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A Brazilian Chef Plans Her 4,800-Mile Commute to New York


At first, Manoella Buffara thought the idea impossible and even “a little bit crazy”: commuting nearly 5,000 miles from southern Brazil to open a restaurant in New York.

But after years of trying to persuade the critically acclaimed chef to take the proposal seriously, the American entrepreneurs Michael Satsky and Brian Gefter finally succeeded. Her new restaurant, Ella, is on track to open in late November in Chelsea.

Ms. Buffara and the partners will not reproduce Manu, her 20-seat tasting menu restaurant in Curitiba, southwest of São Paulo. (The new place is much larger, seating 98.) But she plans to maintain her Brazilian flair, showcasing vegetables and fruits alongside seafood in colorful presentations. The hyperlocal and sustainable ingredients to which she is devoted may not be the same (in Brazil, her sources are the rain forest, nearby farms and the sea), but what’s local to New York will inform many of her ingredient choices.

“It’s important to show that there’s more to Brazilian food than feijoada and churrasco,” she said during a brief visit to New York last month. She said she was encouraged in that cliché-defying direction by Mauro Colagreco, the Argentine-born chef of Mirazur, a restaurant on the French Riviera with three Michelin stars.

[Click here to read more from our restaurant preview.]

Among the items likely to show up on her à la carte menu are sea urchins; oysters; grilled and smoked leeks with mussels; raw fish with plantains; roasted cauliflower; fermented cassava; and oils she makes made from various nuts.

Mr. Satsky said her cooking would bring a new vision to New York. “No one is doing food like hers, Brazilian casual fine-dining,” he said.

Ms. Buffara, 34, has had a patchwork career. At 16, she was sent by her parents to learn English at a school outside Seattle, where she found odd jobs in restaurants. She later worked on a fishing boat and in a cannery in Alaska, backpacked in Europe and finally went home to get an undergraduate degree in journalism while attending hotel school.

Next came cooking school in Italy, kitchen jobs in top restaurants there and two months at Noma, in Copenhagen. She returned to Brazil to be a cook, then opened Manu in 2012.

Ella will be decorated by the Brazilian designer Marcio Kogan, with “lots of wood,” Ms. Buffara said, an open kitchen and a wood-fired grill. She’ll offer natural wines from South America and elsewhere, and a playlist of bossa nova, samba and jazz.

A manager from Manu and the sous-chef, Lucas Correia, will relocate here. And though Ms. Buffara has a husband, two young daughters, several community projects involving farming and beekeeping, and a restaurant in Brazil, she said she expected to spend 10 days each month in New York.

Ella 436 West 15th Street, November.


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