A personal history can be told through words or pictures, or a combination of the two. When you have a passion for food, your story alternatively can be told through a collection of recipes. I helped Ilson Goncalves do just that with The Samba Montclair Cookbook: Authentic Home-style Brazilian Recipes and Reminiscences. It features dishes from his native Brazil, favorites at his restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey. His story resonates with his customers, and those who crave Brazilian flavors, thanks to a public relations campaign.
Surely, your chef’s recipes are already favorites among your family and guests. He or she also likely has an interesting background, especially where cooking is concerned. If so, together, we can borrow a page, so to speak, from The Samba Montclair Cookbook and create something compelling.
Through his recipes, Chef Goncalves is transported to his childhood. He learned to cook watching his mother in their home kitchen and at her popular restaurant in the city of Blumenau. He cherishes dishes his mom and grandmothers served at large family gatherings, as well as meals that were staples of their diets. These women taught him not only how to cook, but how to appreciate the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables growing right in his backyard.
Goncalves took over the space which became Samba about seven years ago. At first, it was a deli offering a few Brazilian specialties. Today, it’s a mecca for Brazilian-Americans and others who love the simple, fresh, and delicious food. While he has appeared in numerous publications and television programs, Goncalves yearned to tell his story more intimately. He also wanted to share his recipes with the many loyal customers who have requested them.
Remarkably, before beginning the book project, Goncalves hadn’t written down any of these recipes. So, my team helped him translate and adapt them for home cooks. We also illustrated them with stunning photographs. The Samba Montclair Cookbook is a catalog of the most-ordered items on the menu, from fresh juices to tempting desserts. Among the many highlights are the Feijoada (the Brazilian national dish, a stew with meat and black beans) and the Bolo de Mandioca (the flourless yucca and coconut cake was his favorite growing up in the southern state of Santa Catarina). Throughout the recipe pages, he shares tips for making the perfect rice, the secret ingredient in his caramel flan and more.
Ultimately, The Samba Montclair Cookbook, a nearly 100-page volume, tells a bigger story. It’s the story of Goncalves’ evolution as a chef, his arrival in the United States with just a few dollars in his pocket, and his continuing commitment to creating fresh, healthful food.