How to think about a gastronomic itinerary? One possibility: traveling to places visited with someone.
It’s hard not to think about the chef, teacher and my step sister Mari Hirata (1959-2021).
Harvested by cancer, she left us —embittered, orphans— last Sunday, 30. For forty years, almost everyone with her outside Brazil, we were together, whenever possible at the table or the stove
We started eating in São Paulo. Me, editor of the Trotskyist newspaper O Trabalho, she, assistant of layout. Both greedy and, when dawn pointed, hungry.
“My mother gave me some money…”, she mumbled at times. “Today I received a salary”, sometimes it was me. And we ran to a gourmet break next door at Dinho’s Place.
There were also unusual dinners. Like in a clandestine meeting on the coast of São Paulo, during a course in Marxism where she and I decided to cook. With the ingredients available, I called a prosaic stroganoff “meat baits in hot sauce.” And all of us libelus (of the Liberty and Struggle student trend) wrap sheets around our bodies like at a Roman banquet.
The menu would improve later. In the 1980s, Mari went to Paris and spent years studying confectionery and bakery. When I went there for meetings of the Fourth Trotskyist International it was always a party, even if it was within the limits of what we had in our pockets.
It was, for example, a luxury to attack the (cheaper) lunch at Parc Montsouris: the food was not all that, but the place was elegant and beautiful, the company, first-rate (my brother Ricardo Melo, Folha columnist, Thomas Pappon , now a BBC journalist in London, PT leader Markus Sokol), and my roast chicken taught me that I had never eaten real chicken.
Years later, when she, already in Japan, returned with her family in 1996 for a stay in Paris, on any trip to Europe I would go there. We shopped at the street market, cooked and ate with delight. We also went to restaurants: armed with a badly knotted tie (where they required it), we attacked Taillevent, Crillon, Véfour and wherever they accepted us.
Once we ate separately. It was at L’Arpège, where she worked for the sensational chef Alain Passard. In the end he came to the table, and I asked him to call Mari. He treated her affectionately, without noticing her trembling at the deference of the chef famous for mistreating employees…
But the world is not just Paris. Of course. There’s Mocotó, Maní, DOM, Casa do Porco, Evvai —the last one in São Paulo that we went to together. Not to mention Tokyo, where I remember with special attention her taking me to Den and Ryugin.
And places out of nowhere. Once, walking through Paris, we were talking about the Dane Noma. Suddenly we passed a travel agency… and soon we were in Copenhagen, in the magical restaurant of chef René Redzepi (and strolling, at his insistence, in Cristiania, the bizarre hippie neighborhood in army terrain where the main distraction is marijuana ).
We also took a quick trip to Auvergne, France (to Michel Bras, where vegetables rule, the meat of the local breed disappointed me because it was filet mignon, and for dessert we had the biscuit coulant, which in the world turned into the pathetic raw cake called petit gateau). And one day we went to El Bulli, where we had an espresso coffee with Ferran Adrià which he filled with ice.
And we had our homes in São Paulo. Meals at Ms. Cecília’s house, Mari’s mother, live in my heart (and in the memory of my stomach). Banquets of ethereal refinement, conducted —from cocktail to dessert— by Mari and her brothers, all of them skilled sybarite artisans.
And, in my house, a monothematic menu. Meat in Japan is rare, expensive and, for grilling, bland — lots of fat, no texture, no grazing taste. Mari arrived in Brazil dreaming of good meat, and I made her skirt steak, with rice, black beans, farofa, kebab. Much in demand for non-stop cooking, she literally hid in my house, forbidden to touch the pots. I just spilled caipirinhas while we talked.
The last skirt steak, in pre-pandemic September, was more than that. A diaphragm (entraña) that I smuggled in my suitcase, from the best steakhouse in the world, to Don Julio from Buenos Aires. After wines, cigars, the sleep of the righteous. I think it was a fitting farewell.
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