Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Brazil’

Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz: The Best of Latin Baking

by Kim Haas

Recently, I interviewed Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, author of The Brazil Kitchen and My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City.  The interview focused on the cuisine of her native Brazil and its African culinary influences. Coming soon, we’ll bring you our interview with Chef Leticia, her photos from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil (the center of the country’s African roots) and a recipe or two.

Until then, I share with you photos from “The Best of Latin Baking.” Chef Leticia invited me to observe this class which she was teaching immediately after our interview.

Originally, I had only anticipated staying a few minutes. Instead, minutes turned into hours and a blog post developed. It was delightful to witness the commitment, precision and dedication of the 9 baking students.  They whirled around ICE’s kitchen like busy bees with tremendous focus and concentration. They beat, mixed, rolled and sifted ingredients, creating a mélange of Latin American desserts including:

  • Flan
  • Rocambole de Doce de Leite com Coco (Dulce De Leche and Coconut Roulade or Jelly Roll)
  • Nha Benta (Brazilian Mallomars)
  • Pão de Mel (Honey Cake)
  • Cheesecake de Coco com Calda de Goiaba (Coconut Cheesecake with Guava Sauce)
  • Brazilian Thumbprint Cookies (Topped with Powdered Sugar)
  • Quadrodos de Doce de Leite com Chocolate (Dulce de Leche Brownies)

Sharing these delicious desserts would not have been possible without the cooperation of the students. I sincerely appreciated their willingness to be photographed especially since this was not a planned blog post. It’s safe to say that “The Best of Latin Baking” would not have run so smoothly without the support of Will, ICE Culinary Assistant.  He showed the students how to operate every appliance and worked his magic, appearing, disappearing and reappearing with whatever ingredient was needed. And special thanks to Chef Leticia, who freely shared her warmth, generosity and knowledge of Brazil and its wondrous cuisine.

Happy Baking!

Photo Gallery: Dulce De Leche Brownie photo is courtesy of Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz

Click on an image to open a slideshow and see the full-sized photos.

Director Carlos Diegues: Bringing Brazil’s Black Culture to the Silver Screen

By Kim Haas

So much of Brazil’s dazzling culture, its personality, traditions and tenor, have roots steeped in the country’s African heritage. Brazil has been greatly endowed with a culture that shines due in large part to the nearly four million enslaved Africans brought to the country, beginning around 1500–until slavery officially ending in Brazil in 1888.

Samba originated among the country’s Afro-Brazilian population. Pele revolutionized soccer. Capoeira continues to amaze with its athleticism, power and grace and no other country comes close to putting on an annual party as spectacular as Carnival. Orfeu Movie Photo

Despite these remarkable contributions to the soul of a nation, seeing Afro-Brazilians on the silver screen was a rarity until Brazilian Director Carlos Diegues began his filmmaking career in 1959. Mr. Diegues’ reputation was advanced because he was one of the filmmakers of Cinema Novo, a 1960s and 1970s Latin American film movement. Using a documentary filmmaking style, Cinema Nova promoted human rights, specifically advocating social justice and racial equality.


Alagoas, Brazil

Originally from Alagoas (northeastern Brazil), Diegues grew up completely infatuated by cinema. As a child he loved going to the movies. He was mesmerized by films. As he told a Cannes Festival Website, “The first time I went to the cinema, I was six. I looked at the screen, and I was totally hooked. In fact I was simply astonished and I thought, “Don’t touch the screen or you’ll get stuck. But I’m still stuck!”

During his early childhood, Carlos Diegues learned about the value and significance of Afro-Brazilian culture through fantastical stories.

His Afro-Brazilian nanny vividly narrated for him the story of Zumbi (The last leader of the Quilombo do Palmares located near Pernambuco, Brazil. Quilombos were settlements of escaped slaves in Brazil.) Diegues remembers, “She used to tell me that he (Zumbi) was still alive and could fly.” From childhood, Carlos Diegues strongly believed history and mythology could go together. As a filmmaker, he often fuses the two.

And as the son of an anthropologist, his father “…always told me that the African influence in Brazilian culture was very important.” Mr. Diegues adds, “Undoubtedly I’ve always been interested in Afro Brazilian culture but I think that even if the Afro descendent people were the social, poor people in Brazil, they were very strong in terms of the culture. African people were slaves until 19th century and they became the poorest people in the country but at the same time their culture represents the Brazilian culture…you know the Samba, soccer, the carnival. I was very much interested, intrigued by the fact that those people who suffered so much, that had a lot of pain during centuries, they made a culture that was stronger, stronger than the European culture in Brazil.”

Xicade Silva Poster

In a career spanning five decades, Mr. Diegues was honored with a film retrospective at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City from April 12 – April 18, 2013. This groundbreaking director is credited with being one of the first Brazilian filmmakers to tell the stories of the Afro-Brazilian experience on the silver screen.

Perhaps one of his most celebrated films is the 1976 “Xica da Silva,” the screen adaptation of the João Felicio dos Santos book, Memórias do Distrito de Diamantina. The story centers around the real life of Xica da Silva, a former 18th century slave from Minas Gerais, Brazil who becomes the wealthy mistress of Portuguese mine owner in Brazil, João Fernandes de Oliveira. Mr. Diegues shares his experience in the filmmaking process, “I didn’t know particular things about her, so I could mix myth and history about her.” After the film’s release, it would become Brazil’s 1977 entry for the Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film but the process of making and distributing the film was very challenging.

He was told by a film distributor, “Black people doesn’t make money in the cinema.”  In response Diegues explains, “I felt like this wasn’t true, the process was very difficult. I had a producer who understood what I wanted to make, people always saying that ZeZe Mota (Xica da Silva actress) couldn’t make it. I always make things that people say can’t work… I was absolutely sure that I had to make this film. I gotta make this. I made it with a very happy kind of spirit. I thought that we needed this kind of film, someone who was a slave and became sort of a queen, but only by her virtues. It was something I was fascinated by.”

QuilomboEight years after the release of Xica da Silva, Mr. Diegues directed the 1984 film Quilombo, the story of Brazilian slaves who fled a sugar plantation to settle in the Quilombo dos Palmares in Northeastern Brazil. The film recounts the tale of the real life Quilombo dos Palmares, a structurally complex community of mostly former slaves which also welcomed Jews, Muslims, Indians and poor whites. At its pinnacle, the Quilombo dos Palmares had a population of 10,000 – 20,000 residents. It existed for nearly 100 years from 1600 – 1694. Led by it’s last leader Zumbi, a fearless soldier and exceptional military strategist, he led the Quilombo in a battle against the Portuguese for control of the settlement. In preparation for the film, Diegues says, “I was helped by a lot of professors and teachers, specialists in that kind of history. I tried to be very, very close to reality. For Quilombo we had many documents. Quilombo is not only a film about the past but also about future, it’s a utopia, what Brazil could be if we had a Zumbi today.”

Orfeu, Carlos Diegues 1999 production, is based on the book Orfeu da Conceição and also inspired by the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus; both based on the legendary Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Diegues’ version is set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival.

Carlos Diegues’ work behind the camera as a director has created numerous roles for Afro-Brazilian actors in front of the camera.

When asked the state of opportunities for Afro-Brazilians in film and television, Mr. Diegues says things are changing. “It’s getting better. Brazilian cinema has a role in the progress of it. (Brazilian TV) finally understood that Afro-Brazilians could be good actors, not just the maids and butlers. It’s changed, really changed.”

As a young filmmaker, Carlos Diegues and the filmmakers of his generation had an expansive vision for moviemaking. We wanted to “change the history of cinema, change the history of Brazil, change the history of the planet.”

Carlos Diegues is a change maker whose imprint on film is helping to tell the Afro-Brazilian story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chef Maricel Presilla’s Food of the Gods: An Ode to Afro-Brazilian cuisine

Hoboken chef Maricel Presilla has been someone I’ve been eagerly trying to meet for several years. Actually, it all started when I was thumbing through the December 2007 issue of Saveur Magazine and came across the article she penned, Food of the Gods.

Her food commentary was a refreshing look at Salvador da Bahia’s (Brazil) vibrant cuisine which is an “expression of the region’s rich spiritual life.” Salvador, the city of three million, lies one thousand miles north of Rio de Janeiro, is the heart and soul of Brazil’s black population.

Hundreds of years ago, Salvador and so many European territories enjoyed great economic prosperity due to free African labor. According to chef Presilla, “In the 17th and 18th centuries, millions of Africans were moved through the port of Salvador to be put to work on the vast sugarcane plantations…” She adds, “Some were Bantu tribes people from central and southern Africa: others came from the Yoruba kingdoms of West Africa and carried with them a complex spiritual system based on a belief in divinities (called orixás in Portuguese) that were endowed with highly specific powers and personalities. Though many slaves converted to Catholicism, they often retained the core aspects of their ancestral religion, namely, their allegiance to the orixás. Eventually, the mingling of these belief systems gave rise in Bahia to Candomblé, a religion that continues to be practiced by millions of Brazilians today.”

Saveur, the ultimate foodie magazine, devoted 14 pages to the article. Chef Presilla’s visit to Salvador and quest to immerse herself in authentic Bahian cuisine uncovers an interesting connection – the bond between the secular and the sacred. She writes,“Feasting is an essential part of Candomblé and is linked with the tradition of offering food to the orixás who are believed to have well-defined cravings. For example, Oxala, Candomblés, supreme, Zeus-like god, prefers plain, unsalted white rice; Oxum, the sensual Aphrodite-like goddess who rules the rivers, has a predilection for more-seasoned dishes, such as xinxim de galinha, a chicken stew made with dendê oil; and Iansã the female thunder goddess, demands acarajé” (deep fried fritters made from black eyed peas). Read more

Afro-Brazilian Executive Chef Creates Passion with Fresh Flavors

Our September article for Being Latino focuses on Amali’s Executive Chef Nilton Borges, Jr., an Afro-Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro.

chef borges

Executive Chef Nilton Borges, Jr.

In life, we know expectations count. They shape how we live, the choices we make and the dreams we allow ourselves to pursue.

“When people come here and see me and Junior (Chef Borges) coming from the kitchen they are like “Wow.” I think they expect to see Gordon Ramsey (a British chef).” Martell Fonville, Amali Restaurant Sous Chef, was referring to some diners being surprised seeing an Afro-Brazilian and African-American at the restaurant’s helm.

Amali Restaurant’s Executive Chef Nilton Borges, Jr, an Afro-Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro, has high expectations for himself, his cuisine and his mission to serve locally sourced, flavorful food. Read more

Roberto Custódio and Fight for Peace Pack Powerful Punch

The London Olympics ended a little over a week ago. And now that the torch has been extinguished, the athletes have returned home and venues are being repurposed, all eyes are on Brazil as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Undoubtedly, Rio is stunning. Considered one of the world’s great playgrounds, it’s an incomparable city. Rio often seems postcard perfect – bathed in bright sunshine, blue skies and tropical rainforests. It’s home to the pulsating rhythms of samba and “beautiful people,” enjoying the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. However, there is another side to Rio that’s less glamorous and often tragic – its favelas – the slums perched high above the city, often occupying prime Rio real estate. Favelas have become synonymous with violence; random, unpredictable and yet expected. Case in point, 23 year old Afro-Brazilian Roberto Custódio. Roberto grew up in Complexo do Maré one of the most dangerous favelas in Rio. When he was 13, he witnessed his father’s death by one of the favela gangs. The tragic death left him devastated. Read more

Celebrate Carnival

It’s time to celebrate – Carnival has come! Read more