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The Bistro Group is bringing Brazil’s Fogo de Chão to Manila |

Food and Leisure

The Bistro Group is bringing Brazil’s Fogo de Chão to Manila

OH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes - The Philippine Star
The Bistro Group is bringing Brazilâs Fogo de Chão to Manila
Fogo de Chão chief executive officer Barry McGowan (left) with The Bistro Group president Jean Paul Manuud.

No matter the country, everybody has their own “correct” way of grilling meat. The way one starts the fire to the way the meat is skewered is all up for debate. Even when to add the salt is a cause for argument.

But the Brazilians, who are self-confessed churrasco experts, agree on one thing: slow-cooked meat results in juicy perfection.

The art of churrasco

“Churrasco” is a Portuguese term for “skewered barbecue meat.” Large pieces of meat are pierced with long metal or wooden stakes and grilled over a churrasqueria, a specially built barbecue grill. It’s a staple in Brazil. But soon Filipinos will get to experience Brazilian churrasco dining, as The Bistro Group is set to bring award-winning Brazilian restaurant Fogo de Chão to Manila in 2023.

This new expansion marks the internationally renowned restaurant’s first branch in Asia.

Fogo de Chão, which means “fire on the ground” in Portuguese, celebrates the art and tradition of churrasco.

“It’s a style of cooking that originated from South American cowboys,” explains Barry McGowan, CEO of the Brazilian steakhouse group Fogo de Chão, who was in Manila to scout for possible locations and to give a preview of what the brand will bring to the local food scene. “The cowboys would slaughter the cow, season the meat with rock salt, and slowly roast it over coals on embers on the ground.”

There is also, without a doubt, some magic involved in there somewhere because the meat comes out so juicy and is grilled to such perfection.

“The style of dining transcends culture and language because it's really simple,” McGowan says. “But it's also very adaptable to local markets because we're not trying to make it so authentic that you wouldn't understand it.”

According to him, Fogo de Chão and The Bistro Group share common ground: People, culture, and food.

“And that’s the reason why we’re partnering with what we believe is the best restaurant operator in the country — The Bistro Group,” enthuses McGowan, who first heard about the company when he was in Malaysia doing an Asian food tour.

Even if Fogo de Chão had no plans of expanding into Asia at that time, talks with The Bistro Group president Jean Paul Manuud and his team made the Philippines a great option for expansion.

The Bistro Group and Fogo de Chão plan to put up five branches in the country.

“Fogo de Chão is exactly what our business seeks out when looking for franchise partners,” said Bill Stelton, chairman and CEO of The Bistro Group, in a press statement. “The company’s upscale and internationally renowned dining concept, paired with its passion for Southern Brazilian hospitality and the culinary art of churrasco, makes them an invaluable addition to our portfolio.”

At Fogo de Chão, they slice off as much meat as you want from large skewers onto your plate until you tap out.

Take it from the churrasco expert

According to McGowan, the culinary art form (of churrasco) is centuries old, and “it’s really a lost art form.”

“Fogo de Chão has been doing it longer than anybody in Brazil. We’re the largest in our category. We take the culinary art form seriously — from raising the animal to how you cut the meat, season it, prepare and serve it.”

The secret to a tender, juicy churrasco, he shares, starts the moment a gaucho butchers and cuts the meat.

“You have to rest the meat, and age it a little further to sweeten and temper the meat,” he adds. “Before grilling, put rock salt on it and slowly cook it. All the salt is drawn through. The way we prepare the meat is just very simple — but hard. It takes experience. And we’ve been doing simple for 45 years now.”

Just listening to McGowan talk about the Brazilian churrasco dining experience gets my mouth watering. Just thinking about the waiters walking around the restaurant with large meat skewers and slicing off as much meat and seafood as you want on your plate — table-side — until you tap out is, indeed, an experience like no other.

The Market Table offers a selection of dishes and salads.

It’s all about discovery

Fogo de Chão differentiates itself from other churrascaria by elevating the all-you-can-eat dining experience to what McGowan calls an “all-you-can experience.”

“At Fogo, no dining experience is the same,” he says. “If you want a light meal, you can just check out the Market Table, which offers a selection of dishes and salads. But if you want to celebrate, you can go for the full churrasco experience, where the waiters slice off as much Picanha, Wagyu or Kobe beef as you want on your plate.”

And the restaurant has appropriate pricing for that.

The churrasco, with a much bigger selection of protein and seafood, will still be the core offering, which will be supplemented by Market Table. The setup is somewhat similar to a traditional buffet.

In the US, this is priced at around $50 per diner, although McGowan gave an assurance that the local price will be adjusted to reflect the lower cost of ingredients.

“Dining at Fogo de Chão is an unforgettable and interactive experience,” shares The Bistro Group president Jean Paul Manuud, who has been to Fogo de Chão branches in Chicago, San Jose, California, and Plano Texas. “The gauchos were constantly moving around and checking on the green sign on our table. You have to hold the thong to get your cut of meat as they slice it by your tableside. We couldn’t get enough of the Wagyu Ancho Ribeye, the Dry-Aged Tomahawk Ancho, and the Seafood Tower. Even the desserts are excellent.”

McGowan said the restaurant gets many millennial repeat guests, which he credits to the discovery they experience through churrasco.

Instead of a having a one-price-fits-all offering, Fogo de Chão can limit or expand what diners get depending on what they want at the moment.

“At Fogo de Chão, you won’t get bored. You just keep discovering the food items that spark joy. We have that many skews you won’t find in the menu. We just put them in front of you, and let you choose your happiness.”

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