Helena Rizzo, the owner and head chef of Mani in São Paulo’s Jardim Paulistano district, has been elected the best female chef in the world by Veuve Clicquot and Restaurant magazine. Previous winners have all been based in Europe.
According to Restaurant, it seems as if Helena Rizzo’s journey to the top of the international restaurant game has only just begun. Yet the pinnacle is already in sight, they note, with two major awards in as many years and a restaurant that is steadily moving up The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Rizzo was last year handed the award for Best Female Chef at the inaugural Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and this year sees her achieve the same honour on the global stage, an extraordinary achievement for someone still only in her mid-30s.
Her restaurant, Mani, marries traditional Brazilian ingredients and culinary philosophies with modern technique and a dash of international influence, from Spain and Italy in particular. This results in wildly exciting but accessible food: diners here loosen their metaphorical ties and tuck into sticky skewers of octopus with confit potatoes and sweet paprika; heady cachaça-steamed shrimp; and peach palm and pumpkin tortelli.
The Brazilian-born cook’s ability to reconcile a respect for tradition with contemporary techniques and evolution in cuisine is part raw talent and part experience. Since the very beginning of her professional journey Rizzo sought to work under chefs that shared her broad and adaptive culinary outlook. After turning her back on a career in modelling and – latterly – her training as an architect, Rizzo learned her craft under some of São Paulo’s most influential chefs including Emmanuel Bassoleil, Luciano Boseggia and Neka Menna Barreto.
After a brief stint running the kitchen of the city’s Na Mata Café, the young Rizzo embarked on a culinary grand tour around Italy and Spain that culminated at seminal Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. It was here that she met her future husband, the Spaniard Daniel Redondo. The pair opened Mani in 2006 and continue to run the kitchen (and indeed the rest of the restaurant) as a partnership. This highly unusual approach clearly works: Rizzo’s delicate, openly feminine style is allowed to shine through, making Mani one of the very best restaurants in Latin America – led by the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef.