Interview with chef Guga Rocha

Casado com Elise, diplomata canadense, Guga fala sobre gastronomia e a ligação de sua família com o Canadá, Brasil e Portugal.

This was translated using Google Translate and Chat Open AI (without any editing).

Renowned Brazilian chef, Guga Rocha, at 47 years of age, is well-known for his dedication to tropical gastronomy and for presenting an array of unconventional dishes to his large morning audience on the show “Hoje em Dia” on Record TV. His vibrant personality and culinary expertise have made him a household name in Brazil.

However, his connection with Canada has a longstanding history. This is because he crossed paths with Canadian diplomat Elise Racicot 14 years ago, and their journey now includes their young son, Gabriel, who is two years old.

“I never really imagined that I would get married, to be completely honest,” Guga confesses with a chuckle. “But it felt incredibly natural with Elise because we share a fascinating intellectual connection, something I’ve always sought in a relationship. She’s an exceptionally intelligent and cultured individual who shares a deep appreciation for many of my favourite things. Yet, she also brings a curious perspective on different subjects, making for engaging conversations.”

Their connection goes beyond borders and cultures, encompassing a bond built on shared interests, respect for differences, and the joy of discovering the world together.

Chef Guga Rocha (director) with Elise and son Gabriel (Photo: personal archives)

Guga emphasizes how he and his wife complement each other in terms of culture. He reflects on the cultural differences that have characterized their relationship as valuable learning experiences. “I believe I introduced a sense of lightness to her cultural background,” he notes, “while she brought to me a much more serious perspective on what is considered ‘correct’ in various aspects.” This mutual exchange of perspectives and values has enriched their relationship and deepened their understanding of each other’s backgrounds.

However, when Guga discusses Canada, it’s not only his affection for his beloved wife that shines through but also his deep appreciation for the Canadian people. During the time he lived in Canada with Elise in the city of Ottawa, he encountered a remarkable culture of politeness, courtesy, and honesty.

“Canadians are truly unique,” he reflects with great satisfaction, “known for their exceptional politeness, honesty, and courtesy. I quickly made dear friends, some of whom I still cherish to this day.” His experiences in Canada left a lasting impression, forging friendships that endure even beyond his time there.

In 2022, Guga, along with his wife and son, made a significant move from Brazil to Lisbon, Portugal. In Lisbon, he has taken on the role of executive chef at two restaurants and has also launched a new restaurant, Cerveja Canil. In Brazil, he already oversees well-established restaurants such as João Brasileiro in Brasília and Tapioteca in São Paulo. Additionally, Guga is involved in various other ventures, including managing an investment fund within a shopping center as an executive chef and partner.

Guga and his family have planned to call Portuguese lands their home for another four years. Afterward, they intend to embark on travels to explore different European countries, immersing themselves in various cultures and providing their son with a broader international experience. However, Guga doesn’t dismiss the possibility of returning to Canada in the future. “Canada will always be one of our bases,” he shares, “as we intend, after retiring, to live in Montreal during the summer and Maceió during the winter.” This vision reflects their enduring connection with Canada, a place where they have cherished memories and deep-rooted ties.

Chef Guga Rocha (Photo: personal archive)


WAVE – How did your journey with Canada start?

GUGA ROCHA – It all began quite naturally. I met my wife in São Paulo shortly after her arrival there, thanks to a mutual friend. We got to know each other and eventually started dating. As our relationship deepened, we decided to explore each other’s worlds. I visited her home country, Canada, and she came to see my hometown, Maceió. She hails from a city near Montreal, so our journey to Canada was, in a way, a result of our growing connection, driven by my wife’s background.

WAVE – What stood out to you the most about the country? Something that has made a lasting impact on you.

GUGA ROCHA – What stood out to me the most during my time in Canada were the people. Canadians are truly unique, known for their politeness, honesty, and courtesy. I quickly made dear friends, some of whom I still cherish to this day. Another aspect that left a strong impression on me was the natural environment. Witnessing the changing seasons was a remarkable experience, especially coming from Maceió, where it’s summer year-round. In Canada, we have distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter, each offering something new. Whether it’s watching leaves fall, witnessing flowers bloom, the first snowfall, the variety of fruits, or the changing supermarket products, every season brings its own charm. Additionally, the lakes, enchanting forests, and diverse wildlife all contributed to my fascination. I even humorously call myself a frustrated botanist because I have such a deep love for botany. Canada turned out to be a delightful surprise.

WAVE – Regarding gastronomy, did you incorporate some references from Canadian cuisine in the creation of your dishes?

GUGA ROCHA –I’m incredibly curious about the cultures of different countries, and I’ve had the opportunity to travel over 40 times. Whenever I visit a new place, my aim is to immerse myself in the culture, understand how people interact, explore their culinary traditions, and dive into the reasons behind their unique ingredients and customs. This approach hasn’t changed when it comes to Canada, a land that now feels like a part of me, especially because my son is both Canadian and Brazilian. So, I consider myself part Canadian and part Brazilian.

In terms of Canadian cuisine, I’ve embraced various elements, some of which have become permanent fixtures in my kitchen, like maple syrup. I find maple syrup to be an astonishing creation, turning tree sap into one of the most incredible sweets I’ve ever encountered. Furthermore, I admire the emphasis on incorporating vegetables in Canadian cooking, a practice not as prevalent in traditional Brazilian cuisine. In Brazilian dishes, we often lean heavily on carbohydrates and proteins, with vegetables like zucchini or eggplant playing a less prominent role in our daily meals. In Canadian cuisine, I’ve discovered the value of featuring more vegetables as a substantial part of the meal, and this aspect has been particularly intriguing to me. Additionally, the technique of smoking fish in Canada has also left a strong impression on me.

WAVE – At any point in your life, did you ever envision marrying a foreign woman? How did your journey towards that happen?

GUGA ROCHA – No, to be honest, I never really thought I’d get married at all, let alone to a foreign woman (laughs). But it was an incredibly natural progression with Elise because we share a profound intellectual connection, something I’ve always sought in relationships. She, being an exceptionally intelligent and cultured person, brings immense joy to my life as we share similar interests. However, our curiosity extends to different realms, which fosters engaging conversations, dialogues, and in-depth discussions on a wide range of subjects. So, I never anticipated it, but we were brought together through a mutual friend in São Paulo. They said, “Guga, we’re going to a place near where you live” – I was living in Vila Madalena at the time – “with some people from Canada. You speak a bit of French and your English is good, right? It would be interesting for you to join because you bring vibrancy to any gathering, and have a rich cultural background, and it would be great to introduce you to these people.” So I went, and now we’ve been together for nearly 14 years.

WAVE –Were there any significant cultural or customs differences between you and your partner that left a lasting impact or posed any challenges for your relationship?

GUGA ROCHA – It’s clear that we’ve had a long-lasting relationship, and we’ve had very few disagreements. I believe we share a common trait, which is our ability to resolve things through dialogue. After all, she is a diplomat by profession, and I’m a very easygoing person who doesn’t particularly enjoy conflicts. Of course, like any couple, we encounter everyday challenges, but major arguments have been quite rare. We’ve been learning from the cultural differences that exist between us, which have certainly left their mark.

I think I introduced a sense of lightness to her cultural background, as Brazilians tend to have a somewhat more relaxed approach to norms and rules, often believing that we can bend them as needed because that’s just the “way things are.” While this flexibility can be wonderful in some aspects, it may not be as suitable for others. She has taught me a great deal in this regard, even in everyday matters like traffic and some habits we might have.

Conversely, I believe I’ve brought a sense of joy in everyday life, and particularly a passion for gastronomy. She enjoys food, of course, but it was never at the center of her life, whereas for us, it plays a significant role. We share a deep appreciation for good food, and it has become a central part of our lives. We love to travel and explore a wide range of restaurants, from the simplest and most local to those awarded three Michelin stars. This shared enthusiasm for fine dining has become a strong bond between us.

WAVE – How was the process of adaptation for your wife to Brazilian culture, particularly since she moved to Brazil? Also, how did her professional journey unfold in this new environment?

GUGA ROCHA – My wife is a diplomat, so she went to Brazil to work as a commercial consul. The adaptation was just like everything else in a new country. Before Brazil, she had gone to Iran, so adapting there was certainly much more difficult, as Brazil is a much more open country and easier to deal with. However, one thing that always caught her attention was the issue of violence and crime, as the country always left us a little wary and on the back foot. And, with her, it couldn’t have been any different, especially coming from a country and culture that is much safer in every way, especially for women, because we know that being a woman is not easy in the world, because We live in a sexist and dangerous world. Furthermore, Brazil is one of the countries that has the most femicides, and a lot of violence against women. So, these fears were obviously present, but at the same time, she adapted too much to Brazilian culture. She really likes Brazilian music, literature, Brazilian food, cheese bread – which is something that is part of our routine -, tapioca, fruits, juices… Anyway, she adapted very easily to our everyday culture. Regarding the professional issue and how she went to work for the consulate, there wasn’t much of a problem, as it was already kind of automatic.

WAVE – Is your son’s education mixing the cultures of both countries? How are you dealing with the issue?

GUGA ROCHA – Families with one parent working in diplomacy often aim to raise their children bilingually from an early age. In the diplomatic world, it’s quite common for parents to come from different cultural, linguistic, and even alphabet backgrounds. So, before entering this realm, we might have some concerns, thinking, “Oh, my goodness, the child might get confused, right?” However, that’s far from the truth. It’s remarkably normal and natural, and the young human brain is astonishingly receptive. It acts like a sponge, effortlessly soaking up new languages.

In our case, Elise speaks exclusively in French to our 2-and-a-half-year-old son, while I communicate solely in Portuguese. Of course, there are moments when we mix the languages, but for the most part, we maintain our mother tongues. He already fluently speaks and comprehends both languages, effortlessly transitioning between them. In Canada, where children often grow up speaking French and English, it’s quite ordinary. In our case, it’s French and Portuguese. Next year, he will begin attending an English school, making him trilingual from an early age.

However, shaping our son’s character is something we take very seriously. We aspire to raise a good-hearted individual who leads a joyful life and can make a positive impact in this often challenging world. So, we invest considerable effort in understanding how a child’s brain works and develops. For example, we restrict his exposure to cell phones or iPad screens. Television is also limited, with a maximum of 20 minutes per day, and we ensure that he views it from a safe distance. We are well aware that excessive screen time can hamper a child’s brain development, so we avoid harmful influences.

Up until the age of two, we were very particular about his diet, focusing on high-quality ingredients and avoiding processed foods, in line with our own eating habits. As a chef, we take the quality of his nutrition seriously. Moreover, we are committed to exposing him to formative aspects of both Canadian and Brazilian cultures, whether in music or sports. We aim to provide a balanced mix and foster an environment where he can grow into a happy child, encouraged to reach his fullest potential joyfully. Fortunately, he’s a very cheerful child who constantly laughs and loves to make jokes. I feel incredibly fortunate to be his father.

8- WAVE – What guidance can you offer to individuals in relationships with someone from a different country, and what key factors should they bear in mind to foster the progression of their relationship?

GUGA ROCHA – The foremost advice I’d give is to recognize that the concept of “countries” is essentially a human-made cartographic convention, defined by lines on maps, often established and maintained through historical violence. In reality, these boundaries are quite arbitrary, given that we all inhabit a small rock with a fragile atmosphere, orbiting a massive star in the vast expanse of the Universe. In the grand scheme of things, national borders matter very little.

What truly holds significance is the rich tapestry of cultural diversity that defines people. It’s paramount to respect and appreciate the cultural backgrounds of every individual, without attempting to assert the superiority of one culture over another. Sometimes, people engage in cultural competition, asserting that their music, cuisine, or people are superior. It’s crucial to understand that your “country” is your global family, regardless of where you are. This global family unit is of the utmost importance.

Nothing is more beautiful than the interplay of cultures and traditions. A delightful example from our own home is our penchant for enjoying curd cheese tapioca with maple syrup. I highly recommend giving it a try – it’s a delicious fusion of cultures!

Have you ever contemplated the idea of living in Canada at some point in the future? Has this topic ever come up in your discussions?

GUGA ROCHA – We lived in Canada for a while, in Ottawa This was primarily due to Elise’s work, which occasionally requires her to return to the capital every eight years or so. However, we are not currently considering a return to Canada. Presently, we call Lisbon, Portugal, our home, and we plan to remain here for another four years. Our immediate goal is to explore various European countries, immersing ourselves in their cultures, and providing Gabriel with a European experience. Nevertheless, Canada will always hold a special place in our plans. Upon retirement, our intention is to split our time between Montreal during the summer and Maceió during the winter.