The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

Oscar Lopez, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era—he answered a questionnaire about himself in a friend’s Confession Album.

Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or another, for more than a century. Many have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. The Tomato now gives it a culinary twist.

Oscar Lopez and Joao Dachery opened the first Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse on 109 Street in downtown Edmonton in 2011. Since then they have introduced thousands of diners to churrasco (grilling Brazilian-style), the savoury wonders of the juicy rump cut and to the caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink.

Oscar Lopez, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Oscar Lopez, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Hometown?
San Salvador, el Salvador

Years in the restaurant business?
12

Where would you like to live?
In a very small wooden shack on a beach somewhere in Central America.

Your favourite food and drink?
Sashimi and a really cold beer.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
I would be a professional soccer broadcaster.

What quality do you most appreciate in your friends?
A sense of humour. Otherwise I would annoy the hell out of them.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?
Strong flavours, potent flavours.

A cook?
I like a cook who can put a dish together with their bare hands, with minimal tools, like flipping tortillas for example.

A wine?
I like a lot of depth in flavour and aromas like what you find in Chilean and American wines.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
People who inspire me, Grant Achatz, my business partner Izaias Tolio and, my mom and dad.

Who would cook?
It would have to be the master of the grill in Brazil, Luiz Gonçalves who first taught me churrasco.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Please!

Current culinary obsession/ exploration?
My wife Susana and I are exploring a plant-based diet and eating a lot more vegetables and fruits.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
When I came back from Brazil I was broke (of course) and living with my parents. I had to figure out a way to test grill by myself. I transformed an old propane bbq and started to experiment with charcoal; good charcoal was hard to get. My friends would show up with beer and wine and critique the test runs. It was pretty nerve-wracking at first but I ended up even catering a few weddings for that group.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
At one point I took a six-month contract with the city. When that ended I never felt so rejuvenated and happy to go forth with Pampa. From then I have never looked back. Even when it’s a long hard day and people don’t show up for work or there are unhappy customers. That experience made me realize it was more than a cool project; even if it took 10 years it’s what I have to do. Having a job outside really brought home that I was doing the right thing.

Mentors?
Luis Gonçalves, and my business partner Joao Dachery, day in day out. He’s a bit older and more experienced, knows business.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/ afterwork food?
Susana and I used to work together a lot and we’d drop into Izakaya Tomo on the way home.

Philosophy?
Live for today. I don’t look back but sometime I don’t look ahead either, which is probably not so good.

What’s next?
Pampa Ellerslie in south Edmonton opens in spring 2017. That will be our third restaurant.

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