to remain that way; from the young kid sitting on a high-chair to the elderly lady eating at the restaurant with her children and grand-children.

Some seafood dishes:

Camarão Amazonico

Rafael plating

Pirarucu Bella Floreste 

Costelha de Tambaqui (Tambaqui fish ribs). 2011 Award- winning dish

For dessert, Tapioca crepe with flambeed strawberries and cream sorbet or a degustation of fruity sorbets such as açaí, tucumã e taperebá is a great way to end the regional meal, he says.

My time in Banzeiro was divided. I spent half the time in the prep kitchen and the other half in the cooking kitchen.

The prep kitchen is tiny for the amounts of fish they receive in the morning. Only 1 prep guy, Gleysson, is there during the day and he filets around 500 kg of fish a day, every day (the restaurant now opens 7 days a week due to high demand). Funnily enough, he works with fish every day (was even born in a village surviving on the fish industry) but he would choose meat over fish any day.

I, myself, am better with meat but at my last internship I worked in the fish station for about 2 months. I knew I could learn from him and try out different cuts. Master Gleysson was patient and a good teacher, explaining why he cut a certain way, how it would change the taste and texture of the fish and why a certain part wasn’t used. I saw Sardines, Pirarucu, Tambaqui, Matrinxã, Codfish, Shrimps of all sizes (some were main ingredients, some gave flavor to the sauce) come through the tiny doors of the fish prep station. Luckily we were well cooled.

A glimpse of Gleysson filleting Tambaqui (1 of many he would do in 1 day) – and all with 1 knife!

Cutting the Tambaqui in two

End result of cutting: Giant Tambaqui ribs

Ready for the marinade

Other fish

Taking out the spine of the Matrinxã

Sardines, to be washed, marinated and fried

From left to right: Tucunare, Tambaqui ribs, Pirarucu, Tambaqui filet

The cooking section of the kitchen is also rather small compared with the number of customers it served. The mise-en place takes place 3 hours before the opening of the restaurant and I felt it to be rather calm. The cooks chatted with each other about their days off and family but they knew their tasks and got it done on time. This, however, I didn’t see during my internship in Paris. Any talking and fooling around wasn’t embraced as well. The ingredients are all stored in refrigerators and in their respective shelves, produce comes in every morning and renewed every day.

In Banzeiro, I found out the ways kitchens worked outside of Europe and outside of the big city such as Rio de Janeiro. The restaurant has 4 seatings a day: 2 for lunch and 2 for dinner, serving up to 200 people for service and there’s still people waiting outside the door in the 39-degree celsius heat. And that’s on a calm day. Forget about holidays, he says; lunch service starts at 10 am and ends at 4pm. You would think that the kitchen brigade is perhaps the size of an army, but they’re 5. One team comes in the morning (from 8 am until 4 pm) and the second team comes in the evening (4pm until closing). It’s a small team but they treat each other like family. Mostly (and unusual to me) were women.

A basis for all the sauces and soups of the restaurant: Tambaqui fish stock (here with heirloom tomatoes, jambu leaves, onions, peppers, coriander, parsley, scallions). A day, 50 liters of fish stock is used.

Tucupi and Jambu leaves is another traditional accompaniment to the fishes

The duck leg cooking slowly for the traditional duck dish: Pato no Tucupi.

Hello, Duck Fat!

With all this time and energy spent on preparing the food. It was good to eat!

One of the team dinners: Amazon-style Beef Bourguignon with potatoes. Mmm good!

Into service time…

Just the beginning...

Sous-chef at work

Letting the Matrinxã fish rest before serving

Unlike the kitchens of Paris, here, the age varies a lot here. It is customary to hire older cooks, some of them were the age of my mother. How could he scream at them in times of stress? Don’t be fooled by their age, they hold the kitchen down when he’s not present and they get the work done. That’s why the food is so good. They don’t want to be called ‘chefs’ nor do they care about the hierarchy of commis, chef de partie, sous-chef…They probably don’t even know hierarchy exists, they care about the taste of the food and they cook it like they always have in their home, in their local town, before moving to the city of Manaus. It is very important to have cooks passionate about food and that comes through at the times of service. Sure, you can get that in many restaurants in the same city, but I guess what differs Banzeiro from the rest is that the person finishing the dish is the Chef or the Sous-Chef. Despite, plating not being an important factor here in Manaus, he does make it a little bit artsy but not that much since it is not what the clients come for. Which brings me to my next point, the clients know what they want to eat already, they want Tambaqui, they want Shrimp, they want grilled meat and they know it’s on the menu. In Europe, people don’t necessarily come to the restaurant with a knowledge of what they want, I feel that there, they come to have a culinary experience, they come to eat. Plain and Simple. That makes the different between here and there.

One restaurant that I wanted to work experience in and that the Chef knew very well and spoke very highly of was Bistrô Ananã, a charming bistro in the city centre serving dishes never seen before in the Amazon. Dishes like Tambaqui fish ribs with a chutney of tucupi or a Bahian risotto with farofa came out of the kitchen and wowed the very few gastronomic-crazed fans that lived in Manaus. But it wowed too little. The restaurant closed down a year or 2 later. Why? The cuisine was revolutionary, it was different, it was moving Amazonian cuisine forward so why wouldn’t it work? Culture and tradition, Felipe says. It is so strong and very much part of the way of life here that people don’t want change. Serving amuse-bouche or tapas-style portions is unheard of and probably wouldn’t be welcoming before a culture that embraces dishes for 2. On the one hand, I felt that it put restaurants like Banzeiro on hold as it could not move more forward in reinventing itself. While on the other hand, Felipe doesn’t see it as a threat, rather he embraces the culture. With this notion in mind, he’s moving Amazonian food culture forward, little by little. I guess you must be patient, you must not be too advanced for the people; give them little by little and they will follow. It’s all about pace.

When I looked at the menu, I read Carpaccio of Pirarucu and I told myself, see that’s an inspiring dish. People here are not used to eating raw fish, especially Pirarucu but I found out later it was quickly pan fried and just sliced thin. Alas! Too good to be true, but it is another step from the traditional dish. Despite all that said, the food is good here, perhaps more pricier than your average Peixaria (Fish restaurant) but you get what you paid for and more and in a much more colorful and artsy setting.

One of several photographs of indigenous people adorning the walls of the restaurant

The Chef already won awards in 2010, and during the week I worked there, he was in and out of the kitchen doing interviews and TV shows every day as he just received the 2011 award.

So, he must be doing something right; something a little bit more new but not brash, keeping it authentic and regional and not going too far to creating degustation dishes as they do in Europe, because at the end of the day, you don’t come to eat regional cuisine to be brought across the Ocean to Paris or Rome, you come to eat regional cuisine to get a sense of what the food is like here and that’s what Banzeiro is all about.

Traditional wooden boats roaming the Amazon river, creating 'banzeiro' (little waves)

Restaurante Banzeiro

Rua Libertador, 102 – Ns. das Graças
Manaus – AM, 69057-070, Brazil
(+55)92 3234-1621

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