Manoella ‘Manu’ Buffara of Brazil’s Restaurante Manu is among the visiting chefs headlining Vivid Food in Sydney later this month. We chat with the trailblazing Brazilian chef, named Best Female Chef in Latin America by 50 Best in 2022.

Restaurante Manu, located in the city of Curitiba in the south of Brazil, may not be on the lips of gourmands in our part of the world. But it really should be. This award-winning eponymous restaurant of Chef Manoella ‘Manu’ Buffara was most recently listed at No.35 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2023, lauded for its plant-forward, farm-to-table take on contemporary Brazilian cuisine.

Chef Manu was herself honoured by 50 Best as Best Female Chef in Latin America in 2022, celebrated not only for her conscientious culinary approach, but also recognised for her dedication to community work such as building urban gardens, and feeding the poor in her hometown of Curitiba.

The world-renowned chef will be heading to Australia for Vivid Sydney later this month. A visiting headline chef for the cultural festival’s culinary component, Vivid Food 2024, she will be taking over Peter Conistis’ waterside venue Ploós for a one-of-a-kind fine dining experience.

We had the opportunity to grab Chef Manu a quick fireside chat.

Chef Manoella Buffara was named Latin America's Best Female Chef in 2022 by 50 Best.

You were named Best Female Chef in Latin America by 50 Best in 2022. Congratulations! What does that accolade mean to you?

When I was informed that I had been chosen as the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2022, I was truly surprised.

While I was aware of the recognition of my work, the confirmation that I was voted by colleagues and renowned professionals from the 50 Best Academy really moved me. I feel extremely grateful and honoured by this recognition, which reflects not only my effort but also the commitment of my entire team.

This award is an encouragement to continue innovating and elevating Latin American cuisine.

You have been building a different kind of sustainable restaurant at Manu. Aside from offering a vegetable-forward menu and sourcing ingredients hyper locally from small scale producers, you’ve also been championing mental health and wellbeing. Can you tell us more?

At Manu, we are committed to sustainability, not just in using local and seasonal ingredients but also in the well-being of our team. We’ve created a work environment that values professional and personal development, offering courses, training, and activities that promote a balance between personal and professional life. Additionally, our reduced operation allows the team time to recharge, staying motivated and productive.

This commitment to sustainability and human well-being is directly reflected in the quality and innovation of the dishes we serve.

Restaurante Manu focuses on sustainable plant-centric Brazilian cuisine

If there was one Brazilian ingredient you wished the rest of the world knew more about, what would that be?

I have two. I would like the world to know more about tucupi, a sauce extracted from wild manioc, and the honey from native Brazilian bees.

Tucupi is a fascinating ingredient with a unique flavour that gives a distinctive touch to many Brazilian dishes. The honey, on the other hand, is exquisite and represents the biodiversity of Brazil’s native flora.

Both are examples of how traditional ingredients can be used innovatively and sustainably in contemporary cuisine.

A few years ago you announced that you will be opening a new dining concept, Ella, in New York this year. How is that coming along?

In 2024, I am launching Ella, in the Meatpacking District in New York. Designed by renowned architect Isay Weinfeld, Ella will offer a laidback culinary experience with a sharing menu, using fresh ingredients and a Brazilian twist.

I am excited to bring this new proposal to New York’s vibrant culinary scene.

South American gastronomy has been making waves globally in recent years. Why do you think the world has suddenly woken up to the idea that your continent has many excellent chefs, fabulous restaurants, and a treasure trove of amazing ingredients at their disposal?

The growing popularity of South American cuisine can be attributed to its rich diversity of flavours and authenticity of its dishes. The combination of traditional techniques with a modern presentation has captured the attention of global foodies. Moreover, the appreciation of food as a shared cultural experience has attracted people seeking more than just a meal, but a genuine connection with different cultures.

The dining room at Ploós

What aspects of your cooking do you want to introduce most at your kitchen takeover of Peter Conisti’s Ploós at Vivid Food 2024 later this month? Would the focus be sustainability, the culinary heritage from the south of Brazil, or simply a taste of Manu?

“During Vivid Food in Sydney, I am excited to present a menu that fuses the culinary traditions of southern Brazil with local Australian ingredients. This event is an excellent opportunity to highlight sustainability and the rich culinary traditions of my country while celebrating contemporary innovations in gastronomy. We will create dishes that not only respect sustainability but also tell stories through flavours, connecting people to the land and its culture.

Which chefs are you most keen to meet – and maybe collaborate – at Vivid Food?

There are two Australian chefs I admire greatly – Lennox Hastie (of Sydney’s Firedoor) and Josh Niland (of Saint Peter and Fish Butchery in Sydney, and FYSH in Singapore). Both have unique and innovative approaches to cuisine that deeply respect the origin of ingredients.

If there’s one thing food-loving Sydneysiders should look forward to in your cooking when you take over Ploós during Vivid Food, what would that be?

Food enthusiasts in Sydney can expect dishes that reflect the vibrant, colourful, and delicate energy of my cuisine, with a careful adaptation of local ingredients. I plan to bring a culinary experience that values the present moment, focusing on the quality and the story behind each ingredient. It will be an opportunity for diners to enjoy a meal that not only satisfies but also inspires and transforms.

[Image credits: Manoella Buffara and Vivid Sydney]

This interview was brought to you in collaboration with Vivid Sydney and The Foundry Asia.

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