The Brazilian Connection

ArticleJessica SoltComment

We wanted to embark on a quest for true Brazilian flavors filled with the warmth of home. So it seemed only natural to ask Carlos Varella and Andressa Junqueira to allow us into their New York apartment for an evening of food and stories. They were thrilled.

“I  love to eat and to watch people eat!” says Carlos, wearing an apron and armed with a wooden spoon and tongs. He wears an ear-to-ear grin while showing off the ingredients that he will magically turn into a cozido over the next few hours.

Round one of caipirinhas arrives.

Carlos grew up surrounded by aromas emerging from pots and pans being patiently stirred by mom or grandma back home in Brazil. A few years ago, he took the plunge and bought a restaurant that specializes in Brazilian dishes, a self-serve joint established in 1954 in Santos, São Paulo, his hometown. Now a revamped locale, locals and tourists flock to Restaurante Florença looking for homemade fare.

Where would Carlos be without his better half? Her name is Andressa, a fashion model from Minas—the third largest urban agglomeration in Brazil after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Although she has traveled the world while in the fashion industry, working for brands like Lord & Taylor, Donna Karan, Garnier, and Theory, her eyes inevitably light up when she speaks about her beloved Brazil.

“One of my fondest memories is going to the Carnaval do Rio,” she shares. “It’s amazing to see the rich and poor come together and to be surrounded by such an incredible energy.”

Marisa Monte is playing on her iPad on the kitchen counter, which she claims is the best music for cooking. We can’t help asking about her jetsetter career. She tells us she was discovered at the tender age of 14, when a scouter approached her grandmother on a beach.

The Brazilian couple met in Mexico City in 2002. We sip on our second round of caipirinhas, while listening to their amazing love story. Nicolas, their 4-year old son, peeks playfully through the kitchen door, probably wondering what could possibly call for such an invasion.

It feels like we’re old friends when Andressa shows us pieces of art brought from Mexico. She even invites us into the intimacy of their bedroom to explain—bursting with pride— that it is the only place where they can store their surf boards. There is a large one for Andressa, a medium-sized one for Carlos—a surf champion—and a tiny one for little Nico, who is still learning how to catch the waves.

The cozido is almost ready. Originally a Portuguese stew, it was adopted by Brazil and through the incorporation of various local flavors given its personal touch. “It’s a very grandmotherly dish,” Andressa explains. Carlos quickly adds, “It’s a family tradition. You stay away from the kitchen because you know grandma would never let you lend a hand.” So how did Carlos learn to cook? “When we had to travel for the surf championships, we would make instant ramen noodles. One day I started playing with the flavors by adding cheese and other ingredients,” he explains while opening one of the cabinets filled with Maruchan containers. Laughter takes over the kitchen. “I still eat them!” he adds with a smile.

Perhaps it’s the caipirinhas or the Portuguese wine, but everyone is cheerful when it’s time to gather around the table for a feast that is sure to please both hearts and bellies. São Paolo might be thousands of miles away, but here, in this New York home, surrounded by the stories, the samba, the surf boards, and the tastiest cozido, you can’t really tell.

Carlos' and Andressa's Recipe for Cozido à Brasiliera.

Photos by Pako Dominguez.