After running four restaurants in São Paulo — among them his acclaimed Michelin-awarded restaurant D.O.M. and his latest, Bio — Brazilian food evangelist Alex Atala is tackling his biggest project yet: a 35-floor hotel. Like his most famous restaurant, the hotel will be called D.O.M.
Scheduled to open in São Paulo’s scenic Jardins neighborhood in 2021, hotel D.O.M. will feature multiple restaurants and food service from Atala’s team. The Chef’s Table star is still figuring out the details of what, exactly, that will look like.
“I have not yet decided whether to move D.O.M. and Dalva e Dito there, but this will very likely happen,” he says. The two restaurants — his fine dining crown jewel and a more casual spot, respectively — are currently located less than a half mile away from the future hotel property. ”What we do know is that we will have at least five food operations in the hotel, in addition to managing the entire room service for our guests, such as breakfast and catering for events.”
Days after his first-ever Fruto symposium — which will return in 2019 — Atala talked about the hotel, his ideas for a new book, and why he doesn’t plan on opening any new restaurants in 2018 — at least for now.
On creating a distinct sense of hospitality with his upcoming hotel:
Atala is quick to point out that D.O.M. will not be a hotel with a chef-driven restaurant; it is a hotel created in partnership with a restaurant group. He’s working with a real estate company and an investment group, and they’re expected to spend some $50 million on the project.
“The restaurant industry is a part of the hospitality industry, and I think many chefs dream of doing something associated with restaurant and hospitality,” he says, citing examples like the Nomad, a growing hotel brand from Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm and Will Guidara with locations in New York City and now Los Angeles. “I asked Daniel [Humm] for a lot of advice,” he says with a laugh. “I knew this could be possible, but I did not know how to do it.
“One of our concerns is that we have to deliver a Brazilian atmosphere, but in São Paulo. São Paulo is very different from Rio de Janeiro, just like New York is pretty different from Los Angeles. We want our guests to feel that despite being in a big metropolis, they’re in a Brazilian city as well,” he explains. “We want to offer comfort and our hospitality, which is a Brazilian trademark.”
This also means that D.O.M. will be integrated into the city. “The restaurant’s floor will be totally accessible to the streets, so that people can move around freely there,” he says. “We want to have at least five food operations, and I plan to offer some of those to friends. There are chefs who could run their restaurants in São Paulo, and there are even chefs that are here, but in other neighborhoods, far from this one.” Atala hopes Rodrigo Oliveira, from the essential Mocotó, who is opening a restaurant in Los Angeles, would be one of them. “What I know for sure is that I will have a flagship restaurant and will also run more casual ones.”
The Brazilian chef also likes the idea of opening more branches of his hotel in the future: “It’s very early to say, of course, since we are focusing on this one now, but I would love to take this project to the Amazon as well in the future. I have a connection to that place; it would be amazing.”
More on Fruto, a seminar created to put São Paulo on the food circuit:
Organized in partnership with cultural manager Felipe Ribenboim and Atala’s ATÁ Institute, Fruto, which took place in São Paulo in January, brought together anthropologists, geneticists, farmers, and environmentalists for a conversation about how and what we will eat in the future. The event examined food in a broader and more holistic way than typical industry festivals.
“We had a lot of confidence in the content of the speakers we invited, but we could not imagine it would turn out to be so great,” Atala says. “Now the challenge has gotten bigger for the next year — and maybe years. We’ve already started to work on Fruto 2019. We hope to put São Paulo on the map of the main food events in the world, and also make the city a gastronomic destination with its restaurants and initiatives. Barcelona, for example, has many, many restaurants, but it is at least six times smaller than São Paulo. We have the potential to grow much more; we have room for six times more chefs than they have there.”
Atala says, however, that he wants to try to keep the event small — there only were 300 guests for the first edition — in addition to offering a free livestream. “If the event gets bigger, the message will eventually disperse. As a co-curator of MAD, which hosts twice as many people, we have experienced this as the tent grew larger. More than a food symposium, I want Fruto to become a movement around food, in which people can create their own actions.”
On his 2018 agenda, which may see him writing a new book, but no new restaurants:
“This year I want to focus totally on my already-established projects,” he says. “Besides D.O.M., which turns 18 this year, and Dalva and Dito, I want to take good care of the restaurants that I have with partners, such as the Açougue Central and Bio, the youngest of them, which already fills me with pride.”
Today, in his 50s, Atala says he is in a phase of looking back and understanding his own story. “There were times when I ran out of money and I did advertisements to keep this all up, to continue living this dream,” he says. “But I look back and say that I have learned a lot in these past decades. I feel more confident in my work and that of my team.”
This year, the chef wants to put the house in order and to structure things better. “All this reflection made me want to write a new book, a mixture of memoir and a cookbook. It would be a book about turning 50, I think. It is a remarkable phase in a man’s life,” he says. “It would be about having had many joys but also great disillusions, but always with the recipes that I developed in each one of these moments. I just hope I find the time for that.”