Alex Atala is the chef owner of DOM restaurant, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The day I met him, he was holding court at the back of his restaurant, being interviewed by countless Japanese TV crews. His PR people were there keeping all the interested press at bay until it was their turn to approach Mr. Atala. With their aloof and tense demeanor, they projected a completely different sense of who he was. When it was my turn to approach the mantel (I mean his table), I was pleased to learn that Alex was instead very down to earth, easy going, and friendly.
Alex Atala is essentially the best and most innovative chef in Brazil. That’s quite a big mantle considering the size of the country, but there really aren’t restaurants or cuisines like his. He is one of the only local chefs to have received acclaim abroad for his innovative and refined cuisine. He lived for quite some time in Italy where he learned a lot about cooking, so, happily, we were able to converse in Italian (I haven’t yet learned Portuguese). I had been told that he was “the bad boy” of Brazilian cooking, and I think this has as much to do with the multitude of tattoos covering his arms as it does with the actual cuisine he has created, unusual for this city. I didn’t see these tattoos when I met him as he was wearing a white chef’s coat; I knew they were under there, though, as the writer had made it a point to tell me. Clearly she had been impressed with his talent and his charm, apparently a common occurrence since my female guide was also literally smitten with him.
We sat and chatted for a while about the kind of photo I wanted to take of Alex. Something outside the restaurant would be great. I asked him about his interests, and quickly discovered that hunting with his bow and arrow was one of them. So I boldly asked to see his tattoos, we decided on a sleeveless shirt for the shoot the next day, and chose a park which resembled the forest. He was into the idea. He showed me his famous arms covered in his son’s names, his wife’s name, and numerous X which crossed out the names of former lovers. His arms were a map of his sentimental life.
He gave me a tour of his kitchens and invited us for dinner the next night to sample his delicate and colorful food, clearly distinctive in this city which favors churrascaria. Another Tokyo crew waited to speak to him.