Q&A with Daniel Biron, Executive Chef & Owner of Teva in Rio de Janeiro
Opening a restaurant is an aspiration many culinary students share. It is a challenging, yet extremely rewarding career path to take. Daniel Biron, a graduate of our Chef's Training Program, knew he wanted to pursue this dream after becoming aware of the relationship between food and health, and discovering a passion for cooking. With the tools he learned in culinary school and the experience he gained by cooking all over the world (including the famed Noma in Copenhagen), he recently took the leap to open his very own plant-based restaurant in his home country, Brazil. Read on to learn more about Daniel's culinary journey.
When did you become interested in food and cooking, and how did you know NGI was the right culinary school for you? I've been fascinated by the food industry for a long time. While transitioning to a vegetarian diet 11 years ago, I gradually became more aware of the relationship between food and health. I started cooking, like many vegetarians do when faced with a drastic dietary change, and searched for new flavors and alternatives to a meat-centered diet. In 2009, I found NGI while researching a possible career that would be embody my new philosophy and newfound love for cooking. While visiting New York City, I went to a Friday Night Dinner and attended an Open House. It inspired me to take the leap of faith to follow my passion, certain that this school was the right fit to help me further my new career.
What did you like best about the Chef’s Training Program? How did NGI influence your food philosophy? My experience at NGI was life changing in many ways, so it's hard to pinpoint just one favorite thing. First and foremost, the ambiance was very warm and as a foreign student, NGI became my home away from home. The staff was extremely friendly and have become friends whom I miss dearly. The fantastic instructors, with their unique teaching styles and personalities, shared knowledge and fundamental cooking techniques with such ease. The curriculum addressed many of my interests, and working both back- and front-of-house Friday Night dinners offered an opportunity to put them into practice. I was also very fortunate to have a great class that was very supportive and came from a variety of backgrounds, which truly enriched the entire experience. Last but not least, being exposed to an abundance of new ingredients was challenging but also vital to my learning process. Using whole, local, organic, unprocessed, fresh ingredients has been incorporated into my food philosophy and what I bring to the table, literally, at Teva.
What type of work did you first do upon graduating the Chef’s Training Program? Right after graduating I did a three-month internship at Rouge Tomate in NYC, and that was a very professional and enriching experience. I was also a recipe tester for Candle 79's cookbook before moving to Paris to be the opening chef at a vegan Bistro called Gentle Gourmet Cafe. Later on, I had the opportunity to do a one-month internship at Noma in Copenhagen, which has been named the world's best restaurant several times.
Tell us about your new restaurant, Teva, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Teva is the result of many years as a chef and as a customer in the food industry. It is a culmination of the opportunities I had while living abroad, and the collaborative work with my business partners. Our collective knowledge helped to create the most suitable concept for Rio de Janeiro's market, commercially and philosophically. We have created a bar and restaurant that serves a contemporary, 100% plant-based, international menu using fresh, organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Our aim is to appeal to everyone that wants to eat well, but not limit nor label ourselves as a vegetarian or "hippie" establishment, which is still how vegetarianism and meatless restaurants are seen in Brazil. Teva is a trendy vegetable restaurant-bar, that opens primarily in the evening and serves a seasonal dynamic à la carte menu. Our décor has a modern industrial look to it, but imparts a coziness at the same time. Our mission is to be as sustainable as possible. We are very concerned with environmental issues and aim to reduce our footprint by recycling and composting. We have even used recycled fabrics on the seats and staff uniforms, reclaimed wood on the tables and external deck, and we do not serve plastic bottles of any kind. In Hebrew the word Teva is commonly understood to mean nature, but it's lesser known meaning is "to imprint" a mark. We believe that we should imprint our mark as a positive legacy for future generations. Teva's main goal is to show people that vegetables offer amazing and surprising flavors, and provide healthy alternatives to meat and animal byproducts.
You’ve put a lot of hard work in opening this restaurant. What has been the most rewarding part so far? And what has been the most challenging part of opening your own restaurant? The most rewarding part is to see empty dishes brought back by waiters with positive remarks, customers returning five or six times in less then two months of operation, and getting positive reviews and real time feedback by customers at the restaurant. The most challenging part is managing all aspects of a food business, from getting permits and finding specific organic ingredients, to training and managing kitchen staff that have never worked on a full plant-based menu before.
What dish is a customer favorite at your restaurant? So far the favorite seems to be our Fungi dish - it is a variety of mushrooms with different textures, flavors and shapes: grilled king trumpets, sautéed shiitakes and shimeji mushrooms, truffled mushroom cream, roasted fingerling potatoes, crispy leeks served with a vegetable demi-glace.
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about opening their own restaurant? Although it may seem cliché, I believe it is vital to do market research and financial planning before embarking on any food related business, especially when opening a restaurant. Doing this due diligence will really help you understand the challenges that a food related business poses before beginning. Passion is very important, but not enough. One of the most important teachings I got from living in the United States is the necessity of being organized and planning ahead. Partnering with someone that is already in the food business is also advantageous.
Is there anything you hope to do next with your passion for healthy, plant-based foods? I love teaching, which is what I was doing before opening Teva. I hope to return to it some day or somehow incorporate it, because it is so rewarding to share what I've learned so far. I also have plans to expand Teva to other cities in Brazil, and in the future, perhaps New York, where it all began.