Deo Optimo Maximo

A photo of Atala's Gourmet Shop, Dalva e Dito, just down the road from D.O.M.
A photo of Atala’s Gourmet Shop, Dalva e Dito, just down the road from D.O.M.

I think this photo oozes with charm. It’s like, I wish my kitchen counter looked like that.

Creative Inspiration is lurking in the most seemingly unlikely places of your life.
I recently found some in mine.
It came from a hand-me-down issue of WSJ. Do you know what WSJ is? Until last week; I didn’t. It’s the Wall Street Journal’s magazine. I thumbed through the issue and found numerous articles and anecdotes that appealed to me. I found them hiding between the watch ads, perfume ads, investment advice, and spreads of ornate homes. Good thing I was looking, otherwise I might not have noticed them.
What I was most impressed by was an article highlighting a Brazilian chef and his restaurant. (His name is Alex Atala. The restaurant is D.O.M. In São Paulo. The Article is titled The Year of Cooking Dangerously.) Here’s why…

  • It is set in South America.
  • I love food and I love the idea of eating as entertainment. I find it difficult to relate to the mentality of eating in order to get the job done…because you have-to otherwise you’d go hungry. I enjoy the ideals of eating as an adventure; a pleasure for not just your mouth, but the rest of your sensory organs as well.
  • I think people that have lead two lives are the most interesting people on the planet; especially when we are talking about someone who goes from punk-kid (tattoos, piercing, drugs, the whole-nine) to running the best restaurant on his continent and the fourth best restaurant in the world. (as rated by 800 industry insiders in a poll sponsored by San Pelligrino)

D.O.M. Stands for Deo Optimo Maximo. It’s Latin for “To God The Good, The Great.
In particular the article struck me when David Chang (fellow chef and founder of Momofuku) comments on his first encounter with Atala’s food,
“It makes for cuisine unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.” Chang has just eaten a dish involving coconut apple and seaweed. A coconut apple is the spongy mass that grows inside a germinated coconut, and it’s not typically consumed; nevertheless, Atala slices it and pairs it with seaweed, giving the dish the flavor, as he says, of a beach after a storm-which is exactly what it tastes like. “In a nutshell, it explains the emotion behind Alex’s cooking. It’s something nobody ever appreciated that he’s made brilliant.”
Regardless of what you’re talking about, in this case it happens to be food, that is a beautiful opinion of someone’s art. It is a characteristic I feel as though I can relate to. I do not think everything I create is brilliant; by any means. In my work however, I try to take objects that may seem insignificant and shine light on them. I take pride, and enjoyment, in presenting people with things they are already familiar with, but have never held to an esteem.
I understand that this is an element to the art of most artists, and especially to creative chefs; but it’s the ingredients in Atala’s dishes are what surprise, and delight, me in regards to this article. Before D.O.M. Brazilian ingredients were previously looked upon as less sophisticated, less important, less and interesting (if they were known at all) in the food world; but Atala’s showcasing is making the food world redefine Brazil. He’s got one ingredient that took him three years to research. It’s an aromatic called priprioca. It was previously only used to scent perfumes. Another paragraph of the article reads:
Next up: Ants, two of them, sitting on a cube of cold pineapple. They taste not like lemongrass, exactly, but like a field of lemongrass all concentrated into one small insect. When Atala first found them in the far northwestern city of São Gabriel da Cachoeria, he asked what they’d been seasoned with. Because the flavor struck him as profound, he was astonished to hear the answer: “They are just ants.”
Now mind you, I’ve never planned to eat insects in my life. But the beauty, simplicity, and taste-potential has me sold.

Images of locally provided ingredients. I apologize for the crappy scan.
Images of locally provided ingredients. I apologize for the crappy scan.


So not just is this chef-guy being creative day in and day out, pushing the boundaries of what is considered not only edible, but delectable; he is also carrying the weight of a cause. He tries to incorporate his countrymen in every aspect of his output. It takes a lot of energy (passion) to run your own restaurant. It takes even more energy (I’d call it energy fueled by compassion) to do it with, and for, the people of your local land and community. The article describes D.O.M.’s menu as “contemporary high-end dining with exploitation-free and sustainable Amazonian tribal roots.” The Chef claims to feel a sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility has positively affected many things; from small rice farmers and their families to the Rain Forest itself.
Another quote from the chef is, (in reference to when he was younger) “Back then I was always against something. Now I use that same energy to fight for something. My main idea is to show local people how important these ingredients can be for them.”



Through out my life I never want to stop learning. From the presentation of this chef’s (artist’s) life I have relearned that it’s OK to be true to yourself. Do exactly what you want, because you want to, using the materials you desire. Once your heart is truly in the right place, the Universe will smile upon you…and if the Universe never decides to smile upon you, at least you can smile upon yourself and be proud of what your doing. It’s cool to be humble. It’s cool to work hard. It’s cool to like yourself. Treasure Hunting is a good idea.

P.S… The author of the original article is Howie Kahn and the photographer is Stefan Ruiz.
If you go on the WSJ magazine website you may be able to read the entire article.