The Power of Passion

Chef Alex Figueira creates show stopping meals for diners at Doctor Kustom.

Tuesday evening, 8:00 p.m. The crowds have long departed, and quiet falls over the vast hall of Tulsa’s Mother Road Market. But in one corner, a few lucky diners – all of whom have reserved their place months before, all excited to have dinner prepared by a James Beard semi-finalist  – gather around a table set with fine linen. In the tiny, immaculate kitchen of Alex and Gi Figueira’s emporium of all culinary things Brazil – called Doctor Kustom – an event named Chef’s Table begins. 

“I love to talk to my customers, and that’s one thing I love about Chef’s Table,” says Alex – debonair, intelligent and full of energy – as he takes a steak and deftly minces it. The tiny pieces will be mixed with bone marrow and spices and served as the first course of an elegant fine-dining banquet. As Alex and Gi, his wife and co-chef, prepare the dazzling procession of dishes, talk to them. You’ll learn a lot. 

You’ll learn that Alex was born in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, a land of cattle drives and cowboys not that far from Buenos Aires. His parents struggled hard to put food on the table. One day, when Alex was five, his father was injured at work and his mother had to care for him. Alex offered to help and quickly learned to cook rice and beans for the family. 

Over the years, he learned many recipes from his mother and grandmother, and often cooked for family and friends. 

“Sunday, we cooked a lot,” he recalls, “the whole family was in the kitchen.” 

But he never thought of being a chef. He went through college, got a degree in chemistry, studied information technology along the way, got a job with Cisco Systems. He met a young woman online, a biologist, and one day they met in person. It was love at first sight, and they’ve been together ever since. As Alex cooks, you’ll see the date they met, December 9, 2001, tattooed on his arm. 

Must-tries include the pastel, stuffed with chicken pastel, cheese, cream cheese, jalapeño slices and corn, and the salted cod fritter (below) with confit garlic mayo, coconut charcoal, caviar and chives.

“I need to have projects to do,” he says. “Sometimes I have five or six in my mind. Some I never do but many I finish.” 

One such idea led him to build motorcycles. He started a motorcycle company in 2013, also named Doctor Kustom. Another idea led him to Tulsa, where he became chef of the local branch of Texas de Brazil. And then, one day in 2019, he thought: I can cook and I can build motorcycles, so I can build a food truck. And he did. A year later, the culinary iteration of Dr. Kustom found a permanent home at Mother Road Market. 

There’s a kind of pastry in Brazil called a pastel. Everyone loves them, so that’s what the Figueiras decided to sell first. But they’re not easy to make – they’re built in layers like a croissant. Every morning, Alex stretches a ten foot sheet of dough on the table, drizzles it with cachaca (“that’s my secret ingredient,” he says), rolls, folds, slices, puts in a variety of fillings and finally cooks. These are still the restaurant’s most popular product, with the possible exception of the picanha sandwich.  

Every Thursday morning, Figueira hand-cuts enough picanha steaks for 50 sandwiches. Since each sandwich has around seventy paper-thin slices, that’s well over 3,000 slices. (“That’s all my arm can do,” he says.) Rich and bursting with flavor, picanha – or sirloin cap – is a neglected cut of beef, and some have called this the best sandwich in Tulsa. 

“And we just bought a dry-ager for steaks!” exults Alex. So a great thing will get even better. 

It’s late on Tuesday evening, and Chef’s Table is winding down. The diners have feasted, perhaps on a huge sizzling tomahawk steak cooked tableside or perhaps on moqeca, a savory seafood stew, made with tomatoes, lime, coconut milk and coriander and brought from Angola to Brazil. No matter what has been made, though, everyone leaves Alex’s table happy.

“Everyone’s a little nervous before the first course is served,” he says, “but by the end everyone has bonded and it’s like a big family meal.”

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