I met the absolutely adorable, bubbly Chef Larissa Mazzoli a few months ago when I had my first taste of Chamas Churrascaria and Bar. Merely 24 of age, Larissa is a true connoisseur of her native Brazilian cuisine, and I was overly impressed with how passionately she talks about the churrascaria (a South American style of grilling meat over fire). You can read all about my kitchen tour with Chef Larissa by clicking here, and in today’s post Chef Larissa tells us more about her passion for grilling, and how she plans to take her career to the next step.
1) First of all, why did you decide to become a chef? Who was your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration was my grandmother, she used to cook the best food ever, especially great pastry and bakery. Her cakes were simply amazing and she did all by hand, without using any machines. She is not with us anymore, but I am sure she in watching over me and protecting me. I really miss her a lot.
2) You are only 24! Please tell us about your phenomenally fast climb up the corporate kitchen ladder 🙂 (Where have you worked, the experiences, etc)
Oh well, I don’t see that a fast climb up, I see it as extra effort. I want to achieve something in life and I will do everything to make that happen, I never give up. I have a lot of passion, I love my job, I love what I do, and I am used to work 12 to 16 hours daily. I started my career at the age of 17 in Hyatt Hotel and later on in Grande Hotel Senac in Brazil where I worked in the main kitchen. After that I took over a new endeavor at the French bakery. My previous Chef Karina from Grande Hotel called me one day to offer me a job in Dubai and from that moment, everything happened very fast. I came to Dubai in 2012 to work in Fairmont the Palm, then I moved to Emirates Towers where I got the gold medal from the Emirates Culinary Guild in the Beef Practical Cookery. In July 2015 I moved to Chamas as a Junior Sous Chef – Chef in Charge and got promoted to Sous Chef – Chef in Charge in March 2016. I am learning by observing people, trying to get as much information as I can. I am staying extra hours and go to different kitchens to learn something new. I love to cook and I love to see when my guests are happy with my food and my style of cooking. But as you know, when you want to reach a goal you need to sacrifice on other things. I was working when my friends were going to parties and could spend less time with my family. I missed out on lots of things to reach were I am now. Many times my family told me I am crazy and I am working too much but I don’t regret that I spent all those efforts, I’m very proud for all I have achieved so far.
3) Tell us a little bit more about the churrascaria style of cooking. How does it differ from conventional barbecuing?
The difference is, that we don’t use any type of marinade. We only add rock salt to keep the flavor of the meat. If we do a Churrascaria at home, we don’t always have skewers, but it also works without, using the grill and charcoal.
4) Please give us 5 of your top tips for a novice who is just starting out at grilling meats.
- I suggest to buy cuts with fat like Picanha (Rump Steak), Rib Eye, Top Sirloin. Meat with less quantity of fat will be dry faster in contact with heat.
- Use a charcoal barbecue, it will give the meat a nice flavor.
- If you don’t have a proper barbecue grill where you can’t skewer the meat, place the meat on a roast and make sure to leave some space between charcoal and the grill, otherwise the meat can burn very fast. Also dripping fat can cause a flame which can be dangerous.
- If you like your meat well done, I suggest to cut thinner slices so your meat will cook faster without just burning the surface.
- If you really love meat, I suggest to use only rock salt to keep the pure meat flavor.
5) Please tell us more about Brazilian cuisine and what makes it so unique from the rest of the world.
Few people know about Brazilian cuisine, is not only about meat and barbecue. However, we really love meat, and every house has barbecue equipment. Our cuisine has influences from Portugal, Italy, Africa, India and Germany. However, we don’t use strong flavors or marinades. We always say “simple is better”. Different regions have a different influence, the South has influence from Germany so you can find sausages and beer. The North has more Indian and African influence using different spices and the dishes are often served with sauces. In the center of the country you can feel the Portuguese and Italian influence reflecting in pasta, pizza as well as various meat dishes including pork. Brazil is unique, you can find a huge variety of dishes, we have something for every taste.
6) What is your absolutely favorite dish at Chamas Churrascaria and Bar?
My favorite cut is the Picanha with Brazilian vinaigrette. The base for the vinaigrette are tomato, onion, parsley, vinegar, olive oil and salt. It greatly complements the meat, rice and beans but can also be used as dressing for salads.
7) What is your favorite cut of meat, and why? How do you like it cooked?
From the grilled cuts I love Picanha since it is very juicy and has a unique taste. Out of the braised meat my favorite is the Tri Tip (bottom sirloin). It needs to be cooked in low temperature for many hours so it becomes very soft and gets a slightly sweet taste.
8) Apart from meats and grills, what are your other specialities?
I studied bakery as well. You wouldn’t expect but this is one of the heavy jobs in the kitchen. The dough is very heavy and it’s really hard work. I am not doing bakery on a professional basis at the moment, but I love to bake in my free time.
9) If I were to visit your hometown in Brazil, where would you recommend I eat, and what should I order?
You should definitely try our bar snacks like Coxinha, empadinha or croquete and have try some Pastel which is a fried thin dough with a filling of either cheese, beef, chicken or fish. You can find that dish in the street veg market every morning. And ofcourse go to a Churrascaria and eat a lot of meat. Not to forget to try some traditional dishes from the North of Brazil like Acarajé and Tapioca.
9) How does the dining scene in Dubai differ from Brazil?
In Dubai you can have food from all over the world. The mix of cultures and high number of visitors makes Dubai an excellent destination for dining. You also find something for every budget. When I’m not working I love to go to different places and try different types of cuisines. You can learn a lot out of that; I had great experiences and bad ones and I use all of them to improve our menu and service in Chamas a little bit more every day.
In Brazil you will find different types of cuisines only in large states. Italian food is very common in all areas of the country and you will find a lot of places serving pizza and pasta. If you go to a Churrascaria in Brazil it will be a very different experience from Dubai. Churrascarias in Brazil can serve around 1000 to 2000 guest daily. It’s a huge operation with a high rotation guests.
10) What are the new menu additions that you have in store for Chamas?
I started working in in Chamas one year ago and since then a lot has changed. I added more than 30 types of new desserts and created more than 50 types of salads that we use in a rotation system. I adjusted the recipes of the hot dishes, I wanted them to taste more like Brazilian home food. Among the meat cuts I added the Wagyu Beef and gave some more focus on guests with food allergies. I also have a strong focus on guest experience and I always try to meet our guests at their table, explain our culture and food and answer any questions they might have. These changes are greatly reflecting on platforms such as Tripadvisor where we currently rank number 28 out of all restaurants in Dubai.