The ubiquitous – and irresistible – pão de queijo


SÃO PAULO - Here in São Paulo, Sotheby’s recently opened a new office to support the growing art market in Brazil, and to serve both long-standing collectors and new collectors who are interested in acquiring the finest works by contemporary artists.  The art scene in Brazil feels quite different from Argentina, which has a smaller collecting community and more traditional tastes rooted in the turn of the century. Brazilian collectors are more daring, and it’s immediately clear that they have a more international perspective -- no doubt, this is largely due to the influence of the 60-year-old São Paulo Biennial, which has earned the city an important place on the international art map.


Figuera Rubiyat.


We've also had a dramatic cuisine change (although I'm sorry to say we haven't left dulce de leche behind). We started our Brazilian adventure with lunch under an enormous fig tree at Figuera Rubiyat, a restaurant memorable for steak that many of us liked better than the Argentinian variety, and an extensive dessert buffet. My nemesis is pão de queijo – that irresistible cheese bread that is to Brazil what the croissant is to France. It is made from manioc flour and comes in both a light, puffy version, or a dense little ball that packs a big wallop. Manioc -- the starchy, tuberous root vegetable, loaded with carbs -- is a Brazilian staple, and we’ve had it in many guises. After the pão de queijo, I think my favorite preparation was a puree with goat cheese we were served at lunch the next day.


Manioc puree with goat cheese.


(L) Fresh hearts of palm.

(M) Katia Mindlin, the Managing Director of Sotheby’s Brazil, digs into the coconut pudding.

(R) Chefs at work at Dalva e Dito.


Last night, we hosted a dinner for all our friends in the region at Dalva e Dito, the hot new restaurant by top-ranked chef Alex Atala.  This is Atala’s new restaurant, next door to his much celebrated D.O. M. I had a chance to chat with the chef, and asked him about his preparation of grilled pirarucu, a large Amazonian freshwater fish; it had to be one of the most delicious things from the sea I ever tasted. Atala explained he simply pan-seared the fish and served it with a Brazilian nut vinaigrette -- hand pulverized brazil nuts and their natural oils, mixed with some salt and lemon. Amazing.


An installation of Lygia Clark’s "bichos" at one collector’s home, impressive in its quality and variety.


São Paulo is the place to see the best work of the Brazilian Concrete Art movement. Established in the fifties, the movement is known for geometrically based painting and sculpture; it was Brazil’s response to the international art introduced to the country in 1951 with the launch of the São Paulo Biennial. By now, the Brazilian Concrete artists are well known internationally, especially Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and Lygia Clark, who will be having a retrospective next year at MoMA. I’ve always responded to their use of color, and many of them were ahead of their times by introducing interactivity to their art.


Hubert and Fernando Campana, via Design Museum


We wrapped up our visit to São Paulo with a lively studio visit with the Campana Brothers, where we saw works being made in their workshop – the beloved stuffed animal chairs, their brightly colored plastic sushi furniture, and some prototypes for new chairs they are working on combining woven plastic and bronze. They are also working on a new body of work made of leather teddy bears and crocodiles.  We chatted with the artists about their process: they explained that the material comes first, followed by form and then function. We saw lots of their pieces in private and public collections, and the more we did, the more we recognized the influence of the street life of Brazil, and the tradition of Brazilian handicraft, on their design.

In my next post, I’ll take you to Rio, where we will have the national dish, feijoada, and take a side trip to the contemporary art complex, Inhotim.