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The flesh trade

Sanjiv Bhattacharya     July 9, 2009

There’s little match for the decadence of a Brazilian churrascaria. We went to Wildfire in Gurgaon to see how it’s done.

The Brazilians have a thing about flesh—they like it plentiful and exposed, for all to admire. Copacabana beach is just a parade of bodies, of every shape and size, oiled and tanned. Topless musclemen swagger past. Women wear bikinis to the grocery store. What’s a Brazilian wax if not an effort to expose more flesh?

So it figures that Brazilians are rampant carnivores. Their grilling style is called churrasco—the restaurants are churrascarias— and it’s nothing short of a wanton celebration of flesh. You order a couple of caiparinhas, and turn your place mat up, so the green face is showing. And one by one the men bring skewers to your table—rodizio service they call it— speared with every possible cut of beef, lamb, boar, sausage, duck, prawn, lobster, chicken, snapper, cod, quail, pork, veal, pheasant, deer, goat and ox. With bits of pineapple. So long as the place mat shows green, the meat keeps coming—it’s eat-all-you-want, prix fixe. Like a walk down the beach, the glistening meat is paraded before you, as the cocktails kick in. Only flipping your place mat will stop the show. The effect is overwhelming.

The churrascaria concept, both decadent and Atkinsfriendly, went down a storm in the USA. The place I visited in Rio—Porcao, or as we called it “pork out”—is now a hit franchise. And for the last 18 months, the concept has been in India. Wildfire remains the first and only churrascaria in the country, based in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Gurgaon. We paid a visit to learn the art of Brazilian flesh.

“The art of churrasco is to highlight the meat, not mask it,” says Chef Mateus Finato, a softly spoken 22-year-old from Sao Paolo. He spent four years learning churrasco in Brazil’s first city before manning the spears at Wildfire. “Down in the south of Brazil, the beef is very high quality—second only to Argentina. It’s to do with the grass in the pampas (fields). The cows are reared only for meat. Churrasco was developed when farmers would transport cows long distances—they would stop along the way, kill a calf and eat. So they built a fire in the ground and using charcoal, cooked the meat. Very rustic, very simple.” At Wildfire, most of the meat is imported— Brazilian beef, French duck, New Zealand lamb, Norwegian salmon and German sausage. Only the chicken is local. It’s a slim choice compared to the churrascarias of Sao Paolo, but still, it’s redolent of the cosmopolitan melting pot that Brazil is—a cuisine that draws on immigrant traditions from Italy, Germany and Portugal, and slaves from Africa. But the spirit of the churrascaria is intact at Wildfire— one of excess and abandon, an orgy of sizzling meat.

“Most of our customers are Indians who have enjoyed churrascaria elsewhere and crave it here. They’re regulars now,” says Chef Mateus with a grin. “Once you try churrascaria for the first time, you are addicted. You never ate like this before.”

•The art of marinade
Simplicity reigns. The meat is the star. First rub it with rock salt and pepper and leave for half an hour—this goes for all meats. In fact, for beef, that’s all you need to do. Then with the marinades below, keep them for 24 hours in the fridge.

Massage with garlic, onion and olive oil, then paprika perhaps, fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary, and beer.

Garlic, onion, olive oil, with mint and red wine. The alcohol tends to soften the meat.

Garlic, onion and olive oil, but with a splash of orange juice, Tabasco and chilli flakes.

Garlic, white wine and Dijon grain mustard
Wildfire at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Site 2, Sector 29, Gurgaon
Tel: (91-124- 4534000), Price for two (excluding alcohol): Approx. Rs 2,500

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