Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back in Brotas, then with Beto

Saturday came in the window shining. We got out close to ten, grabbed a light bite and a cab to Brotas. We had a date to see the house Eneida had built and hang for awhile. I had the map she had created for me in August. Brotas is a large neighborhood, a former colonial sugar plantation, and a large hill with various means of egress into the hood. Learning a new hood, requires knowing which Ladeira-or hill is the right one to get into the area of the neighborhood that you will need to access.

We started out fine. Better than when Michele and I had taken a cab and given the map to the driver. This man, Luis with a sunny smile and raspy voice had knowledge of the hood, and the streets enumerated on my map. Great/Otimo. Well, that fell away on the third circuit of up and down hill and valley. By chance he stopped a passerby who ended up being his friend, they hashed it out and resolved nothing.
A phone call to Eneida got us there.

Set a severe dip in the road, this home seems like it was planted in the forest. Magic starts the minute you open the door. The house breathes with the simple elegance that characterizes Eneida’s work as an architect. This time Giba Conceição, her former partner and pandeiro, is home preparing for a meeting with colleagues involved in a rural music education initiative, “Caravan of Music.” They educate music educators in rural Brazil on creative way to teach and make instruments and music; giving new seeds to the those who are seed planters.

We laughed, giggled, we all shot pictures. Tracy and Giba, then Eneida, then one of Giba’s homey’s: Ocimar played on a few of the many percussive instruments laying about. Bliss. Hours went by, and I kept seeing both Tracy and Kathy with those wide dimply grins on. By the time we made a studio visit, Tracy was planted, roots twining towards the stream below.

We split up in mid afternoon to pursue various goals. Mine was to return to Paraiso Tropical, ( rua Edgar Loureiro, 98-B, Cabula. Tel. 71 3384-7464) and spend some time with chef, Beto Pimentel. He and his restaurant are quite unique.

Do I tell you of his first careers as agronomist, nutritionist and clothing manufacturer in São Paulo? Or his dedication to cooking artisanal products and not industrial ones? Hmm, the 23 kids and four wives? His cuisine inspired by the African culinary influences, local produce and healthful eating. The youthful vigor and spunk that keeps him refining his game moment to moment? The fifty acre tropical farm, wild habitat with a small cadre of free range chickens on the hillside behind the restaurant;—where he can pick the bulk of his produce as it ripens. I think he said more than 3,000 fruits, vegetables, edible and decorative flowers. Or his Farm in Reconcavo where he can grow whatever is not available in sufficient quantity in Cabula? Ready for dinner?

I watched Jorelma, one of his children and Chef de Cuisine lead her cooks through lunch service. The food is anchored in tradition, but constructed spontaneously building layers of flavors savory, sour and sweet. A moqueca created by Beto will begin with a light fumet like broth, fish bones, smoked-dried shrimp and a few veggies. Coconut water blended with Coco Verde, the jelly like soft fruity stage of coconut’s life comes in to create the emulsion. Kerplunk of Octopus, Shrimp, Crab, the core flavor you chose comes next. Pitanga, acerola, jaca, a panoply of herbs, green cashews or fresh Palm fruit become the coda. A of drizzled freshly pressed Po or Dende oil, Liquid Butter or Virgin Olive oil infused with Urucum seeds (for a red color) if you have an allergy to Palm get added at appropriate moments.

They have worked it out. Beto says it took him six months to create the dish grilled fish and grilled fruits. The day I came back to visit that ended up being my dinner. Before that time I alternated between watching Jorelma from their pass and taking pictures. Or, sitting with Beto watching Futbol on a large bulky set placed in the outdoor café area. He’s a chain smoker who can’t sit still. TV seemed to provide a momentary pacifier.

After the first hour he invited me to look at his garden before it got dark. One of the gardener’s walked me through pointing out various fruits unknown to me, some veggies and many budding flowers some edible, some not. It sounded like they have a litter of some animal like a tapir or one of the other oversized rodent-ish mammals native to the area. I don’t think that I saw a quarter of the property before the light faded.

Coming back to my perch between TV & kitchen, I realized that I still hadn’t eaten, since the cod pastry this morning. Beto got up and split somewhere. I asked Jorelma for a small appetizer or something easy. I got crispy fried Adulignha with a biri-biri pepper relish and a tropical fruit vinaigrette. I told her that I would be going soon. She was too. Shopping for a few missing bits to cook with. It was nearly six o’clock, I wanted to leave at 6, catch a bus, shower, change, meet Kath & Tracy and hike up to Castro Alves for the Pina Bausch protégé’s dance concert.

Beto returned, deciding that I needed to have the grilled fish. I begged off, and he wasn’t having it. I went back to the kitchen and observed for a while. I tried the route home in my head, and thought I could make it work in a cab, if I left by 6:45. Coming out of the toilet, I looked up at the crestfallen face of the one male cook in designer whites and matching cap. The kitchen has a large window in it, keeping everyone inside on display. I couldn’t hear it all, but it sounds like he burned the fish or the grilling fruit. I caught enough to bring it to Beto’s attention.

Returning from the kitchen, he said, “It’s a good dish, but it takes time.” I tried to chill. Forty five minutes later I had decided that I didn’t need to shower or go home. If I could just get this fish, then a cab and be on my way; I’d be fine.

Jorelma came in with a young man pushing a small grocery cart, her supplies. I had told both he and his daughter that I had a compromiso with Eneida, they knew her. He checked in the kitchen; a little while longer. He called a cab from his cell. I was pacing now. By returning to review his wall of fame, eyeing the many snapshots and awards, validated my activity.

Thirty minutes later it arrived on an elliptical marble platter, compartmentalized to segregate each type of fruit. Fourteen in total. He hand fed me with a fork. Just, stop. After the pear and lime, he realized that the fruit was too sticky. He started poking around my plate after he fed me a large piece of succulent fish. He put the fork down and stalked off into the kitchen. He was disappointed and pissed. As he turned around he mumbled how this guy was new, not one week on the job. “Eu tinha O Exposição Culinaria Baiana. Devia dormir alguns dias depois dos eventos. Não entendiu bem, ele.”

If the cab would come I could go. It seemed like thirty minutes had gone by since called them. After he finished his rant, I asked the waiter-runner if he knew. He checked with Beto, now in the kitchen counseling the cook in technique. He had called three cabs. One was busy, and the rest hadn’t showed, so he decided to call his friend Jo.

Twenty minutes later I was saying goodnight just before I got into the cab. Jo promised to get me there within 14 minutes. “Most folks take 22,” he said. “I need to live through this” was my rejoinder. “I have four filhos, don’t worry.” Banking the curves tightly as he drove, I hid my anxiety, and vented the last three and a half hours to Jo and nobody. He promised to arrive more quickly. I basically said, “Don’t worry, I’m fucked.”

He tried to assuage my guilt by talking about himself. If he ran late he just told his wife after he had had some stiff drinks. Coming out of the car drunk and weaving all his wife could say was, “Take a shower and sleep it off.” He hadn’t any cares. I tried to show how that wouldn’t work for me, even if my friend agreed to the behaviors. We were at a stalemate, and I am not really Baiano.

He took a few more shortcuts and got me there just after 8:15. The guard told me that the gates had been locked at 8:10. There was no intermission, nor egress. No one was coming in or out until it was finished. I walked back across Campo Grande and waited in the wrong place for the bus by accident. When I sorted it out and was home fifteen minutes later. Here at the same glass and chrome dining table writing when they came home. I had just sent an e-apology to Eneida.

No one was cussing but they weren’t happy either. Post industrial mechanical music, with excellent, beautiful dancers who didn’t move. Well didn’t move enough. It played something like that. They chuckled when I said, “It sounds Germanic.” I had had the best evening, according to them. I coulda skipped the stress, the thirty dollar cab-ride for nothing, and bitchy attitude that I had had in Jo’s cab. Again, nobody got hurt. It isn’t that hard.

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