Published in Grok Magazine Issue #4 "Under the Sea", page 35
Last year, I decided to backpack around Brazil over the Christmas holidays. I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone. My friends couldn't understand why I wanted to go to Brazil of all places. Mother was less than pleased. "Why you go there la? You so silly you, aiyoooooo."
But I knew what I wanted, so I handed in my resignation at Vodafone and packed my bags. I came back in March with new hopes and dreams, a startling tan and some basic Portuguese. Unfortunately I also retured home with a pretty crappy credit card debt and no job. My plan had been to just find one when I got home - how hard could it be?
A month later, I'd distributed a bajillion resumes, spammed Seek and was still unemployed. One afternoon I sat on Urbanspoon, flicking through high-end restaurants I would love to work in, many of which had already rejected me as I had no fine-dining waitressing experience. I was about to snap my laptop shut when a link caught my eye under the 'Talk of the Town' section: Lapa Brazilian Barbecue. I practically fell over myself running to find the phone, and dialed their number.
"Hi! My name's Belinda, could I please speak to the manager?"
"I was just calling to enquire whether or not you guys are looking for waitresses at the moment?"
"Well... Yes, yes we are I suppose, do you have any waitressing experience?"
"I worked in a little restaurant for about 6 months last year, and I've worked in three cafes."
"I see. That's all very well, but the thing is, we kind of need you to be able to speak Brazilian Portuguese, so unfortunately I don't think you'll be suitable."
"Well, as a matter of fact..."
And there you were thinking Brazilian Portuguese was a useless language.
Lapa is a Brazilian churrascaria (barbecue restaurant) that has made a name for itself in Perth for its unique dining experience, weekend samba performances, noticeably attractive Brazilian meat carvers and consistently excellent food. Since opening in December, Lapa has received 14/20s from Rob Broadfield and Gail Williams, a nomination for the Australian Ethnic Business Award and widespread approval by the Perth foodblogging community. It's generally booked out three weekends in advance and even packs out on weeknights. And yes. I am bragging shamelessly.
The secret to success? Enter Fabio: head chef, experienced restauranteur and all-round cool guy. Born and raised in Curitiba, Fabio gained experience running his family's churrascaria, a business passed down from his grandfather to his father, and eventually to Fabio himself. It was there that Fabio learned everything he knows about authentic Brazilian food and how to cook the perfect churrasco. By running his own eatery, he learned that while plating up good food is important, all elements of a restaurant need to work together in order to create a first-rate institution. So when you come to Lapa, you don't just get Brazilian food, you get a Brazilian experience.
The most popular item on the menu at Lapa is the $49 'Endless Feast' or Rodízio, and if you've never tried it before, you have to experience yourself to understand what I'm talking about. Sometimes new customers will come in and ask for the 'buffet' - which I think is a bit of an insult. For me, the word 'buffet' calls to mind people awkwardly lining up for watery-looking casseroles, large trays of sliced salami, funky salads, and being surrounded by a disproportionate amount of old people. But not at Lapa.
Firstly, you don't go to the food - the food comes to you. Your best friend is a little cardboard coaster next to your plate that is green with 'sim por favor' (yes please) on one side, red with 'não obrigado' (no thank you) on the other. Provided that little thing is green, passadores (meat passers) will come to your table every five minutes or so and place a 1-meter skewer of meat on the table. Equipped with a large machete and manly biceps, they will slice off a succulent piece of meat for you, fresh from the oven and onto your plate.
There are 16 different cuts of chicken, lamb, beef and pork on offer at Lapa. There's a floor-to-ceiling glass window separating the kitchen and the restaurant, so customers have a view of the oven (the size of a small van) where all the different types of meat slowly roast on rotating spits. The set includes picanha rump cap (a Brazilian favourite), Argentinian scotch fillet, beef ribs, Brazilian pork sausage, kebabs, pork belly rib, pork scotch fillet, lamp rump, lamb chop loin, chicken wings, chicken parmesean, chicken hearts and chicken medallions wrapped in bacon. And then there's a plethora of sides you can choose from, with everything from chimmichurri to barbecued cinnamon pineapple.
My favourite would hands down have to be the pork belly followed closely by the beef ribs - a slab of meat so big that it has to be wheeled out on a trolley. Because it's been slow-roasted for 6 hours, it never fails to be this succulent, rich, melt-in-your-mouth consistency and goes really well with some refreshing molho vinagrete (the red salsa) that also comes to the table. And if you have room for dessert, definitely go the condensed milk pudding.
In the two months that I spent in Brazil, what really struck me was the incredible energy, warmth, flair and spontaneity of Brazilian people. You can see it in the way they greet each other, the way they go absolutely bananas for their soccer team, in their love of the beach and all things to do with being in the sun. This zest for life shines through so clearly in their food. So to me it only makes sense that the food is so wonderful: a delicious culture deserves a delicious cuisine.