Black Grouper and Spiny Lobster at Vojnilô
Yesterday we arrived in Fortaleza, the capital of the Brazilian state of Ceará. We came here to meet my father. His suggestion for our first night’s dinner was to go to his friend’s restaurant, Vojnilô, which is rated the top seafood restaurant in the state. Chef Lúcio Figueredo is a career changer; he used to work in the financial markets of São Paulo, until he met Vicente Bojovsk, a Macedonian man who runs Guaramare (rated by Guia Quatro Rodas as the best seafood restaurant in Brazil). Figueredo fell in love with Bojovsk’s coastal cuisine. He decided to become his apprentice. After twelve years of research he came to Fortaleza and opened his restaurant in tribute to his mentor. Vojnilô is the proper Macedonian spelling of Vicente Bojovsk’s first name.
The meal we had at Vojnilô consisted entirely of seafood. We ate an appetizer of lobster kabobs and sirigado kabobs. For our main course we shared a seafood platter of octopus, lobster and prawns. The entire meal was prepared very well. Most of the seafood was cooked in a grill, just to the right point. The ingredients were very good. Chef Lúcio is very nice; he talked to us for a while about his love for hosting people. His restaurant is very well decorated and he also has one of the best wine cellars in Fortaleza. Sirigado is a very popular fish in Ceará; in other states it is called badejo, and in English it is known as black grouper.
Black Grouper is a fish that can be found through out the Eastern shoreline of the North and South Americas from Massachusetts to Southern Brazil. It is more prevalent in the Caribbean and in the Northern coasts of Brazil. It is a white fish that cooks up firm and retains it moisture, making it an excellent fish for grilling. It cooks really well roasted or fried but it is actually such a versatile fish that it can also be used in stews, chowders or just about any preparation. In some parts of the United States black grouper is also known as black rockfish.
The lobster served in Brazil is the spiny lobster found in warm waters of the Caribbean and South Atlantic. The Brazilian spiny lobster is highly prized because it has the biggest tail you can find (no pun intended). There was even a dispute between the French and Brazilian governments called the Lobster War. Starting in 1961, Brazilian fishermen (who mostly use rafts as their vessels) complained that large boats would come from France and catch lobster in the waters off the state of Pernambuco. The Brazilian navy asked the French ships to leave and the situation became tense when they returned with a French navy escort. I guess you really can’t mess with a French chef’s desire to get some good lobster! No shots were ever fired during this dispute which was settled in 1963. The French gave up their claim that the lobster was a swimmer species (it actually moves in big leaps) and that it was found in international waters. But since it is a crawling species and not a swimmer, it is found on the bottom of the sea, which is considered Brazilian soil.
Currently, Ceará, is the state with the biggest lobster fishing fleet. The Brazilian government imposes several restrictions in order to avoid predatory fishing, but they are hard to monitor and many organizations claim that illegal fishing is rampant. The local communities depend on the income from lobster fishing, the market employs thousands of fishermen. There are also lots of merchants, and restaurants that profit from the business, generating a lot of local revenue. This situation makes it harder to preserve the species and I think it will be very difficult to know if a balance will ever be reached. Unfortunately the future might look bleak for the spiny lobster.