Brazilian-born chef and entrepreneur of The São Paulo Project Pop-up restaurant – Caroline Martins – plans to open an all-immersive Brazilian restaurant in Manchester. She tells eatnorth how it all began.
“Investors told me that London may not be the best place to launch a restaurant because it’s saturated. You need to go to a place where people are experimental and adventurous. Manchester was identified as the best – trendy and up and coming.”
TICK Tock. Brazilian-born Caroline Martins (36) – owner of The São Paulo Project, a Brazilian-British fusion restaurant pop-up – harks back to the life she led sitting at a computer, typing stuff and doing calculations. “I couldn’t wait for the clock to tick 6pm so I could go home and cook for my friends,” she says.
Martins was a plasma scientist, instigating leading research and writing journal research papers from an office in Austin, Texas, USA. She had spent 10 years studying to PHD level.
“I would buy liquid nitrogen, serve friends weird stuff – completely experimental dishes. They were a bit like my lab mice,” she muses.
Seeing her lab mice delight in her creations, she decided this was the moment she was going to do something with her life: “I loved cooking so much; but I was stuck in a job I really didn’t like. It was a hard decision to make because I was faced with negativity, my family didn’t want me to do it.
“How come you worked for 10 years and now you are going to give up all your goals, just to pursue a hobby,” they cried.
Martins went back to her hometown of São Paulo: “It was like destiny; when you want something really bad you are going to end up getting it.”
Her first break appeared almost immediately during a BBQ with friends. One of her childhood friends brought her attention to MasterChef Brazil. They were looking for talented upcoming chefs.
“She recorded a video of me explaining the different cuts of beef then she applied on my behalf. I got a call back within two days. They were super interested in my background story, somebody in physics looking to make this shift towards culinary.”
The show was aired on Brazilian TV in 2017.
“I didn’t get to the finals.” The prize to win MasterChef was training at the Le Cordon Bleu: “I really wanted it.”
She subsequently flew to London, investing her savings in the Le Cordon Bleu Hot Cuisine course.
“I was sharing a flat with 10 people. It was a lot of fun. The chefs at Le Cordon Bleu were incredible. They were all French and had worked in the best restaurants or owned restaurants.
“I didn’t do my training in pastry. I wanted too but, it was too expensive,” she says.
On completion of the Hot Cuisine course she secured an internship in the pastry section in Trenkerstube at Hotel Castel, North Italy, under the stewardship of two Michelin Star head chef, Gerhard Wieser, She exchanged her labour for free board.
“I was working with pastry chef Thomas Kostener. I was learning all the different pastry techniques. It was so much fun. He was so creative.
“He does these illusion desserts,” she says. “He had these ideas such as: ‘how can I turn these flavour profiles into mushroom or coconut?’”
Martins’ insatiable need for science was also suitably appeased. Pastry technique requires precise calculations and all powders and molecule gastronomy require precise scale.
“I just fell in love with it because when you are cooking a steak, it is very intuitive. But when you are doing pastry; it is scientific, that is why it is another branch.
Could Martins be the new Heston Blumenthal? Famous for his multi-sensory cooking, food pairing and flavour encapsulation? Time will tell.
On her return to London to be with her fiancé – (she met him at Le Cordon Bleu), Martins honed her skills further on the circuit of high-end dining hotels and restaurants. The likes of Kitchen Table at Bubble dogs, (2 Michelin Stars), Galvin La Chapelle (1 Michelin star), Pied à Terre (1 Michelin star) and Pidgin in Hackney, bolstered her CV.
“I tried to work in all these restaurants to learn as much as I could. I tried to pick up tips and never stayed too long because then you saturate. Most places don’t change the menus very often, so you learn to a certain stage and have to ask what’s next?”
Brazilian cuisine reduced to steak
Martins couldn’t believe that a country the size of Brazil – with 26 states – was reduced to steak houses in the international melting pot of London cuisine.
“There is so much seafood, fish, fruits and vegetables, so much the British have not heard about. People started following me on Instagram. Suddenly I had a huge following.”
Her fame led to investor interest: “they told me that London may not be the best place because it is saturated. You need to go to a place where people are experimental and adventurous. Manchester was identified as the best – trendy and up and coming.”
She moved to Manchester one week before lockdown. Because of the pandemic the investors pulled out. Martins was suddenly left with no job in a new city and not knowing anyone.
“Restaurants and bars were closed, hotels were closed. Then I had an idea. You know what? There are so many Brazilian footballers in Manchester and Liverpool. I started sending them a message. Hi, are you looking for a private chef? I cook Brazilian food and I have a scientific background so I can also work with nutrition.”
Martins returned to pop-ups and is currently resident at Blossom Street Social wine bar and wine merchant in Ancoats, Manchester.
“I love the idea of the tiny kitchen in a wine bar,” she says. The current menu includes beef fillet & carioca beans, scallop & cassava and a choice of canapes and a psychedelic chocolate dessert.
Where possible, Martins targets local producers and suppliers. One of her favourite suppliers is Bolton-based Minas Cheese company. Queijo Minas, created from a 300-year-old tradition of making a soft, wet cheese from raw cows’ milk in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The couple began the business during lockdown for fun and now supply two Brazilian shops.
Great British Menu 2022
The pop-ups led to Martins appearing on BBC series, The Great British Menu: “During my training with Le Cordon Bleu, I used to watch The Great British Menu to learn new techniques. Those chefs were my idols,” she says.
“It felt really emotional.
“If you are cooking and if people are paying attention and its worth it to pay you money, which is when you validate all your efforts.”
Women in Hospitality
“The best advice is to stand up for yourself. This is a male dominated industry and they won’t let you. They will give more opportunities to other guys. That happened to me when I started, I was always stuck in the pastry section. They put you in the corner and forget about you – go and do your cookies, they would shout.
“It’s the guys who cook the steak, the BBQ, the fish. That can be a bit disappointing. I wanted to give up several times because of that. I started not believing in myself.
One of her culinary idols is Julia Child, the first lady to train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The hurdles she faced, shows that progress has been made but there is more to achieve.
She celebrated Women’s International Day by cooking a course, alongside other female chefs, and women in wine, at a fundraising event organised by the Manchester Women’s Aid domestic violence charity.
Martins also cooked at the Grand Pacific in Manchester alongside some of the North West’s talented chefs in aid of the Northern Restaurant and Bar trade show and Eat Well MCR fundraiser.
The line-up also included Stosie Madi (Parkers Arms), Luke Payne (the Packhorse, Hayfield), Tom Parker (the White Swan at Fence), Ben Humphries (District), Rachel Stockley (Baratxuri). The actor Craig Parkinson, known for his roles in Line of Duty and Dr Who led the Master of Ceremonies.
Martins is eyeing up Manchester’s Northern Quarter to launch her all-immersive Brazilian restaurant concept: “You are going to walk into the room and see projections on the wall. I want you to feel like you have arrived in Brazil – cool beaches, sights and smells via a mist,” she says.
Her vision is to serve a monthly changing set Brazilian-fusion menu showcasing dishes from across the 26 states of Brazil. The wine list will include Latin American wines as well as traditional Brazilian cocktails and spirits.
Diners will be offered the opportunity to interact with the chef via an open kitchen.
Two women you would dine with – dead or alive? Dinner with Julia Child.
My late grandmother, a Portuguese immigrant in Brazil. She made sourdough in her kitchen almost 30 years ago. We made the starter together then we gave bread to each of the neighbours. Cooking became a social activity. She inspired me to be a chef.
Childhood dish? Steak, rice, and beans.
Best drink with Brazilian food? Cachaca served with Feijoda (pork and black bean stew).
Signature dish? A dessert made of Guava parfait, guava jelly, Parmesan Genoise sponge, Sangiorgio’s Minas Cheese, Dormouse Chocolate and Lime Crumble, and Platt Fields Market Garden Edible Flowers.
São Paulo by Caroline Martins
Blossom Street Social
51 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AJ
0161 392 0889