Native to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, Leticia Moreinos Schwartz is a foremost authority on Brazilian cuisine—and the curator of this month’s Brazil Box. Here, Try The World speaks to Moreinos Schwartz about her path through culinary school, journalism, and diabetes advocacy, which led her to where she is today.
Growing up in Brazil, how did you become interested in the culinary world?
I’ve been around food for as long as I can remember. But in Brazil—and at the time, also in America—being a chef wasn’t a career option. I didn’t even know that cooking school was a thing! There was hardly anything of the kind in Rio in the 90s. The only options were New York or Paris. Cooking was my passion, though, and it was calling me! So I did more research into serious schools and in 1997, moved and attended what is now called the International Culinary Center.
What was your experience like in culinary school?
In culinary school, you’re molded to go to restaurants, but the option to work with food in a different way is very interesting. When I later moved to Connecticut, I saw myself forced into new venues in the culinary world. I began to write after going back to school for journalism, which led to writing my two cookbooks. I also wrote for online publications, developed recipes for magazines, worked within food styling, and taught cooking classes as a chef instructor.
Now that you live in the US, do you miss Brazil?
Every time I go to Rio, my hometown, I get emotional when I see its beauty. When you visit certain landmarks or traditional areas such as Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf… I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life. The city is built between the ocean and the mountains, so it’s absolutely mesmerizing and jaw-dropping.
How did you stay connected to these roots when you’re away?
There’s no need to go to Brazil for specific ingredients! People are usually unfamiliar or they think that the food is too “exotic.” For example, you can make authentic Brazilian cuisine with just fish, onions, potatoes, and olives—no need for crazy ingredients.
So how would you describe Brazilian cuisine?
In Brazilian food, there are three main influences that meet in the same pan: Portuguese, native Indian, and African. This is so fascinating because both Brazilian culture and cooking revolve around it, from the music that we hear, to the architecture in the streets, to the face of our people. I would love to see more Americans incorporating Brazilian cuisine into their daily lives. I’d love to see more Americans break the ice with Brazilian influences. It’s so simple, delicious, and familiar to me, and it can be just as familiar to you.
Absolutely! We certainly hope the Brazil Box is one step in that direction.
Yes, all of the products are used throughout both of my books! For example, my cream cheese soufflé with guava sauce would be a great recipe for the goiabada paste. I also have pão de queijo and chocolate paçoquita truffle recipes. They’re delicious!
Are you working on any other projects?
Yes. My grandfather passed away from complications of type 2 diabetes, and my whole family has a history of diabetes, so I’ve always been very conscious of exercise. As a Latina and a chef, I want to make a difference! It’s interesting because the statistics show that we have a great lifestyle in South America, but not so much after immigrating to the US. I want to do something about this. I don’t want to see the Latin community coming to the US and gaining weight or getting diabetes. I attend many events with the Latin community in Brazil and have many tastings that show that Latin cuisine can be done in a healthy way. You can still enjoy Latin cuisine without sacrificing flavor.