Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
By Athena Raypold

Embracing Culture Shock

Oscar Lopez, one of Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse’s three partners, is intimately familiar with culture shock. At 10 years old, he left tropical El Salvador where it was 30 C and flew with his family to Edmonton, where it was –30 C. “Everything was different,” he says. “The snow, the cold, the language – it got dark at 4 pm. It was a huge culture shock, but because I was a kid, I didn’t have any issues with it; I embraced it.”

While that first bout of culture shock was undeniably challenging, it sparked a curiosity in Oscar. He wondered what it was like in other places and longed to find out. He’s travelled to nearly 50 countries, immersing himself in each culture as much as possible. “We go, we spend time with the people, we eat street food, we try to ingrain ourselves in the culture,” says Oscar. In fact, he met his wife during his trip to Brazil, where he came back in love with both a woman and an idea.

What this symbolizes in the southern Brazilian culture is much more than food, it’s more than just eating; it’s the whole camaraderie, the whole getting together and laughing, telling stories, and sharing dreams, fears and passions. - Oscar Lopez, co-owner
Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse serves varying cuts of beef, pork, chicken and more, cooked over high heat on skewers and served tableside
Photo provided by Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

The Brazilian Barbecue

A graduate of the University of Alberta’s international business program, Oscar moved to Brazil as an exchange student. While Oscar had travelled before, this trip was his longest away from the comforts of home and the love of his family. Homesick, he found solace in the weekly barbecues his Brazilian friends invited him to. While they taught him how to marinate and grill food Brazilian style, “It wasn’t just about eating,” he says. “The social atmosphere and the brotherhood, the family-hood of all those gatherings, eased my pain of being away from home.”

Oscar loved the ambiance, the atmosphere and the amicable nature of the Brazilian barbecues, and he wanted to share it with the people of Alberta. “What this symbolizes in the southern Brazilian culture is much more than food, it’s more than just eating; it’s the whole camaraderie, the whole getting together and laughing, telling stories, and sharing dreams, fears, and passions,” he says.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse also includes a salad bar with non-stop meat served tableside
Photo provided by Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Research and Training

Utterly enthralled with the idea of opening a Brazilian steakhouse in Edmonton, with “bringing a cultural experience from one country to another,” Oscar pitched the idea to his Brazilian boss and then spent his remaining six months in Brazil researching and planning. After returning home for a year, he went back to Brazil to learn everything he could about the concept.

On that return trip, he worked in a butcher shop and a Brazilian steakhouse, learning the ins and outs of every single role from the cuts of meat to grilling, serving and slicing. Oscar also met chef Joao Dachery, who is from the pampas in southern Brazil, who Oscar describes as “the real deal.” To create an absolutely authentic Brazilian steakhouse, Oscar became a grill master and Joao became a chef.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse offers many varieties of wine to go with their authentic Brazilian barbecued meats
Photo provided by Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Authenticity Above All

Together, Oscar and Joao made Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse a reality, from the restaurant décor to the menu design, with a continual, comprehensive focus on authenticity. “Everything at Pampa is intentional, because that’s the way it’s done in Brazil,” says Oscar. Traditionally, Alberta steakhouses are laid out in booths, to ensure privacy and a quiet environment, but Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse has an open floor plan, with lots of tables close together, designed to replicate Brazilian noise and flavour. “Brazilians are in your face; they want to talk to you, they want to kiss your hand,” says Oscar. “I wanted people to almost feel uncomfortable; to almost feel like if there was no snow outside, they could feel like they’re in Brazil.”

Central to the Brazilian barbecue, of course, is the meat. Unlike prime Alberta cuts (filet mignon or rib eye), Brazilian barbecue’s skewering and high heat lend themselves to secondary cuts like a rump steak or a bottom sirloin, so the key to tender meat is in the seasoning and marinades. “Even though we use local ingredients, we wanted to make sure we prepare them and serve them in the closest style possible to a true Brazilian steakhouse. No exceptions,” says Oscar. While the salad bar appeals to an international palate, it boasts Brazilian classics like feijoada, “a black bean stew with pork and beef, accompanied by kale, orange slices and farofa.” Ultimately, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse gives patrons a touch of that delicious culture shock; giving them an amazing cultural experience without hopping on a plane.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse uses locally sourced meat prepared Brazilian style
Photo provided by Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
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