how Latin America’s top female chef is prioritizing work-life balance and a new ‘mature’ cuisine

Brazilian chef Manoella ‘Manu’ Buffara has redefined her priorities, adapting her namesake restaurant to improve her team’s well-being. Newly Announced Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2022 Recipient Talks Mental Health, Giving Back and Her More Vegan Menu

“Restaurants are built on people, not workers,” says Manu Buffara, chef-owner of Manu in Curitiba and future Ella in New York. “We have to make sure they are healthy mentally, physically and financially.”

It’s an approach that fits easily into an industry where long hours, harsh conditions and burnout are too often the norm. But, a few years ago, Buffara decided her life had to change, prompting her to leave town to improve her work-life balance and spend more time with her daughters, now aged seven and six. .

As soon as she identified the problem, she realized that her team was hurting too and decided to implement a change for everyone. At the end of 2019, it halved the capacity of its flagship restaurant, Manu, reducing the number of tables from 10 to five and reducing the restaurant’s opening days from five days a week to four. She introduced new team-building initiatives, including weekly English lessons and an annual day outdoors that saw them rafting and hiking together.

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, not only for me and my personal life, but also for the team and their own life,” says the 39-year-old, who now lives in a house with its own housing estate and beehives outside the city, in the state of Paraná, in the south of Brazil. “Now everyone comes to work with more energy as a result.”

Chef Manu Buffara’s eponymous restaurant is based in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Take the microphone

Prioritizing mental health and workplace wellness is an approach Buffara wants to spread, using the platform given to her as the winner of the 2022 Best Female Chef in Latin America award. “When you win an award like this, you get the microphone; you are given a platform. Everything we receive from society, we have to give back,” she says.

Giving back to the community is something the chef has done through her various projects throughout her career. Over the past decade, she has focused on building urban gardens in Curitiba, installing beehives and transforming derelict parts of the city into areas where communities can feed themselves, while allowing people to waste less food.

Until the pandemic, her projects were carried out piecemeal, but in 2020 she created the Instituto Manu Buffara to better organize her social initiatives and raise more funds. The institute now acts as an umbrella for four different projects, including Mulheres do Bem [Good Women]a network of chefs, journalists and food producers dedicated to preparing healthy meals for the city’s homeless, and Alimenta Curitiba [Feed Curitiba]an annual event that distributes food and helps with education and social inclusion in disadvantaged areas of the city.

Buffara is also campaigning against kids’ menus, saying children should be offered adult options instead of automatically being given pasta, pizza and fries. “It’s an initiative to try to change the palate of children, because parents often end up limiting what their children eat [by not offering them wider options],” she says. “My girls eat everything: they try things, and they have to try things, because we have to give the children that freedom.”

Learn more about chef Manu Buffara:

Manu’s metamorphosis

Alongside his personal revelation, a subtle but important shift has taken place in his cooking, with Manu’s menu moving more towards a plant-based approach and bolder and more ‘mature’. While the restaurant hasn’t served beef in many years and has largely focused on local vegetables, seafood and lamb from its family farm since opening in 2011, the Metamorfose tasting menu is now ends with a carrot dish, which she says helps educate diners. that “you don’t necessarily have to end [the savoury part of] a meal with meat.

“I have changed a lot in recent years,” she adds. “I grew up as a woman, as a mother, and spent time cooking at home [during lockdown]. The Metamorfose menu is part of the transformation I experienced. The tasting menu also includes dishes such as leek in peanut and vegetable sauce, and fermented heart of palm in amberjack oil and dill.

The shift towards vegetable-based dishes has been aided by his stint at luxury resort Soneva in the Maldives, where Buffara spent two weeks cooking in 2021 and where his pop-up restaurant, Fresh in the Garden, will operate from November 2022. to November 2023. The menu for the year-long residency will be 30% vegan, 30% vegetarian, with the rest coming from seafood, which has allowed his team to develop nut-based cheeses and other plant-based alternatives. Part of his team will move to the Maldives to cook with ingredients from neighboring Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere in Asia.
Last dish of the Metamorfose tasting menu: carrot, sourdough and fermented cassava flour

There have also been changes to plans for Ella, the restaurant in New York’s Meatpacking District that Buffara was originally scheduled to open in 2020 and is now expected to open in June 2023. Reflecting the changes at Manu, Ella will now seat 50 people. instead of the planned 70 and will close on Mondays to give staff time off. Meanwhile, the menu has evolved from what was originally planned, with umami-filled dishes such as dried fish with mushroom sauce and Jerusalem artichoke chips using North American ingredients and Brazilian flavors. “The menu has changed quite a bit; it’s much more mature now,” she says. “I won’t decorate everything with flowers; each dish will only have a few ingredients and lots of flavor.

In May of next year, just when she turns 40, Buffara will move to New York for four to five months to open Ella. The timing was meticulously planned with her husband so that their daughters would not have to leave school and could stay with her for part of the time, a non-negotiable element in Buffara’s new approach to work-balance. personal life. Although it’s “a lot of hard work”, she thinks it’s possible to combine family life and social endeavors with her restaurant career to sacrifice nothing.

As for her advice to other cooks and restaurateurs, she says, “Treat your staff like human beings, not like cooks. The more you develop them as human beings, the more you will get out of them professionally. Of this, Buffara is living proof.

The next edition of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be announced on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. To be the first to know about the latest news and announcements, browse the website, follow us on instagramfind us on Facebookvisit us on Twitter and subscribe to our Youtube channel.

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