The Amazon rainforest, home to vibrant biological diversity, is emblematic of all that remains wild in this world. An endless, textured carpet of emerald treetops stretching thousands of miles every direction; green canvas through which carves the world’s mightiest watercourse. Worlds hidden within, every hectare ripe with luscious life. Unexplored in parts, uncharted in others, this vast jungle captures imaginations with promises of the unknown. Centuries ago Conquistadores plunged into it to find El Dorado – a legacy upheld by contemporary prospectors and adventurers.
The largest rainforest in the world and lungs of a hemisphere, the Amazon has been a focal point for environmental movements for half a century. Images of edenic virgin jungle reduced to bare, scarred earth have alerted the world of the dangers that unsustainable human development poses. Each acre decimated equates to untold losses, intractable destruction of unknown life.
In today’s world of instantaneous informational access and global communication channels, though, inspirational new ways of approaching critical environmental issues are being explored and shared. Dovetailing with increasing global interests in sustainability, health and rising environmental consciousness, a handful of the world’s best chefs have taken to the wilderness to bring a taste of nature to their tables. Rene Redzepi’s restaurant NOMA sources delicacies from local Danish wetlands; Magnus Nilsson’s Faviken serves foraged food from the surrounding Swedish arctic. In Brazil, Alex Atala’s Sao Paolo restaurant D.O.M specializes in rarely encountered ingredients from the Amazon.
Using the rainforest as a pantry has allowed Atala to introduce a new, revolutionary flair to Brazilian cuisine; showcasing the diverse and delicious natural resources of the Amazon in a sustainable manner. Like many postcolonial countries, Brazil has long struggled to emerge from the cultural shadow cast by its foreign founders. Musical and artistic revolutions have redefined the nation, but gastronomy has lagged behind; when D.O.M first opened in 1999, the haute cuisine of the country was standard exported European fare. Seventeen years and two Michelin stars later, the restaurant is in the global top ten and Atala is figurehead of a national gastronomic revolution that has been dubbed ‘the bossa nova of cuisine’.
With a background in punk rock, international nightlife and a charismatic personality, Atala is no stranger to courting controversy. Whilst it is easy to see his highly acclaimed culinary work as a continuation of his rebellious approach to life, there is a deeper motivation to Atala’s art – exemplified by the ATA Institute. This nonprofit organization, founded by the chef, spreads awareness of Brazilian ingredients and the environmental issues that threaten them, whilst providing farmers with support and fair payment for their produce. Behind every stroke of Atala’s culinary genius is the ambition for environmental sustainability that drives him: an ambition to revolutionize the way the world perceives the Amazon and, by extension, wilderness.
Whilst not all can enjoy the delights of Atala’s kitchen, his environmental mission has the ambition and potential for global reach: taking people on a sensory voyage to the heart of the jungle, whilst ensuring the survival of said jungle for future generations.
Once a faraway place for many, the Amazon is increasingly accessible. Exquisite photographical documentaries, lovingly curated exhibitions and exported delicacies allow people around the world a sensory experience of this magical place.
Atala’s work is unique and pioneering, but interacts with a wider discourse; a discourse of conservation, preservation and appreciation for natural places. This discourse speaks to a growing, globally diverse group of well informed, environmentally conscious and health minded people – a group which may ensure the survival of wildernesses such as this jewel of the Americas.