o ponto de encontro da comida de verdade
Somos uma rede de pessoas de diferentes áreas de conhecimento. Cozinheiros, agricultores, pesquisadores e consumidores conscientes que foram, aos poucos, formando a Manivanet. Criamos esse espaço para compartilhar nossas descobertas e convicções e, com isso, gerar possibilidades para novos projetos, parcerias e eventos.
Claudino Avelino da Costa na floresta de bananas e caquis. Foto por: Bel Corção
By Ecochef Teresa Corção – Instituto Maniva
Claudino has a unique nickname, that nobody knows if he really likes: “Bichinho”, that means “tiny animal”. In fact, it is a bad joke. He is a really tall guy, with a rather unusual face, that lives inside a forest, just as a character from a fairy tale. His house was built, many decades ago, in the hearts of Parque da Pedra Branca, the largest urban forest of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he was born and lived all his life, selling khakis and bananas to the neighborhood below. He belongs to Agroprata (Association of Organic Farmers of Pedra Branca) a traditional population, remaining from the enslaved African people, brought from during colonization to be the major working force in the fields and mansions of Portuguese families that arrived in Brazil after colonization. Apart from the ironic nickname, Claudino is always thinking about his production and how to improve it. The only day he leaves his fruit trees behind is Tuesday, when he comes down to the Farmers Market at Ipanema, the wealthiest neighborhood in town. There, nobody ever asked about his real name and, of course, never about his surname. Same from so many small holder farmers in our country. Part of the underestimation of rural populations comes from this lack of recognition of their citizenship, their whole name.
In Rio there is a generation of chefs that started to cross, in a creative way, the bridge between them and those farmers, opening an important road from consumption to production. When, those professional cooks founded Instituto Maniva, an NGO whose goal is to connect these two separate worlds that surrounds food, they started visiting different farmers at their land. Not only to find new kinds of vegetable or fruits but also to learn the farmers needs at their monthly meetings, curious to know the challenges of farmers lives and all the details about their work. They felt the urge to see how they could help finding solutions that could increase their income and promote their products. It seems to them illogical, that all those delicious fruits and vegetables, could come from places and people that sometimes didn’t have enough to eat themselves. They also realized, by experience that, whenever cooks get together with small holder farmers some energy raised and many possibilities could arrive. They had the same passion that ruled their lives. The passion for food.
That day it was raining and windy. Not exactly the kind of weather inviting the bunch of urban cooks to climb a hill for at least two hours. Before one could enter the forest, there were some small buildings surrounded by poverty and garbage. It was a shocking contrast between the high quality fruits and vegetables and such a lack of infrastructure. Claudino lived tucked inside a bush of several trees, literally in the forest. To get there he usually ride a donkey, struggling up the steep earthy road that led to his wooden house. From there, in the middle of many trees, people could hear no sound, apart from the scattered squeak from the birds and the night screams Claudino made when he wanted do sent a sign to the people that lived at the other side of the forets, “not to feel alone, just to feel alive”.
The place was a paradise of green trees and silence and one of the most breathtaking views of Rio’s mountains. Usually the chefs like to climb mountains like that to have a break from the pressure of the restaurants. Today though, with the rain, they accepted the suggestion to stay down, near the road to watch the farmer’s monthly meeting.
The gathering of around twenty farmers and chefs took place at the veranda besides the processing room. A quiet place where they arranged a simple table, plastic chairs and an old white board with a couple of pilot pens for those who dared to write something. It was in the room next door that they dehydrate the fruits, bananas and khakis, to sell in the farmers market. The wet air’s smell could tell. The khakis season usually went from the first days of April till the end of June. Because of the difficult logistics downhill it was not unusual that they would lose one third of the crop, every year. This was just one of the many challenges they had. Their faith was getting fainter after decades of living there. The arrival of the group of chefs brought curiosity and a small promise of change.
Since 2010, when the group of Ecochefs Maniva began to take part at the farmers market, things had started to get better. Apart from finding a good place to sell their organic certified khakis and bananas, the farmers from Agroprata now found new friends, others farmers, from all parts of Rio de Janeiro State. Also they began a personal relationship with the consumers that went every week to the market, looking eagerly for those special products. They were citizens and chefs, old people and children, lawyers and actors. For many of those it was the very first time they saw and could talk directly to a farmer. To Claudino and his colegues, certainly the first time they met that kind of people and were treated with so much admiration and respect. To their surprise they didn’t bargain much, in fact, the cordiality from both sides was so present that often they received and gave gifts.
That was how the Ecochefs met “bichinho” Claudino, Luis, Rita, and Agroprata farmers. Instituto Maniva had a stand at the Farmers Market. They were called to increase the public at the fair and that really worked. What they didn’t know was that they would begin a friendship they never imagined.
Soon the farmers invited the chefs to visit them at the forest. But that was not an easy task to convince the cooks to cross the town, one hour and a half drive with a bumpy road and astray lazy dogs, to get to that forgotten part of the district. The farmers wanted to show us everything: the forest, their homes, the khakis and banana trees. Proudly they showed them the dehydrator won as a gift in the past. But the most important thing was to take part at the Association monthly meeting.
It was worthwhile. The rest of the group received us with great joy. It seamed some Royal Family had arrived there, by their reaction of our presence and availability to listen to our suggestions. We felt slightly embarrassed with such a reverence.
We tasted a wonderful khaki and wild lemon juice in a plastic jar at the table at the end of the meeting room. Also, a banana and molasses cake which made the chefs joy but, unfortunately, also there were huge plastic bottles of sweet soft drinks and packages of cheap chips that made us review our list of issues to work with them.
They started thanking everyone for their presence and explaining the meeting agenda. First topic was their legal right for the land. It was a long claim since they discovered the remaining of an old slavery settlement that, by Brazilian law, gave them the right of ownership on that land. But new Brazilian laws, on the opposite, said they could’t stay there anymore because it was a “environmental protection area”. So the voices went louder.
There was some struggle and disagreement about the strategy that should be taken. The chefs sat at the corner, in silent. It was very knew to them to be at this rural reality and taking part in something they never though about. Their place in the food chain has always been at the end of it, the last link until the final actor, the consumer. Little they knew about the farming part, not saying the organization, the management, the governance. It was all too knew for them.
They hadn’t realized Claudino has left the room. His tall and slightly bent figure now was coming back to the room where all seemed to talk at the same time. With a nod with the head he called one of the chefs outside. She obeyed. “Taste this”, he said, pouring carefully some of the orange liquid in a spoon. Curiously she smelled with surprise. It was an acid smell but sweet, at the same time. A flowery sent; exotic, but gentle. She knew it was a familiar sent. It took her two minutes to realize: “khaki vinegar!Did you know how to do it?”
“Yes, I have learned at the television” he answered, proudly
“Up in the mountains, at my house”
“But how did connect the tv from there? How you found out to do it?”
“I have my means… was watching a movie, the other day. The guy started to make some vinegar, out of apple. It didn’t seem difficult. I realized maybe I could try with those khakis that would never be sold because they get smashed on the way down the mountain.”
Claudino poured again, carefully, enough liquid to make the chef have a second try. She tasted it carefully, trying to get each note of the taste, scrutinizing it to the maximum detail. It was wondefull, strong, flavourfull without being too acid and aggressive to the mouth. She closed her eyes to save that taste for a very long time and she still can remember to tell other chefs the experience. It seamed minutes until she opened her eyes again to find Claudino smiling, a recognition smile, with pride.
Since then that vinegar passed from hand to hand of the most awarded cooks in Rio. It went to a chemistry lab to make sure it had the safe amount of acidity. It went to the university of agronomy to make sure it was well done. Many chefs and students tasted it at the Cooking Schools. The chefs start spreading the word until it reached the most prestigious restaurant in town, Lasai, one of the 50thBest Restaurant in the world. Today, Ecochef Rafa Costa e Silva uses only vinegar khaki organic vinegar from Claudino’s production in all his preparations. The product from the forest made the magic path between farmers and chefs.