When I was working in Italy in 2008 I had the opportunity to attend Salone del Gusto and its sister Slow Food conference Terra Madre. At Terra Madre I signed up for the talks from restaurant professionals who try to apply the Slow Food ideals into their businesses. One of these talks was entitled Sustainability in the Restaurant, one of the speakers in this talk was a chef from Brazil called Fabio Sicilia. His portion of the talk focused on the issue of exotic ingredients that are sourced in the Amazon and used in Europe and in the United States. Chef Sicilia focused on his experiences as a native from Belém who traveled to Europe to attend culinary school. It was during his talk that I first learned about the issues regarding the açaí trade. Sometimes the big companies that are making a huge profit selling these ingredients internationally will even go as far as spreading false rumors that the crops are tainted with disease so that the locals will not consume the açaí, leaving a bigger share for the large companies. He also mentioned issues regarding the cocoa beans that are grown in Pará but hardly ever consumed locally. There are cocoa farmers that he visited who do not have any knowledge or incentive to process their own beans and produce local chocolate, instead they buy all their chocolate and cocoa powder from large companies such as Nestlé. On the other hand, chef Sicilia said that there are ingredients that are now becoming profitable because they were “discovered” by European chefs who employ them in new and creative preparations while the locals disregarded the product as something uninteresting or simply an unwanted weed. This is the case of the berry that chef Sicilia found in France under the name physalis (also known as Cape gooseberry) – he fell in love with the taste of it and was eager to share it with the cooks at his restaurant in Belém. When he returned and shared his discovery with his cooks he was told that this is actually a fruit from a herbaceous shrub that grows rampant in the outskirts of Belém and is mostly burned as an unwanted weed. After the talk ended I approached chef Sicilia and shared my interest in coming to Belém and learning first hand about all the incredible foods he talked about. He gave me his contact information and told me to pay a visit if I ever come to the area. Chef Sicilia’s talk that day and his welcome invitation is actually one of the main reasons why I decided to make Belém a major stop in this South American trip.
After a few days exploring Belém on our own we decided to come and check out chef Sicilia’s restaurant, Dom Giuseppe. Our host Maria de Lourdes said that Dom Giuseppe is rated one of the best Italian restaurants in town, so we were excited to try it out. Chef Sicilia is actually a very active businessman in the area. He is the president of the regional Restaurant and Bar Association, he is the Chef Coordinator of the Amazon Chapter of Slow Food, all in addition to running his restaurant and a wine store adjacent to Dom Giuseppe.
The restaurant’s menu consists mostly of traditional Italian dishes but with a Brazilian touch to it. Some of Chef Sicilia’s creations makes the use of local ingredients and techniques. For an appetizer we had crostinis with local cheese. The two main dishes that the chef recommended were Peixe no Tucupi and Filet Mignon com Risotto de Baião de Dois. The fish dish consisted of a tucupi sauce thickened with tapioca gum and used to coat the base of the plate giving a mirror-like base where the filet of dorade was placed leaning on white rice and topped with jambu. A classic Pará dish with a nice fine dining presentation. Every item was perfectly executed giving a great flavor combination to the dish. The other entree we sampled was the beef tenderloin with risotto de baião de dois. This dish uses the traditional Northeastern Brazilian concept of mixing rice with beans, cheese, and carne seca – but here Chef Sicilia uses arborio rice and the risotto method, giving the dish an Italian flare. The finishing touch is some sauteed kale with pancetta and farofa, making it a very traditional all-Brazilian dish. Once again all items were perfectly executed, the risotto was very hearty and flavorful, and the beef was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The whole time we were there Chef kept us company and treated us to great wine from his cellar.
The business philosophy of Dom Giuseppe is an excellent example of great hospitality. The staff is extremely well trained, and the place has a great ambiance for both parties and intimate dinners. While we were having our dinner there was another table with a birthday celebration and the staff puts on a great show with lights, choreography and sparkling birthday candles. Chef Sicilia also invited us to see the kitchen, and I am pleased to say that his kitchen is by far the nicest and cleanest kitchen I have ever seen in South America.
After we were done with dinner he invited us to a local vale tudo event that he was sponsoring (mixed martial arts). This was a very exciting opportunity since most of the greatest fighters in the world stage start in small Brazilian venues like Belém. The whole night was very fun and I am extremely glad to have made my way here to taste the food and hone my friendship with Fabio Sicilia. I am sure that our paths will keep crossing in the future, and make sure to pay him a visit if you’re ever in Belém!
Restaurante Dom Giuseppe
Avenida Conselheiro Furtado, 1430
Belém – PA, 66035-350, Brasil
+55 (91) 3241-1146