Meet Helena and Matheus. She is an English teacher originally from Leeds. He is a Brazilian professional forró (a typical dance from the North of Brazil) musician raised in Itacaré, Bahia. Married since 2015, the couple has chosen Birmingham as their new hometown and it’s also where they set up monthly forró nights (also known as Forró Café) and weekly forró dance classes at Ort Café, nearby where they live.
This Saturday, they are presenting the BemBom pop-up Brazilian Home Cooking at Café Ort, in Balsall Heath. The event is their first of its kind and they counted on the support of Jenna Hallet, manager of this beautiful café and very fond of the idea of holding a Brazilian pop-up restaurant at The Ort.
“We will be serving feijoada estilo baiano (a vegan option is also available as Ort has traditionally been a vegetarian cafe – I’m also vegetarian), arroz, farofa de banana, bolo de cenoura and caipirinhas/caiprioskas. It’s a simple menu, giving people a little taste of simple and delicious traditional Brazilian food.”, says Helena.
Besides, Matheus is also known for his culinary skills. The couple already prepared several dinner parties for friends that raved about his cooking, especially his feijoada.
Feijoada is the most famous Brazilian dish prepared with black beans, pork, and other variety of ingredients.
For Matheus, it will also be a chance to present the Brazilian culture and food to people from their community in Birmingham. Or as they prefer to call it “a simple home-cooked Brazilian food made with muito carinho”. A lot of love in its food.
The pop-up Brazilian event will start at 1 pm until 5 pm. The pop-up Brazilian event will start at 1 pm until 5 pm and it’s for free. It may be better to book a table but there is always a chance of grabbing a table if you pop up at the time of the event.
Here’s the Brazilian menu that will be waiting for you:
Feijoada Estilo Baiano – A tasty stew of pork and black beans served with garlic rice and farofa de banana (toasted cassava flour with fried plantain). Vegan feijoada also available and just as delicious! £6
Bolo de Cenoura – Brazilian carrot cake with sticky chocolate icing. £2.50
Caipiroska – The vodka version of the Brazilian national cocktail: caipirinha. It packs a zesty punch! Made from juicy limes, sugar, ice, and vodka. £5.
I had the pleasure to talk to Helena a bit more about the pop-up event and the future plans for BemBom itself.
Midlands Trade: To start, I’d like to know about your career background.
Helena Conlon: I’m 29 and I’m a secondary school English teacher in Birmingham. I trained in London and taught there for a couple of years 2009-2011 then moved to Brazil for a year and a half. I’ve been teaching in Birmingham for the last 3 and a half years since returning to the UK.
Matheus worked as a hotel receptionist in Itacaré before moving to London to play forró. He’s played forró professionally since he was about 17 and also lived in São Paulo for short periods of time (4-8 months) twice playing forró there.
While living in London he got a residency at Guanabara on Sundays and Tia Maria on Fridays at their forró nights and his band, Forrobamba, plays regularly. They’ve also played at several forró and cultural festivals including Stuttgart, Amsterdam, Forró Fest the UK, and the UK Flip Literature Festival.
Midlands Trade: How and when did you come up with the idea of BemBom?
Helena Conlon: We love feeding our friends and bringing people together. A pop-up restaurant seems like a great way to do this. Ort is a community-centred venue that has a really varied events programme; Ort’s customers are very open-minded to trying new things.
As it’s where we already hold our forró parties and classes, it made sense to hold BemBom there. Jenna, the manager is very supportive.
Midlands Trade: What is the inspiration behind the concept of your business?
Helena Conlon: The food is simple, traditional (and delicious!) homemade Brazilian food. As this is our first event we decided to make the dish that is most popular when Matheus cooks it for our friends: feijoada.
At future events, we’d like to serve tapioca and moqueca among other dishes. As it’s a pop-up, the idea is to just focus on one dish each time. As I’m a vegetarian and our good friends are vegan, Matheus and I always adapt our dishes and make a vegan version as meat and dairy-free alternative.
Midlands Trade: What is unique about your food? And how do you select what makes the menu?
Helena Conlon: Brazilian food as it’s part of Matheus’s cultural heritage and, due to the World Cup and the Olympics, Brazil has been in the public’s consciousness now for some time. Many supermarkets and fast-food restaurants are bringing out “Brazilian” food ranges and we think it’s good to give people a taste of real Brazil.
As it’s home cooking, we’re happy to share the recipes with our customers and chat to them about the food.
Midlands Trade: Why Brazilian food? And why did you choose Birmingham?
Helena Conlon: We chose Birmingham for the simple reason that we live here (we’re not a company, just a husband and wife team of two!).
In fact, Ort Cafe is only a 10-minute walk from our house in Moseley. I originally chose to live in Birmingham because one of my best friends from university was studying here and on returning from Brazil I wanted to live in a new city, not go back to anything I’d already known – so here I am!
Midlands Trade: Talk a little bit about the pop-up event at Café Ort on August 13th.
Helena Conlon: It’s going to be very informal and just about the food. It’s reservations only although we do expect that some people will turn up on the day. And customers can choose which setting they would like to attend: 13:00 or 15:00. They’ll be Brazilian music playing, with a focus on forró of course, and maybe even a little dancing if the mood is right (and the caipirinhas are flowing…)
Midlands Trade: What kind of audience are you expecting to see at the event?
Helena Conlon: We have only promoted the event online and targeted Brazilian, Portuguese, and international groups as well as advertising with our friends and the forrozeiros who attend our other events.
We have also advertised to Ort’s customers and on the website Live Brum. Ort’s customers are a diverse bunch so we’re expecting people from different backgrounds.
Midlands Trade: What is the objective of this event?
Helena Conlon: The objective is to bring people together by introducing them to real, traditional Brazilian food, and help our Brazilian customers ‘matar as saudades’ with some nostalgic dishes. For us, it’s also an experiment with the pop-up event format to see if it can work for us and for Jenna on a more regular basis.
Midlands Trade: What are the plans and future projects for BemBom?
Helena Conlon: We are very much just seeing how our first event goes and we are very open about the directions we could take it in – perhaps we could hold a regular BemBom at Ort, or even take it to other venues around the city, or hold a regular pop up evening at our flat, which has become a popular format across the UK in recent years.
There are also some great food markets around the city e.g. Brum Yum Yum, Digbeth Dining Club, who knows, maybe long term that’s something we could get involved in.