The Mission Issue 22 Lifer, Brazilian icon Alex Atala, has been many things – a punk, a DJ, a boxer and, most famously, he’s arguably the world’s most influential chef. He also happens to be a fly fisherman.

Guide Pablo Callo and Alex Atala with a peacock bass caught at Rio Marie

Guide Pablo Callo and Alex Atala with a peacock bass caught at Rio Marie

“My home waters are in the Amazon region, both for work and for passion. But I love to go to the sea whenever I can. I really appreciate the underwater hunt and I enjoy fly fishing. Saltwater fly fishing delights me. If I have the opportunity, I would definitely do it more often. I am lucky to be able to do jungle fishing in the Amazon and to fish for the tucunaré (peacock bass) or other species.

The best advice I was ever given is that the best things in life and the worst things in life have two things in common: they start and they end.

I am most proud of my family and my children.  I have three children: Pedro lives in San Diego, Califórnia and is 26. Tomás and Joana are twins and live with me in São Paulo. In 2020, they will turn 18. It is very satisfying to see my children become adults.

Alex Atala with a tarpon caught on fly

Alex Atala with a tarpon caught on fly

The most satisfying fish I ever caught is a tough question to answer. I caught a huge tucunaré in the Amazon four years ago. A tarpon on a fly is always a trophy. But the best fishes are not the largest ones. Those I did not catch are the ones that I remember the most: those that were too close and that I missed. For some reason, these fish marked me.

“The best things in life and the worst things in life have two things in common: they start and they end.”

Comfort food is what I eat at home. I work with technique but eat with emotion.  So, I like to eat a good dish in a good restaurant but in my routine life I want routine food. I do not see the point of making my routine a special moment. If I did that, the moment would not be special anymore.

Alex Atala. Photo by Marcus Steinmeyer

Alex Atala. Photo by Marcus Steinmeyer

I love being outdoors and cooking what I find. Without a doubt, when you are sea fishing, to catch a fish and prepare it, is delicious. But it is important to remember that the best fish is not the one you’ve just caught. You need to wait so that the flesh relaxes enough for you to enjoy that intense flavor. When you go to the Amazon, for example, and pick a fruit from a tree, you experience a moment of intense self-pleasure. I enjoy improvising and cooking with whatever I find, whether I’m near the sea or inside the forest. I love to do that and not to feel obliged to eat an animal protein. Mushrooms and seaweeds fascinate me because of the challenge of being in the natural environment and finding ingredients that will feed me and be delicious. That is the biggest reward.

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My catch-to-cook vs catch-and-release ratio?  Hmm…as a cook, I like to fish. When I fish to eat, I prefer small fish. I don’t enjoy eating large fish. Younger fish are tastier. So when I fish to eat, I like to catch just a few small fish, enough for that meal. About the catch-and-release… it is nice to have a trophy and fulfill an ambition. But I am not a trophy hunter. I am a person that enjoys fishing as a whole experience. The beauty is not in the destination, but in the journey.

Two places I have to return to are Japan to eat and Africa to fish. I would like to go back to Africa and fish for tigerfish. When I was there I did not catch a big one and I want to enjoy more of Africa, not just to fish but to get to know its society and African culture which I find fascinating. Like I said, to catch a fish is just an excuse for a great journey.

My handiest survival skill is knowing how to make a fire and to cook anywhere… beside the sea, on a river bank, in the snow or in a desert.”

For the rest of the Alex Atala Lifer profile, get stuck in to The Mission Issue 22 below, for free.