If you live in Brazil and like to watch food TV shows, you have certainly heard about Guga Rocha. If you are a fan of Brazilian gastronomy, too. This chef from Alagoas (Northeast of Brazil) works in different areas, but always with the same objective: to spread knowledge about our national culinary. That is exactly why the chef Ana Luiza Trajano, founder and president of the Instituto Brasil a Gosto, invited Guga to be the ambassador of the institution, while she is in France, dedicated to improving her studies in gastronomy and working in a research project, also opening up new work fronts for the institute in Europe. “Ana Luiza and I share the love we feel for our people, for Brazil and our cooking traditions. This invitation, to be the Institute’s ambassador, brought me great joy. We can now unite my 10-year research about traditional communities with the Institute’s force, making it possible to safeguard recipes and traditions of these peoples as well as create opportunities and foster development through the kitchen.
Just like Ana Luiza’s, Guga’s family has strong cooking traditions. “My grandmother was a big chef in the Northeast region of Brazil. She studied classic French cooking, she used to make wedding cakes in Alagoas and other places and also had a catering service”, he says. Guga used to help his grandmother in the kitchen while negotiating his plans and wishes with his dad. “I have passionate about cooking since I was very young”.
He used to think that cooking could not be a career – just a hobby – so he studied management, marketing and even applied for law school. None of these possibilities gave him the pleasure he felt with gastronomy. So, 20 years ago, he decided to embrace cooking once and for all.
In 2014, Guga reached the finals of Super Chef, a cooking reality show that was part of the morning TV show Mais Você, hosted by Ana Maria Braga, which turned the spotlight on him. Soon afterwards he was invited to be part of Homens Gourmet, a TV show from the cable network FOX. From that point on he is getting more and more notoriety.
As a researcher, Guga Rocha also crossed borders and went deep into worldwide food culture. “I’ve worked in restaurants abroad and visited more than 40 countries. I like to know other cultures and their food to understand peoples and their roots. I always try to figure out how they got to a specific decision in cooking, how they reached some point of development. More than just learn recipes, I want to learn customs and traditions”, he says.
“I like to do multiple things at the same time, and I don’t see myself living any other way. When I was doing TV, I was also researching the kitchen of the quilombos (Brazilian traditional rural communities whose members descend from former slaves) and this is a subject I want to explore more with help of the Instituto Brasil a Gosto. I have written two books published by Editora Matriz and travelled the whole world with APEX showing Brasil’s kitchen in exhibitions and fairs” he says. His exploratory behaviour is the reason why he has never set up his own restaurant. “If everyone wanted to be a goalkeeper, we would never have players to score goals. We need to have people playing in all the positions. My idea has always been to search for our Brazilian roots, to find out where our kitchen and culture came from and work with this information”, says Guga.
One of his many projects is to create a chain of “tapiocarias” (restaurants dedicated to tapioca, a traditional Brazilian dish made out of manioc). Named Tapioteca, the chain has already two shops, in airports in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. He also signs the menu of Canil, a bar in Lisbon, Portugal, that serves food from Brazil and Portugal. “I think it is important to coach new generations and bring to the kitchen the love for Brazil , the knowledge of our local ingredients and to value even simple things”, he says. His hard work defending Brazilian culinary granted, in 2017, two commendations from São Paulo’s city council: Grand Order of Gastronomy and Commendation Juscelino Kubitschek.