When Francisco “Kiko” Azevedo and his wife, Isabella Osorio Da Fonseca, decided to cook for the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market, they didn’t know how customers would react. Like the couple themselves, authentic Brazilian food is relatively new to Blacksburg’s dining scene.
“We were not expecting too many people in the beginning, because nobody knows us,” Azevedo said.
Azevedo and Fonseca came from Brazil to Blacksburg in 2007. Although their transition to a new area was challenging, they immediately began building relationships with neighbors and friends in Virginia Tech’s international community.
In 2009, Azevedo, along with eight other Brazilians, created International Soccer Friends, a group that has expanded to include more than 300 soccer players in the New River Valley. And whenever the group gets together, food is present.
“The grill for us in Brazil is the way we get together,” Fonseca said. “We started to bring this idea to share with friends in soccer.”
In Brazil, barbecue grill-outs called “churrascos” are common, even at small get-togethers. Azevedo and Fonseca brought the churrasco tradition to Blacksburg by organizing potluck dinners with neighbors and friends.
“I remember the first birthday party (we had for) our son, we invited all the kids and their parents — and the next day, people were calling me, asking what he put on the meat,” Fonseca said.
Azevedo, affectionately known as “Kiko” to friends and family, said that he has been cooking since he was young. After college, he worked in his uncle’s “churrascaria,” or Brazilian steakhouse, and the dream of opening a restaurant slowly took root in his mind.
“People used to ask, ‘Why don’t you open a restaurant?’” Azevedo said. “I used to joke that it’s going to be my retirement plan. Now I’m more confident, and things are getting close.”
Azevedo’s passion for soccer influenced his plans to create Gaucho Brazilian Steak. Now that their plans are becoming a reality, Azevedo and Fonseca have found food, in addition to soccer, is helping them fulfill their original purpose: bonding with the community and building relationships.
“When we saw everybody liking and enjoying the food, we thought, ‘Why not?’” Isabella said. “It’s his passion to go to the kitchen and to start to experiment.”
Gaucho Brazilian Steak has spent five days at the market so far. In that time, Azevedo and Fonseca have tried to focus on experience over profit by selling original variations on classic Brazilian steak and kebab dishes.
One customer in particular enjoyed the food so much, he brought his extended family to the Gaucho Brazilian Steak stand and ordered more than $50 worth of food.
“Sometimes you say, ‘I like it,’ but you don’t like it too much,” Azevedo said, “but if people say they like it and then they come back, they really like it.”
From backyard barbecues to busy market stands, the demand for Azevedo’s cooking has grown significantly in the past six years. In 2010, Azevedo grew confident enough to start planning his next big step with Gaucho Brazilian Steak — finding a restaurant location.
Regardless of the size or shape of the restaurant, Gaucho Brazilian Steak will feature a large grill, called a paisa, next to the bar. The grill will be a large showpiece for the restaurant’s customers to appreciate, but it also points to the historical traditions of the gaucho.
“When you get into the restaurant you’re going to see me,” Azevedo said. “I’m not hiding behind the walls or in the kitchen.”
And without this gaucho style of cooking, Azevedo said, the restaurant would not be complete.
“(The food would) taste good, but it wouldn’t be the same,” Fonseca said. “The magic is not just the food itself.”
According to several curious customers, some magic exists in the secret blend of seasoning that Azevedo uses. Fonseca said that Azevedo usually strays away from a recipe when he cooks and that he tries new experiments each time he makes food.
“They ask, ‘What do you put on the meat?’” Azevedo said. “I say, ‘Nothing, just passion.’”
According to Azevedo, even architecture gets incorporated into his food.
“As a chef, I like to make good food, but the plate has to look nice,” Azevedo said. “I like to build the plate in a good way, in an artistic way.”
On a bigger scale, Azevedo and Fonseca are using their passions to connect people from all backgrounds in the Blacksburg community.
“It’s not just Americans or Brazilians,” Fonseca said. “We have been having people here from Turkey, India, China, Venezuela and Colombia — and everybody likes it.”