From prodigy cook to gastronomy teacher at his own school

posted on 04/10/2022 08:00

(credit: Khalil Santos/CB/DAPress)

Diego Koppe was an agitated child, difficult to concentrate. To keep the child focused, parents always sought to occupy him with extracurricular activities. They tried everything: piano lessons, drawing, painting, swimming… But the boy didn’t adapt to any of them. Until, at the age of 13, he took a gastronomy course and not only was enchanted, but began to take it seriously. “I was looking forward to the weekend and reproducing, at home, the recipe I had learned during the week.”

And so, the boy took about 30 gastronomic courses and became familiar with the pots. Faced with his son’s excitement, Diego’s father decided to ask a friend, who was a chef, to help the boy. Eduardo Camargo was a partner at the then restaurant La Via Vecchia, at the Hotel Bonaparte, and hired Diego as a young apprentice. “Seu Eduardo told my father that he was going to make me give up gastronomy. And he put me to work at the sink”, he recalls.

At the age of 15, with a formal contract, Diego left school and went straight to the restaurant, where he spent the afternoon. He washed dishes, mopped floors, did the heavy lifting, all without complaint. Eduardo thought that, given the hard life imposed on him, the boy would give up soon. But faced with Diego’s persistence, he surrendered and warned his friend: “I’m going to teach your son to cook”.

The teenager was then promoted to kitchen help. He chopped garlic and onions, chopped vegetables and prepped for dinner. More than that, the boy got to know how a professional kitchen worked. He became a kind of apprentice of Eduardo Camargo. And he was gaining the master’s trust.

So much so that the opening dinner of the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants (Abrasel) in the Federal District was planned and executed by Diego, under the careful coordination, of course, of Eduardo Camargo. “I was a 16-year-old kid cooking for the most renowned chefs in the city. The owners of the 13 biggest restaurants in Brasília were there.”

The dinner was a success and Diego accepted another challenge: to be Eduardo Camargo’s right-hand man, who was in charge of implementing the first unit of the renowned French school of gastronomy Le Cordon Bleu in Brazil. It was supposed to be headquartered at the University of Brasília (UnB), but, due to bureaucratic problems, the project did not succeed.

For two years, however, the project was carried on. Alongside the master, Diego traveled all over Brazil to publicize the Le Cordon Bleu course. It took two years on the road until an imbroglio over who would pay the tax on kitchen equipment — whether the UnB or the French school — made the project go awry. “Until today, the equipment is stopped at the Port of Santos”, he recalls.

After this confusion, Eduardo Camargo passed the restaurant’s management to his son, Dudu Camargo, and Diego took the opportunity to graduate. “My father forced me to have a degree. As there was no culinary school in Brazil at the time, I ended up studying administration”, he admits.

Professionalizing on several fronts

While attending college at night, Diego worked during the day. He went to several restaurants in the city and had the opportunity to work alongside several chefs, such as Renata La Porta, Ticiana Werner, Jorge Ferreira, Ana Toscano and many others. When he was about to graduate, the boy had to do a mandatory eight-month internship in the area. He ended up joining the Banco do Brasil Sustainable Regional Development Working Group.

“It was lucky, because I ended up having contact with incredible sustainable projects, which took advantage of everything in a product. I learned the importance of zero waste. It was a very rich experience”, he recalls. With the diploma in hand, the brasiliense received an invitation: to be part of the group that would implement the first gastronomy course in the DF, at Iesb. “I worked there full-time for three and a half years.”

In 2007, Diego and his parents took a vacation together and spent a month in Italy. The grandson of Italian, the boy not only spoke the language but knew how to reproduce classics of gastronomy, but he had never visited the European country. “I fell in love with Italy.” At the end of the holidays, he had only one certainty: he would return to take a gastronomy course. “I already mastered the practice, but I wanted to learn the theory, the right way of doing things.”

Between 2008 and 2009, Diego took an immersion course at the Institute of Italian Cuisine for Foreigners (ICIF), in the Castle of Costigliole d’Asti, a small town in the Piedmont region. During classes, he had to go through a mandatory internship. That’s when he received an offer from the chef at Ca’ Vegia, in Salice Terme, to work at the restaurant. “He had just lost a Michelin star and wanted to get it back. I stayed there until we achieved the goal,” he says.

In 2010, he returned to Brazil and, in partnership with his father, opened a consulting company in the area of ​​gastronomy. “The problem is that, when they saw a 24-year-old kid giving orders, people were afraid and didn’t trust him. Two years went by and the business didn’t take off.” That’s when he decided to buy a bankrupt restaurant and put all his knowledge to the test. “He wanted to show, in practice, what he was capable of doing.”

The Babel Restaurant, which for a time had won prizes and fame in the city, was in exactly that situation. Diego bought the house, renovated the kitchen, restructured the menu, and put his plans into action. In its first year of operation, it received 33 awards; in the second, he put into practice the Cook and chill system, a technique widely used in the United States and some European countries that helps to reduce waste.

“I started with 12 employees. In the third year, I had five and without losing the quantity and quality of service. We were 100% ecological, we reused everything. There was no waste in the restaurant. And we received recognition from several companies, such as Embrapa, Sebrae and CEB”, he recalls. Diego received the proposal of the S system (Sesi, Senac and Senai) to travel around Brazil giving lectures to entrepreneurs about their successful model. “I spent three weeks traveling and one at the restaurant. I was exhausted.”

That’s when he decided to take a gap year. Agitated, he did two MBAs in that period. He went to Ilhéus, got married, spent time in Curitiba. Three years ago, he returned to Brasília and started to do some events and consultancy, but in a light way, not even close to the whirlwind of times gone by.

Diego and his father are partners in some investments. At the beginning of the pandemic, they bought and rented a commercial room. The chef saw that she had the entire structure ready to give gastronomy courses. Thus, the Diego Koppe School was born. The space comfortably accommodates eight students.

The chef offers punctual courses, lasting three hours. “In the pasta and sauces courses, for example, the student learns to make and open a pasta, knows the chemical and biological properties of the ingredients. We prepare four sauces and, at the end, we taste them”, he exemplifies. The recipe that Diego shares with his readers, by the way, is a classic carbonara, whose step-by-step video can be watched on the Correio’s website. Along the same lines, there are courses in risotto, chicken, sushi, steak, cakes…

After starting work so early and so fast, Diego now values ​​the small pleasures of life. “I took a Harley Davidson mechanic course and, occasionally, I get on my bike and hit the road,” he says. And combining two passions, gastronomy and teaching, is a privilege he has the luxury of.

Cook and freeze

The cook and chill technique is the process of cooking food at a certain temperature and time. Subsequently, it is quickly cooled for conservation. At the time of consumption, the food already frozen must be regenerated in specific equipment, such as combi ovens. This process guarantees the proper conservation of food properties, minimizing contamination risks and maintaining their nutritional characteristics, textures and flavors.


Chef Diego Koppe carbonara recipe

Chef Diego Koppe carbonara recipe
(photo: Khalil Santos/CB/DAPress)


100g dry spaghetti

50g of guanciale or bacon

10ml extra virgin olive oil

2 gems

50g finely grated pecorino or parmesan

Black pepper and salt to taste

preparation method

While the spaghetti is being cooked in boiling water, lightly beat the egg yolks in a bowl, add half the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Brown the pancetta in the oil slowly, pour in the paste, letting a little of the cooking water fall. I jumped for 15 seconds.

Put everything in the bowl and mix quickly. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese.


Instagram: @escoladiegokoppe

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