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how the best female chef in Latin America prioritizes the reconciliation of work and family life and a new “mature” cuisine.

Brazilian chef Manoella ‘Manu’ Buffara has reset her priorities, adapting her eponymous restaurant to improve the well-being of her team. The recently announced winner of the title of Best Female Chef in Latin America 2022 talks about mental health, giving back to the community and her more plant-based menu.

“Restaurants are based on people, not workers,” says Manu Buffara, chef-owner of Manu in Curitiba and nearby Ella in New York City. “We need to make sure they are healthy mentally, physically and financially.”

It’s an approach that is easily embedded in an industry where long hours, harsh conditions and burnout are all too often the norm. But a few years ago, Buffara decided her life needed to change, leading her to leave the city to improve her work-life balance and spend more time with her daughters, who now they are seven and six years old.

As soon as he identified the problem, he realized that his team was also suffering and decided to implement a change for everyone. In late 2019, he halved the capacity of his flagship restaurant, Manu, reducing the number of tables from 10 to five and reducing the restaurant’s opening days from five days a week to four. He introduced new team-building initiatives, including weekly English lessons and an annual day trip that has taken them rafting and hiking together.

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“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, not only for me and my personal life, but also for the team and their own lives,” says the 39-year-old, who now he lives in a house with his own plot and beehives outside the city, in the state of Paraná, in southern Brazil. “Now everyone comes to work with more energy as a result.”

Chef Manu Buffara’s eponymous restaurant is based in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Taking the microphone

Prioritizing mental health and well-being in the workforce is an approach that Buffara wants to spread, using the platform she has been given as the winner of the Best Female Chef Award in Latin America 2022. “When you win an award like this, t ‘get the microphone; they give you a platform. Everything we receive from society we have to give back,” he says.

Giving back to the community is something the chef has done through her various projects throughout her career. Over the past decade, he has focused on building urban gardens in Curitiba, installing beehives and transforming abandoned areas of the city into areas where communities can feed themselves, while empowering people to waste less food.

Until the pandemic, his projects were developed on an ad hoc basis, but in 2020 he created the Manu Buffara Institute to better organize his social initiatives and raise more funds. Now the institute acts as an umbrella for four different projects, among them Mulheres do Bem [Good Women]a network of chefs, journalists and food producers dedicated to cooking healthy meals for the city’s homeless, and Alimenta Curitiba [Feed Curitiba]an annual event that distributes food and helps with education and social inclusion in disadvantaged areas of the city.

Buffara also campaigns against children’s menus, believing that children should be offered adult options rather than automatically being given pasta, pizza and chips. “It’s an initiative to try to change children’s palates, because parents often end up limiting what their children eat. [by not offering them wider options],” she says. “My daughters eat everything — they try things, and they have to try things, because we have to give kids that freedom.”

More about Chef Manu Buffara:

The metamorphosis of Manu

Along with his personal epiphany came a subtle but significant shift in his cooking, with Manu’s menu moving further towards a bolder and more ‘mature’ approach. Although the restaurant hasn’t served beef in years and has focused heavily on local vegetables, seafood and lamb from its family farm since opening in 2011, the Metamorfose tasting menu now ends with a carrot dish, which she says helps educate diners. that “you don’t necessarily have to finish [the savoury part of] a meal with meat”.

“I’ve changed a lot in the last few years,” he adds. “I have grown as a woman, as a mother, and I have been cooking at home [during lockdown]. The Metamorfose menu is part of the transformation I have experienced.” The tasting menu also includes dishes such as leek with peanut sauce and vegetables, and heart of palm fermented with dill and riberola oil.

The move to vegetable-based dishes was helped by her stay at the luxury Soneva resort in the Maldives, where Buffara spent two weeks cooking in 2021 and where her pop-up restaurant, Fresh in the Garden, will operate from November 2022 in November 2023. The menu at the year-long residency will be 30% vegan, 30% vegetarian and the rest from seafood, which has seen his team develop nut-based cheeses and other plant-based alternatives. Part of his team will be moving to the Maldives to cook with ingredients from neighboring Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere in Asia.
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The second final course of the Metamorfose tasting menu: carrot, leaven and fermented cassava flour

There have also been changes in plans for Ella, the restaurant in New York’s Meatpacking District that Buffara was originally slated to open in 2020 and is now set to open in June 2023. Reflecting the changes at Manu, Ella now it will have capacity for 50 people. instead of the planned 70 and will close on Mondays to give staff a break. Meanwhile, the menu has evolved from what was originally planned, with umami-packed dishes like cured fish with mushroom sauce and Jerusalem artichoke chips featuring American ingredients and Brazilian flavors. “The menu has changed a lot; now he is much more mature”, he says. “I will not decorate everything with flowers; each dish will have just a few ingredients and lots of flavor.”

Next May, just in time for her 40th birthday, Buffara will move to New York for four or five months to open Ella. The timing was meticulously planned with her husband so that their daughters don’t have to leave school and can stay with her part of the time, a non-negotiable in Buffara’s new approach to life balance work and family. Although it requires “a lot of work,” he believes it is possible to combine family life and social endeavors with his restaurant career so that nothing is sacrificed.

As for his advice to other chefs and restaurateurs, he says: “Treat your staff as human beings, not as chefs. The more you develop them as human beings, the more you’ll get out of it professionally.” Buffara is living proof of that.

The next edition of the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be announced on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. To be the first to know the latest news and announcements, browse the website, follow – us on Instagram, find us on Facebook, visit us Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.