Summer 2018


Keyla Nogueira Cook, 35 of Hampton has gained a following for her Brazilian-inspired cuisine and calls herself a “chefpreneur.”

“It is the best term to describe my work since the business decisions I make are just as important as the ingredients I use to cook,” she said.

As the youngest of seven children growing up in Juquitiba, São Paulo, Brazil, she says cooking was ingrained in her as a way to show love and build community.

“My childhood was a very laid-back one in a small town, and I spent my days surrounded by nature with a variety of fruits that we could harvest — avocado, pineapple, guava, pears, cherry, lime, yellow plums, bananas, jabuticaba and cambuci. I was so spoiled!”

She began cooking as a family chore, making lunch for herself. Soon she was making dinner for the whole family and eventually helping with holiday meals.

“The best meals I had were homemade, either at my house or visiting family and friends. There was a Dutch vegan family, and I loved eating at their house. It was so different from what we ate! I also used to spend a lot of time with an Italian family, and we made fresh pasta every Sunday.”

The self-taught chef says her biggest culinary influences were the people around her, including her father’s family from Minas Gerais. “It is a state that has a very rich cuisine and received a lot of African influence in its meals due to high number of slaves in the area.”

Currently, she gets inspiration from Brazilian chefs like João Diamante, Rodrigo Oliveira and Ana Luiza Trajano, who hosted a dinner at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Her dream dinner guests?

“I would love to cook for Mayor Peduto. I’ve heard he likes trying different foods. I’d love to cook for Oprah because she is Oprah, and I’d love to use ingredients from her garden.”

The politics of food also fascinates Ms. Cook.

“Just the other day I was having a conversation with my son about who has access to food. Who has access to the land where food is produced? Who has access to healthy and fresh food? Who depends on food banks? What kind of food do poor people have access to?”

After moving to the United States at 21, she quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to eat the way as she did in Brazil. Her family received food stamps for a while.

“It was a struggle for us, and I bet many families in the United States go through the same trouble. In order to put food on the table, many sacrifice quality in order to provide for their loved ones.”

Ms. Cook’s latest project is “Cocinando con Arte/Cooking with Art.” Together with Alison Zapata she is archiving recipes and stories of Latinas in Pittsburgh for a cookbook.

“I want to be able to share a bit of my heritage and also to work and collect the stories from others,” she says.

She will also teach a three-hour Brazilian cooking class on June 23 at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Farm in Richland. The cost is $65. Information: Among her favorite recipes is this one:

Prato Feito: Brazilian Blue Plate Specia

Prato Feito is one of the most popular meals throughout Brazil, eaten at lunch or dinner. The components can change depending on region, but rice and beans are the staple ingredients. This recipe contains pinto beans, pan-seared chicken breast, sauteed spinach and carrot farofa.

Prep time is about 30 minutes and cooking time about 1½ hours.

For rice:

1 cup dry white rice
2 cups cold water
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic for about 1 minute or until light golden brown. Don’t let the garlic burn, or the rice will turn brown during cooking. Add rice and salt and cook while stirring for 3 minutes. Pour cold water over rice mixture and stir. Cover until it starts to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the water has been absorbed —15 minutes or until rice is soft.

For pinto beans:

1 cup dry carioca (pinto) beans
4 cups water
1 medium chopped onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon salt
Olive oil

Wash and soak pinto beans overnight in the fridge. Drain and discard the water.

In a large pot, add beans and 4 cups of water. Cook over high heat until it starts boiling, then lower to medium and cook for 35 minutes covered or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. If the beans are not ready, continue cooking in increments of 15 minutes until they are soft.

In a large skillet, add olive oil, garlic and onion and sauté until light brown. Add a ladle of beans to the skillet and let it cook for 1 minute or so.

Pour the ingredients from the skillet into the large pan with the rest of the beans and the broth, add salt, lower heat to medium-low and cook until the broth thickens — 10-15 minutes.

For chicken breast:

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Black pepper to taste

Marinate the chicken breast in lime, garlic, onions, salt and black pepper for 20 minutes in the fridge. Heat the oil in a skillet and add chicken breast. Cook well or until golden brown on both sides.

For sauteed spinach:

2 cups spinach
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 minced garlic cloves
Salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil on medium. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Raise heat to high. Add spinach to skillet gradually and stir well. Add salt to taste.

For lettuce and tomato salad:

1 head green leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes sliced
1 medium red onion
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt

In a bowl add lime, olive oil, salt, onion and salt. Pour over lettuce and tomatoes

For carrot farofa:

1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion chopped
1 cup yuca flour (can substitute plain breadcrumbs)
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until pale golden, about 4 minutes. Add carrot; cook for 1 minute. Stir in parsley. Add yuca flour; cook and stir until lightly toasted, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Yields 4 portions