Chef Spotlight: Guga (Guga Foods)
Larger than life culinary rule breaker, Guga made his mark on YouTube (now with 3.4 total million subscribers) with culinary experiments both adventurous and extreme. A true boundary pusher, he is most excited to try things that sound impossible. His culinary laboratory has produced shocking results — both delicious and horrifying. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his love of sous vide, why he’d like to cook a peanut butter steak for Joe Rogan, and his favorite new discovery that came from an internet troll.
Tell me about your background. How did you get into cooking?
I’m from Brazil, a small town that’s very well known for beef. That’s where they auction the most expensive cows in Brazil. Since I was young, I’ve always loved steaks more than anything else. When I came to the US and started working, we ate food from other restaurants and it was getting expensive. I like good food. Fast food is cheaper but just boring. We like nice restaurants, but I said “Wait a second, this is too expensive.” I would spend $200 at lunch. So I started with sous vide because it’s the only way I can cook in the office. I always love to cook for my family at home, but I wanted to try to cook in the office. So being able to cook in a water bath with no noise and smell was great. But I tried it, and I absolutely hated it! But it was my fault, I got the worst piece of meat. Sous vide claims it can make any meat taste good. But it was a nightmare! It was inedible. I was like sous vide sucks!! But then I posted the video and people said to me in the comments “That’s not right, something’s wrong.” So I tried it again with a nice expensive steak, and it was the most amazing thing I've ever eaten. That’s when this whole thing really took off, and I started loving it even more. The viewers found it interesting, and I wondered what else I could cook. Everything was a constant experiment for me. The full passion of being able to cook amazing food but saving money.
Your approach seems to be constantly experimenting. Are you always trying new things?
Here’s my constant approach, here’s how I think: People always like to cook the same things, rice and beans, pasta, etc. After a while it can get redundant. We like to eat the same things, too. But to try new things is very exciting for me. Sometimes you see me cooking, I’m doing that for the very first time. No idea if it’s good or bad until it’s done. That brings excitement to me. It makes me want to keep going, to try new things and see what happens. My viewers drive my inspiration. They give me ideas. Nutella on a steak? That’s nasty! What are you thinking? And then I try it, and then the results are amazing. Not necessarily Nutella, but maybe it’s peanut butter. That was fantastic. It was amazing! How can that be? I did some more research, and found it was popular in Asia. They use a lot of peanut sauce. People do this somewhere else in other countries, by experiencing new things and what works and doesn’t work makes me very excited. I’m at the point now where I don’t knock anything. Anything goes! An Oreo on a steak? I’ll do it! And I’ll let you know if it’s good or nasty. I really believe that everything is possible if you try. Traditional dishes, there are so many different videos out there. Always trying something new. We’re always honest. If it tastes bad, we’ll let you know.
Would you describe yourself as a “chef” or a more of a “culinary adventurer”?
Don’t get me wrong. Look, I've cooked so many briskets, too many to count. People come back and ask me to cook something I've done for a party, and I do it. For me, I’m not a chef. I’m just an inspired home cook. I truly believe that a chef needs to earn their title, the sweat and tears and culinary school. I take the word “chef” seriously. I’m a passionate home cook who loves to experiment. I know a lot of chefs that earn that tremendous respect. You cook the brisket every single way at the same time. Then I tried to dry age a brisket, dry aged for 60 days. It was insane, a total experiment. People say “What the heck did you do now?” You ask me for the same thing, but we mix it up. Always try something new even with a regular dish.
Do you have a favorite kitchen hack?
Here’s my favorite: If you don’t have a smoker or anything to put a smoky flavor in your meat, you can just buy a little bit of pellets for pellet grills, light it on fire with stove or torch, put it on your plate and cover with foil, It will produce a smoky flavor. You can do the same thing with popcorn. If you’ve never had smoky flavor popcorn - MAN! - you should try it. It doesn't seem possible.
What’s your favorite culinary discovery so far?
Difficult to pick a favorite discovery, I get my mind blown every single time. One of the things I found out was tenderizing a tough cut of meat with pineapple. It breaks down the tissue. Makes it incredibly tender. I did a pineapple slurry, marinated for one hour, took it out and it was an amazing and tender steak. Ok, then, I said “Wait a sec, put that in a video.” I pushed the limits with marinating. I did one for five hours up to 24 hours. Let’s see what happens. The longest time, the steak started to decompose — it was disgusting! It was the most horrifying thing I've ever put in my mouth. So we learned a huge lesson. Now I understand how enzymes work with meat. Another recent thing was dry aging a chicken in butter. How does that work with poultry? I dry aged and encased completely in butter for a few days. Guess what? Freaking amazing chicken! My viewers gave me that idea. I’m pretty sure it was a troll that gave that comment. I’m actually 100% sure it was a troll. But I was like “Wait a second, why not?” And guess what, it works! Juiciest thing ever. It made chicken exciting again. Let’s be honest, chicken is boring. It makes it exciting to try something new with an old dish. Changes my perspective every time I try something new.
When you’re not cooking, where are you?
I would say my time is spent mostly cooking or editing the videos. I do it all myself. You’d be surprised how much work goes into that. I do three videos every single week, no matter what. The only time I have left I spend with my wife and kids. Whenever I'm with the kids and wife they ask me to cook for them. Always cooking. My kids’ favorite thing is Brazilian cut steak. Heck yeah, let’s do it! So I’m either filming, editing, or in the backyard with the kids. No vacations, just work. If you love what you do, it’s not work. You’re spending time loving what you do. That’s how I'm able to do it. Because if it felt like work, no human being on earth would be stable enough to work as much as I do. I work from 6:00 am until 2:00 am. I only sleep four to six hours a day, seven days a week. If I was considering that work, it would be impossible to do it. My viewers put a tremendous fire under me, motivating me constantly. I want to hear from them about what I'm doing, right or wrong.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
It’s not that I hate it, it’s that I don't love it. I’ll use it if I have to, but the smell of it drives me insane. It’s cumin seeds. Here’s the interesting thing: I like cumin, but I cannot have cumin seeds. Makes me crazy. I won’t use it in a recipe.
Tell me about your kitchen set up. What are the tools you rely on the most?
My knives of course, but other than that my sous vide machine, my grills, and my flamethrower.
Once you’ve tried sous vide, you see how convenient it is. That’s the best word. It’s a great way to cook, but the word is convenient and accurate. Being able to cook the same type of steak and pork consistently without fail. It’s something that everyone needs to have in their kitchen at all times.
Also a grill, and it has to be charcoal. Nothing against gas, it’s convenient, but being able to play with fire and control how fire can put flavor on the steak with the smoke that’s produced, that’s magic.
My flame thrower. I can’t live without it. Everyone should have a flame thrower if you don’t live in an apartment. If you have a backyard, you should be required to have one. It doesn’t matter if you have the most expensive stove in the world. You need to cook proteins at lower temps and raise the temp slowly, whenever you do that, in the end you must put a crust on it, the char we look for. It takes thirty seconds, put whatever crust you want. I use it often, I have no dirty dishes when I'm searing a steak. If you use cast iron, good luck with the smoke in your house! It’s ridiculous. No smoke or smell in your house. Come on, how can you not have this? Everybody needs it. It should be like having a pan, you must have one. It’s only for crust — the flame thrower. Cook some way first, then crust with the flamethrower. All meat, cook slow and gentle, then you kill it with the crust.
Why did you choose to partner with Dalstrong?
I am a huge knife collector. I don’t even know how many I have. I have a martial arts background and have always loved them. I came from Brazil very young, and started martial arts here. I wanted to have all the belts in my room as decorations. My aunt put me in, and I said “Great, now we can go and buy all of the belts!” Then she explains that’s not how it works, you have to earn them. At the studio, I met Master Sang. He invited me to try a class and after fifteen minutes, I broke a board. That was it. That started my full addiction. I practiced until I was twenty-five. I became an instructor at twelve, teaching all the little children. It was my entire life.
With this background, one of the primary demonstrations of form was with swords. I used to be a huge collector of swords, when you’d walk into my hallway, you’d see about fifty swords for competitions and teaching. From swords, I became obsessed with knives. Once I started an office job and started cooking, I started a collection of culinary knives.
What attracted me to Dalstrong first was how it looked. It looked bad ass. My first experience with Dalstrong was the Phantom series, and I was in love with it because of the style and quality. If you look at my very early videos, the only one I used was that filet knife. I don’t remember how it happened, but we started collaborating, and I tried a bunch of their knives, each one better than the last.
Ever since then, you guys come up with crazy, innovative knives. Which one is my favorite today? The Shogun series is the best. The way it looks, the way it performs. When you walk into my studio, you see all of my knives. It inspires me. Sometimes I look at a knife, and I want to use that in a video, so what can I make with this knife here that I can use in a video. Which one do I use the most? It’s the 12” carving slicer. It’s the best knife you guys make.
Who are your cooking heroes?
Truly, who is my cooking hero? My aunt. She’s professionally trained now at Le Cordon Bleu, but most importantly when we lived in Brazil she cooked in a place where workers in a huge factory go to eat, like a cafeteria but so much better. She’d cook for 1,000 people a day, but it was incredible food. Today, even though I can cook anything I want, whenever I'm going to see her I ask her to make something for me. Home cooking has a taste specific to that person, I can make the same thing as her and it doesn’t taste the same. She’ll tell me I make things better and I say “You’re insane! This is crap compared to yours!” Her food brings back memories, childhood feelings. It gives me a different perspective.
And also my grandma. She used to make Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread). We used to wake up early and milk the cows, every Saturday and Sunday we’d milk the cows. We’d grab a stainless steel glass, spoonful of chocolate powder, and put milk directly into the cup. I was like five-years-old. We’d come back inside and eat my grandma’s freshly baked Pão de Queijo. Experiences like that you can’t recreate.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
Oooh, that’s a good one! Oh man, I would love to cook for so many. To pick one person, it would be Joe Rogan. I listen to his podcast all the time. I know he’s a hunter, like me. He loves steak like there’s no tomorrow. I’d love to have him experience something crazy I could do. “You see what you just ate? It’s a peanut butter steak? How good is that!” That would be a highlight just to see his reaction.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
One of the things people over think is steaks. The most important thing when you’re cooking a steak is you’re cooking for yourself. Cook it the way you like it, respect your opinion first. If you like a steak with salt and pepper, you use salt and pepper. If you’re cooking for someone else, respect how others like their steak. I see chefs say if you don’t eat your steak rare or medium rare, that’s not ok. Why not? With such a broad audience. I've really learned to respect others' opinions.
I did this experiment with my mother-in-law. I blindfolded her and said “Try this steak here and then try this one.” They were two filet minions, one was medium rare and the other was well done, and when she tasted it blindfolded, she preferred the medium rare. When I took the blindfold off and she saw it she asked, “Why you give me this bloody steak?” She said, “I understand that this one is juicier and tastes better. But I like to look at my food and eat it. Let me have the food the way I like to enjoy it.” Sometimes looking at it is as important as tasting it. Now I respect what others want. Now when I cook for my family, I make three or four different types of doneness to make everyone happy. I don’t change their perspective, I want them to have a good time and not try to change something that’s not that important.
What would be your last meal?
That’s a tough one! Alright. My last meal I'm going to eat a medium-rare prime picanha, cooked in charcoal, with a side of mashed potatoes (MY mashed potatoes with a lot of cream cheese), and forget the veggies. A lot of that, and I’ll get as full as I want. A very cold, almost freezing brazilian soft drink: guaraná. A very sweet soft drink found only in Brazil. That’s my lights out meal. You could kill me after that. I want to die with a full belly!
You can (and should) follow Guga’s wild experiments on YouTube (Guga Foods and Sous Vide Everything) and Instagram.