Meet Cesar Costa – Chef owner of Corrutela, São Paulo, Brazil.

Cesar began his culinary career cooking at the age of 17 when he began studying gastronomy in Senac Águas São Pedro and came to São Paulo for an internship at DOM. In 2010, he worked at La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise in Prague, with one Michelin star, and in 2012 went to Berkeley to work at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters, the mother of the organic and seasonal gastronomy movement in America. Before going back to Brazil while Corrutela was being constructed, he spent four weeks in Silo, Brighton, the only “zero waste” restaurant in Europe at the time. In 2016, he opened Corrutela in São Paulo, received a bib gourmand from the Michelin Guide, and became the new rising star chef at Veja magazine, Folha de São Paulo, and O Estado de São Paulo. Costa was also listed in Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 young people that are changing the food industry. The restaurant's reception proved that you can create an incredible restaurant with a low environmental impact.

Cesar opened Corrutela, the first zero-waste restaurant in Latin America, while in his late twenties, and was awarded the 2021 Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant from the 50 Best, Latin America only a few years later!

We met with Cesar when Corrutela had just reopened in São Paulo, and after a tour of the restaurant and all its sustainable features, we sat down to discuss his opinions about the food industry in Brazil, where there is still a long way to bring sustainability on the table, as well as how big fast-food chains could play a major role in sustainability!

Cesar wants to show people that sustainability is not only possible in the fine dining scene, but that it can and should take place in all food establishments.

Welcome Cesar to Chefs for Impact!

By Cesar Costa as told to Chefs for Impact

EL: Where did your idea of creating a sustainable restaurant come from?

CC: I started cooking when I was very young, in restaurants where there was no trash, like at Chez Panisse, where we would prepare and use the meat from the full animal, etc.

When you are young and you don’t know yet what you really believe in, at a time when you are choosing what makes sense for you, I was in touch with these kinds of values. Then I went to work in Copenhagen, the same thing. I guess it shaped my commitment to sustainability.

And when I was in France, it was the total opposite, the Chef was yelling at people, there was lots of trash, I was choked! To me, it felt like the “old way”. I don’t judge them as they were reproducing what was happening for such a long time. But It wasn’t right for me.

EL: You told me when we first met that “you have to be born with sustainable practices for your restaurant to be sustainable”. Do you think that an existing restaurant can’t become sustainable if it wasn’t built that way?

CC: They can change but I think we need some governmental actions with some policies and incentives. But, I think that even if you don’t want to save the world, at least you probably like money, so I like to prove that sustainable practices can help for the financial aspect too. For example, here at Corrutela, we use solar panels, so we pay less energy.

I make my own chocolate, so when everyone is paying 200 a kilo, I only pay 25! The flour is more expensive than the grain, so you buy the grain and make your own flour. You buy big amounts because you want less containers, then you get a better price.

Most restaurants have to pay a company to come pick their organic waste, I don’t have to as I have my own composter.I know no one comes here for dinner because of my compost or my solar energy, but I do it myself because I believe it’s important!

Most restaurants have to pay a company to come pick their organic waste, I don’t have to as I have my own composter. I know no one comes here for dinner because of my compost or my solar energy, but I do it myself because I believe it’s important!

EL: What do you think makes it hard for a restaurant to be more sustainable ?

CC: It’s the owner! Entirely! If they don’t care, it’s really hard. It’s more the fact that there is no action than no money to invest. Actions are harder to trigger, you can not just buy them. If they were less taxes maybe that would help, but you would still need the will of the owner to change things.

EL: You previously said that you see opportunity where others would see waste. How?

CC: In nature, everything becomes something. So it’s just about thinking like nature: what will this waste become? Can it become something profitable or not? It’s also a connection between people : someone needs cardboard, someone needs glass, someone needs compost. The only thing people don’t want is toilet paper!

Even plastic! I try to avoid plastic as much as possible, but sometimes it’s impossible. So it’s about seeing the type of plastic you have and dispose of it in the right place.

But we are a small restaurant, I won’t change the food industry on my own. Big chains, they trash thousands of plastic bottles… It’s a slow and progressive movement.

EL: What do you do in terms of social sustainability in your own restaurant?

CC: The social aspect is very important to me! It doesn’t make sense to me to “save the world” but then shout at people. It’s not sustainable to make people work 16 hours a day 6 days a week! My life needs to be sustainable as well!

EL: Do you think Chefs have a role in educating the public about sustainable food

CC: Yes absolutely! I ask all people if they want to know more about what we do for sustainability. If they don’t want to, it’s okay, they are still supporting a sustainable business when coming here. But then if they are interested, I show them everything we do and tour them around the restaurant.

EL: How do you define sustainability?

CC: It’s a hard question! It’s a positive holistic thinking that everything is connected. When you start to see the whole connection, you understand that everything is a loop: from where the ingredient comes from, the process, the human intervention, what happens after…

EL: Any tips you’d like to share for people in the food industry that want to be more sustainable ?

CC: You have to start with yourself! You need to believe that you can make it! It has also to come from the owner too, as they set the tone, the energy of the team.

Slowly people will understand better. In 15 years, it will be like “ oh, you’re not like this? oh you’re so old school”... and people won’t go to these places again! You know like the old school style of shouting in the kitchen isn’t seen as the right way anymore.

EL: A final comment?

CC: I have friends who work in big chains, McDonalds or Burger King. I know you wouldn’t expect me to talk about them. But when you think about it, and for example, the amount of plastic, and all other bad things they use, is huge… So instead of simply pointing at them, we should have a closer look, because their impact is much bigger than mine!

Somehow I feel my voice could sometimes make them react. These guys have teams that follow the trends, and once, I discovered that I was listed in one of these trends websites. We got trendy and were in many big magazines. I try to appear in more non-food related media now, because this is how you can reach a bigger audience.

I have 2 choices: I could say I don’t care about these big chains or I can say if I give them advice, in the end it’s good for the planet, and that’s what matters!

Follow Cesar Costa and Corrutela


Chefs for Impact is a New York City based nonprofit organization educating children and adults about the environmental and well-being impact of healthy and sustainable foods.

Chefs for Impact collaborates with local schools and community centers, and organizes food and wine events as well as online instructional material.

The organization is supported by some of the food industry’s leading authorities, Michelin starred chefs, and sustainability experts.

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