Dana and Christine Honn serve a mix of Brazilian, Caribbean and Gulf Coast fare at Carmo (527 Julia St., 504-875-4132; www.cafecarmo.com). The duo will serve street food items popular in the Brazilian state of Bahia at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's Cultural Exchange Pavilion, which this year celebrates Christine's native Brazil. Dana spoke with Gambit about Brazilian cuisine.
How did you learn about Brazilian food?
Dana Honn: We moved to Brazil in 1992 and lived there for six and a half years. Christine was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. I grew up in the restaurant business, so I was cooking from an early age. My parents owned a Mexican restaurant, so I learned Brazilian food in Brazil.
What dishes will you serve at Jazz Fest?
H: We will be doing two dishes from Brazil. One of the dishes is called acaraje, a Brazilian dish that really comes from West Africa. There's a dish in West Africa called acara, which is ... a black-eyed pea fritter. In Brazil, they took that black-eyed pea fritter and embellished it — splitting it open and filling it with something called vatapa. The vatapa is a cashew, peanut, chili, coconut and shrimp paste. [It] is enhanced by red palm oil, which is indigenous to South America, because of the palm trees, but also was used in West Africa. It's a highly nutritious palm oil so whatever you fry in it is, as far as fried food goes, good for you. It's a crazy antioxidant. It has huge amounts of vitamin E. ... It tastes really good. It's a very aromatic flavor. ... [W]e actually fry the black-eyed pea fritter in the red palm oil — like a Brazilian street taco, where you split open this fritter and you fill it with vatapa, shrimp, vinaigrette, onion, tomato and cilantro. And then it will be served with our Brazilian hot sauce. It's a very traditional dish.
The second dish is pao de queijo, which is made with tapioca flour. It's gluten-free. We import a special Brazilian cheese called queijo de Minas. It may be most similar to a slightly sharper farmers cheese. It's kind of soft and a little spongy. It's aged, so it gives it a little bit of depth. It's basically these little cheese balls. That's something that you find throughout Brazil. People eat them for breakfast, lunch and even for a snack before bedtime.
What makes the dishes good festival fare?
H: The acaraje is a dish you wouldn't necessarily find even in Brazil at large festivals, because it's got several steps to making it. ... In Salvador de Bahia, out in the plazas you'll see these women in white, billowy gowns in front of a large vat of the red palm oil, frying them to order. It's one of the most iconic dishes of Brazil, along with pao de queijo.
We've been making pao de queijo at the restaurant for about three and half years and people immediately notice how unique the flavor is, and that they've never had anything like that unless they've been to Brazil.