• Cristina Nascimento and Murilo Macedo are inviting guests into their home to learn about slow food. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
The KeenTown Project hopes to put the 'soul' back into food with home dining.
Aimee Chanthadavong

19 Oct 2020 - 2:29 PM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2020 - 2:29 PM

Brazilian chef Cristina Nascimento thinks restaurants need to provide food with more vitality.

"The food might be amazing but sometimes there's no soul."

So Nascimento and her partner Murilo Macedo created the KeenTown Project, which aims to serve food with a human touch.

Unlike typical restaurant dining, Nascimento and Macedo host events in their own humble abode in Marrickville. Diners can take their seat in their dining room while the pair rattle pans in the kitchen. They believe doing this creates a more intimate and casual experience.

"We created KeenTown to feed people's souls and make it about more than just food. As Brazilians, we love having people around, and we always say, 'forget your phones and just be immersed around the table'," Nascimento says.

Some of the produce that KeenTown Project uses are picked fresh from their backyard.

Each KeenTown dining experience also showcases different aspects of Brazil, the pair's home country. 

For one, Nascimento has created a six-course tasting menu based on mandioca (cassava) and imbued with native Australian ingredients and forgotten cooking techniques. Think cassava gnocchi with lemon myrtle and fermented cassava cake. Nascimento and Macedo guide guests through the tasting by sharing stories about each dish and the locally sourced produce used to make it. 

"Mandicoa is a native Brazilian root vegetable but in Brazil, we don't just eat the cassava as it is; we eat many by-products of it, such as flour, syrup, in our cheese bread," she says. 

"There are just so many things you can do with it and in each of the six dishes I use an element of cassava."

KeenTown Project also serves Brazil's national dish, feijoada, a slow-cooked black bean stew, accompanied by rice, roasted cassava flour, kale, salsa and sliced and peel oranges, buffet style.

The pair say they use a buffet to recreate a typical Saturday tradition in Brazil where feijoada is eaten among family and friends while listening to the samba and drinking caipirinhas.

Pork and black bean stew (feijoada)

Legend says that feijoada, Brazil’s signature offal dish, was created by slaves during the colonial period using the leftover parts of the animal discarded by their masters. Historians say this myth – the Portuguese have a strong culinary tradition of stews, so it’s possible this is another dish they introduced. In either case, this hearty pork and black beans stew recipe is popular across the country, and every family has their own special version.

Nascimento says KeenTown was inspired by the Slow Food movement, which focuses on delivering food that is 'good, clean and fair' while preserving gastronomic tradition and supporting local farmers.

"During a trip back to Brazil, I met a lady who was associated with slow food and had a restaurant for many years but decided to quit everything. She then started cooking 'dish of the day', and she'd have people over [to her home] and that's what she did," she says.

While slow food was something Nascimento says she had been aware of, it wasn't until after that trip that she became drawn to it. She says at that point she realised that working "crazy hours" in the kitchen as a chef for the last 13 years – including in kitchens such as Sydney's popular Brazilian cafe Ovo Cafe – was no longer sustainable.

"I wanted to find something where I could share my passion and not just be putting food out," Nascimento says. 

But Nascimento and Macedo are not only practising the ethos of slow food in the kitchen, they've converted their backyard into a mini urban vegetable garden, growing cauliflower, snow peas, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, and even hop for Macedo's homebrews, for instance. 

"I wanted to find something where I could share my passion."

"We really want to create a full-circle experience," they say, adding they put food scraps in their compost, which feeds their garden. 

"Nowadays restaurants and chefs are so spoiled because these magic boxes of veggies just appear in their restaurants. They need to understand [growing vegetables] is hard work.

"We need to give value to the farmers, we need to be close to them. That's why we moved [to Marrickville] to be close to the local markets and give value to what we have.

"It's so precious, yet we waste so much."

KeenTown Project booking numbers are limited to comply with COVID-19 physical-distancing restrictions.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @achanthadavong or Instagram @yaimeeePhotographs by Aimee Chanthadavong.

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About Brazilian food
Brazilian food is an exuberant, colourful mix of Portuguese, African and native foods, including some from the Amazon. The native Indians developed ways of preserving meats by smoking and drying them; they also cooked corn porridge, cassava meal and sweet potatoes, and discovered delicious ingredients such as hearts of palm.