Brazilian culinary evangelist and Chef's Table star Alex Atala has just opened a new venue in São Paulo. One year after opening the meat-focused Açougue Central, Atala now has the eagerly-awaited Bio: by far the most casual of the Atala restaurant empire. “High-end and high-cost restaurants exist today and will always be there,” the chef says. “But it is natural that many chefs have a bigger concern about giving all layers of society access to to their cuisine.” At 140 seats, the restaurant is also Atala’s biggest.
Located in a large corner building in the Itaim Bibi neighborhood, Bio is an all-day eatery where diners can go to eat açaí bowls, have a light lunch or dinner, or sit down for a piece of cake with a cup of coffee. There are also more elaborate creations, such as roselle pickles and guava foam served with cheese ice cream. The spacious, well-lit room (with big windows for natural light) has a salad station, an open kitchen with a charcoal grill, and a bar where diners can order cocktails and artisanal sodas made with fruit skins and vegetable peels.
“Each of my venues have a different average price,” notes Atala, who has his world-famous tasting menu destination D.O.M., as well as Dalva & Dito and Açougue Central. “I don’t create competition for myself.” At Bio, prices hover around USD $15 for a complete meal (salad, main dish, dessert).
There’s a reason Atala wants to stay accessible besides, of course, having a crowded dining room. “With affordable prices and stripped environment, it enables all people to come over and understand how their order is the key to a successful food chain where the small producer’s products are recognized and appreciated," he says. The vegetables come from local farmers, while the açaí pulp comes directly from Pará state.
Atala challenged Bio’s culinary crew to find a use for things they used to throw away, reducing the food waste to virtually zero. Head chef Raul Godoy and pastry chef Platinni Vieira have created recipes that use typically overlooked components like avocado pits, and herb stems from NCEPs (non-conventional edible plants). “We have spent more than five months developing the recipes to make sure we could use even more parts of the ingredients we thought it would be possible,” Godoy says. “With mango, for example, we tried but we couldn’t find a way to use its seed, but the skin did great in many recipes.”
Some of these creations are on the menu now, like the leek pesto, where the avocado seed takes the place of pine nut, and a farofa made from herb stems and manioc flour. Manioc is actually one of the star ingredients of Bio’s menu — Atala considers it to be the “most democratic ingredient” in Brazil, where it is widely consumed nationwide — and the restaurant has a counter dedicated to it, preparing recipes like tapioca, pão de queijo, and mandiocada (a sweet dessert made with ground cassava and coconut).
“Before we think about recipes, we thought about the concepts: using 100 percent of the ingredients, mutual support between the restaurant and its providers, and, more importantly, the materialization of what mindful consumption and consumption awareness truly mean,” Atala explains. According to him, consumption awareness is to understand that the market is able to generate the demand. “Your order, your action have a true influence on it. As individuals, we must understand that we can be a means of transformation. Eating today is not simply feeding; it is a political, economical, social, and cultural act."
Bio is open daily, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and will soon have a take-away window and delivery. Here, take a look around: