When it comes to learning, there are no obstacles for the chef Ieda Matos, owner of the restaurant Casa de Ieda, in São Paulo. Well, there were obstacles, actually. So many that she only graduated from a technical course at the age of 40.
Ieda Matos was born and raised in the farm lands of Chapada Diamantina, in Bahia. Cooking was always surrounding her. “My aunts have always cooked. By that time, there was no such thing as “street food”, So they cooked and sold meals in street fairs in cities close to where I was born. I used to like being around the wood stove, watching everything”, she said. With her 13 brothers, she used to live in the middle of nature in the farm, where her father was always encouraging her to work. “We buried manioc in the calm waters of the river and then we got ‘massa puba’ (a fermented form of manioc) and with it we’ve made porridge, cakes and biscuits”, she said.
When she was older, she went to live and work in Salvador. “I’ve worked in a lot of informal jobs, such as markets, kitchens, cooking meals and baking cakes. This connection with food was always with me”, she says. By then, all of her knowledge was from her own experience, since the formal cooking learning only came after her 40’s.
“I came to São Paulo when I was 35, when I got the chance to study. In my background there was the simplicity of cooking, local cooking, respecting ingredients and the small producers. I’ve never turned my back to my origins”, she says. At the age of 42, with her technician degree in hands, another opportunity arrived: to live abroad. “My husband had finished his librarianship studies at Ufscar (Universidade Federal de São Carlos) and had earned a scholarship to study in Belgium. I went there with him and we lived there for a year. While he was studying, I did some internships in different kitchens”, remembers Ieda, who even not speaking the local language, was always trying to learn more and more. “I knocked on the doors boldly. I spoke no English, but studied some Spanish. In the gastronomy world you don’t use words, but speak with a knife in your hands. We all use the same cooking language”, she said.
Back to Brazil, her only doubt was: working 12 hours in someone else’s kitchen or having her own business? The solution was, at the peak of food truck’s fever in Brazil, to create one with her own identity. “For three years I worked in the Kombi (a Volkswagen vehicle model that is commonly transformed into food trucks) that was named Boca Piu – O Segredo da Gastronomia Nordestina (the secret of Northeastern gastronomy)”. When this market (of food trucks) got out of fashion, the time (and money) came to open my own place. That’s how Casa de Ieda was born, in Pinheiros neighbourhood, in São Paulo. “I went to Chapada Diamantina, researched among local cooks and came back to São Paulo decided to work with dishes from my origins”, says Ieda, who made some adjustments to local taste (for instance, using less coriander).
“Brazilian cuisine is my life, my ingredient. I love my origins, my place. From there I take everything I need. It is very wealthy”, she proudly says.