Roberta Sudbrack: "The Past is Our Future"
A chat with Brazilian chef Roberta Sudbrack, one of the Seven Sages at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, about making it as a self-taught cook.
Roberta Sudbrack, a former Latin America's Best Female Chef, knows how important it is to learn from the past. Her eponymous restaurant in Rio's Zona Sul sits at number 14 in the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list, but it's been quite the journey to get where she is today, having started out selling hot dogs on the streets of the city, through to cooking in the Presidential Palace.
Sudbrack is one of the "Seven Sages" that will select the ultimate winner at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 competition. We spoke to her ahead of the grand final in Milan on 13–15 October about the importance of learning from your mistakes and making it as a self-taught cook.
What advice would you offer to the young chefs of today?
Look forward without forgeting to look back. In front comes innovation, boldness and the unusual. Behind is the essence. Without it you’re lost!
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
Do it for love. Never for money or glory. The time money and glory start being more important it’s over, the magic is lost.
Tell us about a time when you remember making a mistake as a young chef: what happened, where were you working and what did you learn?
I make mistakes until now! And this is great beauty … By the time you realise that the mistake can be a great master and learning experience, you are beginning to urderstand the whole story!
What do you miss most about being a young chef?
I’m a self–taught cook. Everything I’ve learned is because of my desire and obsession with being the best I can be in my profession. I have that empirical sense of knowledge, so I'm constantly experimenting. It was 20 years ago and it was a great learning period.
What would you say to young female chefs who are passionate cooks, but feel put off by entering such a male dominated industry?
Even though we’re in the 21st century, women still face challenges over equality in various fields and professions. Gastronomy is no different – the industry is predominantly male. But we’ve made progress and I personally have nothing to complain about. The key to success for women in the cooking industry is respect. It’s something that should be present in humanity, in society and in work. With an environment of respect, those who have talent and persistence will flourish. So, don't give up ever!
What’s exciting you in the world of contemporary Brazilian cuisine?
I’m really attracted to trivial, day-to-day Brazilian ingredients. I love exploring new dimensions in those ingredients, unveiling new possibilities, creating a narrative that helps to change the way those everyday ingredients are seen and used. I like to look at the food we eat with a fresh set of eyes.
I seek to preserve our culinary heritage by translating the influence of classical techniques to our present–day reality. By bringing the past up to date and learning from it, I am able to extract infinite intertwining paths for my own cooking, trying to avoid the banal. With this interplay I seek to avoid the straitjacket of tradition for tradition's sake, while also steering clear of a cult of innovation that only leads to an excess of fusion and fads. The quality, originality, and environmentally friendly nature of the ingredients we use links us to the best possible products, which therefore produce the best results and allow us to offer the best food. I always say that my mise–en–place begins in the farmer’s garden.
What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the immediate future?
When my grandfather passed away, I started selling hot dogs as a means to support my grandmother and myself. So Sud Dog is closely linked to that backstory. I always wanted to return to that episode and retell it in a present-day context, with the idea of serving quality food. When I was planning this step, I did not want it to be a smaller-scale version of my Roberta Sudbrack restaurant. I wanted a much more laid-back project that would be accessible to many more people, so I suddenly realized that I should take my food out onto the streets! The idea was to help the people of Rio enjoy their city more. Because of this I opened a physical location, called Da Roberta, for those who wish to enjoy the food in greater comfort. This is my street food bar.