Day 3 - Sawdust?
I always wake up early, and today its 5am. I shower, read my script for the day and run through the schedule. Its going to be a long day, so I wander off for a quick early morning survey of the local area. Copacabana beach is huge, and even at this time in the morning there are people wandering about, or cycling, some even playing football. The sun is shining and there is a very gentle mood about the place. I return to the hotel and meet up with Richie and we slip into the restaurant for breakfast. The waiter asks us if we want to eat inside or out. We decide inside, as its already warming up outside and we are going to spend all day in the heat. When Janice arrives, she has a go, saying she wants to eat outside; we are in Rio, its beautiful weather blah blah blah. Breakfast is very impressive, smoked salmon, cheese and fried bananas, with a huge array of very well prepared, fresh food. Cappuccinos are excellent. We are accosted by a lady who its turns out is an artist. She wants to know what we are up to, and is one of those annoying people who never really know when enough is enough. I find it quite difficult to be rude, whereas Janice is straight to the point and the lady wanders off. She does return much to Janice’s displeasure and brings me some small puffed bread, a cross between a soft roll and a choux bun. Its eaten all over Brazil as a snack, and is made from oil, cheese and tapioca starch, and completely gluten free (right up my street) Pao de Queijo or Brazilian cheese bread, is delicious and will certainly be going in my Gluten Free World Food Bible, due to be published in 2016. The lady then leaves the restaurant and gets on her bike and subsequently falls off! I think she was still a little worse for wear, if you know what I mean. She waves and she’s gone.
We all finish our breakfast and re-pack all the stuff into the van. Our first stop is for Alison is to do a piece to camera right in the long galleried section of Rio where the carnival takes place. As we arrive fixer Jessell, hops out to have a chat with some workers. Its all fenced off and not looking good. We all step off the van and Alison sets to chatting up the workers, who fall in love instantly. Suffice to say, she was in and filming before anyone knew what was going on. From here we quickly drove to the Samba school, were Alison was going to be taught how to Samba properly. The place is huge, I mean really huge, and is a cross between and runway and huge storage facility. Here not only do they teach Samba dancing, but its also a store for many of the floats from carnivals past and present. In the UK we are used to small floats in our carnivals; here it’s a whole new ball game. Jessell tells me that they cost millions of pounds to make some up to 5 million. We peek into the stores and are blown away not only at the size, but also the detail that goes into making one of these. Have a look at the photo selection and you can’t not be impressed. The Samba crew turn up and after a few minutes to change, we film Alison getting lessons and really getting into Samba. Its loud, colourful and infectious. We film 3 or 4 times getting some great shots. By this time we have attracted an audience and everybody is having a great time. Brazilians always seem to be smiling! It’s getting really hot now so we break for a quick drink and to get a few shots of the floats and dancers.
Next stop the Garota de Ipanema Cafe where the famous song Girl from Ipanema was conceived. Apparently when a certain Frank Sinatra called the café to ask if he could record the song, the owners thought it was a prank call and put the phone down on him. He duly called back, explained and the rest is history.
The place is a normal back street café, two blocks back from Ipanema beach and its current owners serve some really nice food. We film a PTC (piece to camera) me walking in, menus shot and set up to chat about one of Brazil’s favourite meat experiences, the classic Picanha. It’s a rare grilled steak cut from the cap of the rump. The steak is half cooked, placed on a small portable grill and served to your table sliced. You then finish cooking the steak to your liking on the hot plate. Its classic accompaniments are toasted manioc (tapioca) flour, with scrambled eggs, onions and ham stirred through. Rice with peas and fries are also served. Finally we are ready to go and the cameras are rolling. Then the steak duly arrives and I tuck in. The meat is so tender, succulent and packed full of flavour. The fat tastes creamy and is delicious. I gently flash the rare slices and devour. We shoot many times (thank goodness) and at the end I’m stuffed. A quick word about the manioc flour. At first glance it does not look very appetising, a sort of scrambled egg dish with sawdust, small pieces of ham and spring onions. I know I’m not really selling it, but over the course of the trip I did quite enjoy it in the end. The crew tuck into the steak as well and like me are stuffed by the end. After a quick coffee we set up the final interview with the current café owner and chat about the history of the restaurant and song. Geraint wants more shots of the café so while he takes more shots the rest of us pile into the bus and snooze.
Next stop; learning to cook probably Brazil’s most famous dish, Feijoada. We were off to meet chef Simone Almeida at her cook school Rua do Rosario. The school is also a restaurant and situated in a trendy part of Rio. The restaurant has a lovely feel to it, warm and friendly. We meet outside and start to sort out all the kit, which takes some time. Simone is charming and warm and very helpful and we run through what we need from her. Whilst we chat, she suddenly barks a few words to our security man Paulo. Who immediately stands and looks around. I ask her what the problem is, she nods to a young boy no older than 12 and says he is here to check you out. She says they have seen you all earlier and they are keeping an eye on you. He quickly disappears when our man moves towards him. It just emphasises that you really have to be aware of your surroundings when in a strange city like Rio, known for its street crime.
We film a walking and greeting shot outside then move indoors to set up for the cooking sequence. Simone was as I have said, going to prepare and cook a Feijoada, a lovely deep flavoured bean and preserved meat dish, eaten everyday here in Brazil.
The cameras roll and off we go, she is very funny, articulate with a steely edge. Its something I have seen over the years from women who have done their time in professional kitchens. She doesn’t pussy foot around and cracks straight on. She chops up cooked beautiful smoked sausages, like a Andouille. She then cuts up salted pork and ham, more like bacon, including the fat and ears. Next she places soaked black beans into a saucepan and covers with water. Then simmers until the beans are soft, but not falling apart. The chopped meats are added along with bay leaves, orange pieces and a generous slug of Caipirinha, a very strong spirit distilled from sugar cane, and left for 2 hours.
After two hours the onions are sautéed with garlic in a little oil in a separate pan. Manioc flour is added, to soak up all the oil. It does look a bit like sawdust with onions in it. This is served as a side dish and probably will be at every meal we come across in Brazil. But being that Brazilians do not eat many vegetables, it’s an essential way of getting fibre so important to the human diet. Finally chopped bananas (there are 27 varieties in Brazil Simone tells me) are added along with a little salt and pepper. Its an odd combination, looking forward to tasting that one!!!
The final accompaniment to the Feijoada is some very finely shredded collard greens or cabbage that is sautéed in more hot oil with lots of garlic.
The stew is served in a deep bowl with the manioc/banana served separately and topped with the cooked garlic greens. The taste is amazing and really packed full of flavour. The smokiness of the meats and deep flavour of the beans are a very nice combination. The banana ‘sawdust’ is actually quite nice and, compliments the other two perfectly. Just going to prove never eat with only your eyes….Janice isn’t so sure, no surprise there then.
I make a white bean version, something that we could all cook at home, similar to a European bean stew, but basing it on her instructions. It goes down well and we all have a good laugh. Cold lemonades are brought to us and we are allowed to the put the air con on again!!! (Soundmen hate air con, fridges, aeroplanes, cars, horns and ambulances etc.)
We make enough so Alison and I can go to a local trendy/popular music area to see if the locals approve of my version of Feijoada. Its getting dark by now and rather than going back to the hotel we head straight to the trendy part of town. Thank goodness its close as we are pretty tired.
Its dark when we arrive and set up our tasting station. The locals are a mix of happy (drunk or stoned) or not happy we may take some business from them. Once it comes clear we are filming and no threat, many join in the fun including the kids. We spoon out bowls of my stew and film anybody who will taste. It all seems to go down well and everyone is happy. Alison dances with a few locals as the music gets into full swing and of course they fall in love with her. We do our final piece to camera and all pile back to the hotel. Its late now so we just have time for a quick beer before heading off to bed as we have an early start tomorrow (no surprise there then).