Helena Rizzo is one of the younger chefs to be featured in Netflix’s new culinary competition The Final Table, and she’s the show’s only culinary professional hailing from South America. Here’s everything you need to know about the Brazilian chef.
Who is Helena Rizzo?
Rizzo is the chef and co-owner of Maní in São Paulo, Brazil. Her work earned the recognition of being named “Best Female Chef” (a problematic award) by the World’s 50 Best organization in 2014. The same year, Maní was ranked 36th on the publication’s list of the best restaurants in the world, and second among establishments in South America. It’s currently ranked 87 on the list.
What was her journey through the culinary world like?
Rizzo, born in 1978 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has not always had dreams of becoming a culinary superstar. She was an architecture major in college before dropping out to work as a model. In 1997, she quit that line of work to take a job as a cook, working under big-name French chefs Claude Troisgros and Emmanuel Bassoleil at Roanne in São Paulo. Rizzo furthered her new career with internships at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe: Sadler in Milan, Italy, and El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.
She returned to São Paulo in 2006, and, with some financial backing from investors — including the Brazilian actress Fernanda Lima — opened Maní with her then-husband Daniel Redondo. The restaurant has held one star in Michelin’s Brazil guidebook since it was first published in 2015.
What is Helena Rizzo’s food like?
Maní’s menu makes sense, considering Rizzo’s background. The restaurant blends Brazilian and European cuisines, which produces dishes such as foie gras “bonbons” with guava paste, and banana with manioc flour and edamame. In 2009, chef, author, and critic Anissa Helou described Rizzo’s cooking as “delightful and clever.” The Michelin inspectors advise diners to “allow your senses to run free as you savor modern dishes with superb textures and clearly defined flavors, which are created using the finest Brazilian ingredients.”
“In the beginning Maní was much more commercial, in the sense that we couldn’t take as many risks,” Rizzo told Eater a few years ago. “The restaurant worked, tables were full, and that gave us the freedom to evolve, to push further, and to do things our way.“