As a food blogger I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to an endless array of tastings, but it isn’t every day that I get to spend a Friday morning in the grilling station of one of Dubai’s finest grilling restaurants. Located on the ground floor of Crowne Plaza Dubai, Chamas Churrascaria & Bar looks every bit a carnivore’s dream. Even prenoon, the interiors are dimly lit, flamboyant and inviting.
‘Chamas‘ translates to ‘flame’ in Brazilian, and ‘Churrascaria‘ is a place where meats are cooked in the traditional ‘churrasco’ style of barbecuing on skewers, often on open flame. I was invited here by the wonderful team at “Kitchens of Dubai”. These storytellers showcased to us how the essential elements of water and heat come to play at mastering the art of grilling.
We started off our authentically Brazilian churrascaria experience with a few traditional bites. My favorite was these puffed up cheese balls called Pão de Queijo. Delightfully light with a hit of aged cheddar, these moreish bites were the perfect precursor to an absolutely carnivorous fare.
For welcome drinks, I delved right into the Chamas Cachaça menu. Cachaça is a national pride of Brazil. This distilled liquor, derived from sugarcane, is the base of many cocktails. Although outsiders compare it to rum, Brazilians staunchly stand by the fact that the only similarity between the two is that they are both derived from sugarcane.
I sipped on the Chamas Caipirinha, a very refreshing cocktail featuring Cachaça, fresh lime and brown sugar. Caipirinha, according to the Chamas Cachaça menu, originated around 1918 and is the national drink of Brazil.
Before long, it was time to hit the kitchen! It was here that I first met the absolutely delightful Chef Larissa. This beautiful young Brazilian is a mere 24 years old and is already a force to be reckoned with.
Chef Larissa’s enthusiasm for grilling can even get a vegetarian excited! She started off by introducing us to three of the finest cuts of beef. Here we have Beef Ribs, Picanha and Wagyu Top Sirloin.
Beef Ribs (The Water Element)
Starting off with the beef ribs, Chef Larissa demonstrated the importance of water for roasting this cut to perfection. The short rib is simply basted in rock salt and placed in a baking pan where enough water is poured in to reach up to the bones.
The pan is covered in foil, and baked. The portion used in the Chamas kitchen is approximately 3 kilograms, and takes up to 3 hours to cook in their industrial-style oven. Chef Larissa tells us that in Brazil it is very common to cook an entire 20 kilo beef rib in one go!
Here is a look at the end product:
The beef is divinely moist, succulent and ‘melt in the mouth’. It is pretty remarkable how simplistic the recipe behind it is. This goes to show it all boils down to technique.
To demonstrate just how important a role water plays in the cooking process, Chef Larissa cooked another tray of beef ribs sans any liquid. You can see for yourself how dry and unappetizing the resulting meat turned out to be.
Picanha (Playing with Fire)
“Picanha is a cut of beef popular in Brazil. In the U.S. it is little known, but referred to as the rump cover, rump cap or culotte.” – Wikipedia.
Patriotically Brazilian, Chef Larissa tells us this is her absolutely favorite cut of beef. Best flame-grilled, Chef Larissa demonstrated the importance of the right amount of heat for cooking Picanha.
If the Piranha is cooked in too close a proximity to the flames, the resulting meat has a charred outer layer and an uncooked inner.
Likewise, if the Picanha is elevated to a skewer too high above the flames, the slow-cooking will result to overcooked, fibrous meat.
It’s all about setting the Picanha at the right elevation, and ensuring it gets just the right amount of cooking time. The fat is left intact on the meat as this helps retain the moisture of the Picanha.
Chef Larissa proudly showcases her beautifully grilled Picanha.
Picanha is slightly more chewy when compared to the beef ribs, and also has a characteristically beefy, organic aftertaste. I can see why this cut is so popular in Brazil!
Wagyu Sirloin Steak (Firing up the world’s most prized cut of beef)
Every connoisseur of beef will tell you that wagyu is the world’s most prized cut of meat. The highest grade of Wagyu comes from Japan (you can read up more on Japanese wagyu in my earlier post by clicking here), and the next best comes from Australia.
At Chamas, they use Grade 5 wagyu from Australia.
The higher the grade of wagyu, the more the marbling in the meat (marbling is the amount of fat within the meat itself). Chef Larissa explains that at in a churrascaria they cannot exceed grade 5 as on an open flame, the fat drips and causes the flames to spark. Anything higher than grade 5 can cause a fire!
Chef Larissa gave us giggles with anecdotes on just how prized a wagyu cow is. In a pasture, these are the special ones who even get spa treatments and their own little cabanas! Pity they get all prettied up just to end up on the grill.
By far, the wagyu was the best loved cut of beef. With wagyu, it’s always about flavour. Deep and robustly beefy, these beautifully moist cuts disappeared as soon as they hit the tasting platter.
I had a very memorable time in the kitchen of Chamas, and learnt so much about different cuts of beef. It is also interesting to see how the three cuts of beef differ so greatly in both texture and flavour. Best of all, none of these were marinated in anything apart from a sprinkle of rock salt! At Chamas, they stick to true churrascaria tradition and let the meat do the talking.
Here is a live video of Chef Larrisa demonstrating the grilling of the three cuts by Kitchens of Dubai:
We sat down for a full fledged beef fest. At Chamas, they have a two-sided coaster. When you turn it to the green side, the servers know you are ready to eat. They will continue filling up your plate with beefy goodness, and will only stop once you turn the coaster over to the red side.
How long can you go green? Take the Chamas challenge!
As a respite from all this beefy carnage, you can head to the salad buffet. One of my favorites (which I forgot to click!) was a tangy Brazilian salsa.We also had an array of traditional sides on the table including four sauces, rice, black beans and a stir-fry of mixed vegetables.
At Chamas, they also have an expert on wine pairings. We were served Zuccardi Chardonnay with our ribs, and an Argentinean Terrazas Malbec 2012 with our Picanha.
Delving into a carnivorous coma, I was mighty pleased on being served up grilled pineapple. Coated in cinnamon, these tangy-sweet cuts were a much need refreshment after all that beef.
You don’t have to be a beef eater to enjoy grills at Chamas. Their meat selection includes chicken, lamb, duck and even turkey.
The buffet at Chamas includes a very tempting dessert corner. Complete with a chocolate fountain and a number of pretty tarts, cakes and cheesecake, you can also opt to go for more traditional Brazilian treats.
I decided to stick to the ‘not so common’ Brazilian treats. I loved their sticky-sweet Beijinho (little balls of shredded coconut and condensed milk), and their Pistachio Brigadeiro (yet another cute little ball made of condensed milk, with ground pistachio blended in). They also had Chocolate Brigadeiro, which is the more common festive bonbon of Brazil, but I found the pistachio variety to be more flavourful.
Another favorite from the dessert counter was the delightfully light and fruity Acai Mousse. Never expected to find a superfood in the dessert aisle!
Overall, Chamas Churrascaria & Bar is an absolute treat for meat lovers. I am very thankful to the ‘Kitchens of Dubai’ team for giving me this gastronomic introduction to Brazilian churrascaria dining, and plan to be back soon with my absolutely carnivorous Hubby 🙂
Chamas Churrascaria & Bar is located on the ground floor of Crowne Plaza (Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai). Do visit their website for more details, and give them a call on 04 4371688 for table reservations. Bon appetit!