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Restaurant Owner Brings Mom’s Brazilian Cooking To Kansas City

Anna Yakutenko

Cristian Maciel’s mom laughed when he called her asking for help creating the recipes for a restaurant.

“She was like ‘what?’ Because I never, never cooked in my life,” Maciel said. “You know, so like 'Cristian are you sure you want to open a restaurant?’”

Maciel was sure. After struggling to find authentic Brazilian food in Kansas City, he opened Taste of Brazil with his partner in 2013 and expanded his business last year with a food truck.

Maciel grew up in Brazil eating dishes like rice and beans flavored with garlic and salt, and coxinhas filled with cream cheese and chicken. It’s these dishes that Maciel now cooks for customers.

But figuring out how to get there took time.

“When I moved here I couldn't say a word in English. In 2004, I couldn't say 'hi,'” he says. “And that's why I worked as a busboy in a restaurant so as I was learning English, I become a server, barback, bartender, bar manager, floor manager, general manager and [now] own my restaurant.”

Once Maciel set his sights on opening a restaurant, he had one more thing to figure out — how to cook.

Maciel FaceTimed his mom and learned how to make the recipes. When he started out, he didn’t love cooking but over time he found it relaxing to make his favorite dishes.

“I learned how to see the beauty and enjoy...the food,” he says.

His wife also appreciated his new skill. She’s now encouraging him to cook healthy meals.

“I am trying to get creative with the health stuff. It's just not my forte because I always go for the fried stuff, you know? The bad stuff,” Maciel said. “But I'm learning how to cook the healthy stuff for her.”

When Maciel and his partner talked about expanding the business, they considered opening another restaurant but decided a food truck would help them get their name out there.

“It's so much fun going to the festivals and all,” he said. “Every single weekend we are at a different place, different people, different crowd.”

Customer Diana Hoskins stopped by the Taste of Brazil food truck because she wanted to try something new.

She ordered carne louca da Odete—shredded beef pot roast with garlic, onion, olives and bell peppers on a french baguette.

“The meat is really tender. The sauce is just great. It's not spicy at all,” Hoskins said. “It's something completely different.”

Maciel’s cooking lessons paid off. And last year, Maciel was able to cook for his mom when she visited.

“She was really surprised how well I followed her instructions and it did come out really good, actually. She keeps saying, hers is better, you know... Like I know, I'm not going to argue with you. Yours is still better,” Maciel says.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern.

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