With her heart always leading her into the kitchen, Keyla Nogueira Cook’s driven passion one plate at a time began to whisk into what it is today once she came to the U.S. from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, in 2006. Before that, Keyla spent her childhood days in a small nearby town called Juquitiba, cherishing recipes prepared by her mother and ones baked in the oven by her father as special dishes to nourish their family around the holidays.
After relocating to Atlanta and then another small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania before moving to Pittsburgh, shaping a new life far away from the home she’d known tugged at her. And while it took time to adjust to food in this country, eventually testing out ways to craft ingredients into reminders of the meals she’d savored as a child and teenager quelled her heart and brought out more of Keyla’s talent through her creativity across bowls, pans, and skillets. She grew to feel comfort and a sense of home in a new place through cooking foods so tied to memories of her family’s full table back in Brazil.
With her father’s work as a lead manager of a construction company, always teaching her the how and why behind building what matters in the world, and her mother’s empowered spirit as one of the first female business owners in São Paulo in the early 1980s through opening a beloved candy shop called Sorvetão, which means ‘big ice cream,’ and is still in operation today, Keyla now looks back on the examples set for her by her parents—knowing they are part of her strength in pushing her heritage thousands of miles northward.
Often unable to find the exact foods she could so easily buy at grocery stores and markets back in São Paulo, Keyla began to vary mainstay meals from her family’s traditions with certain substitutions. This meant her dishes became unique in joining long-practiced approaches with her contemporary artistry in cooking.
While working at a software company in Pittsburgh, co-workers were drawn by the aromas Keyla used to bring into the office for lunch. They began requesting orders for themselves once a week, and the same happened with students after she started a new job at a local university. The demand and enthusiasm for her homemade lunches grew so much that it in translated into a Brazilian pop-up restaurant called Feijoada To Go as an ode to her home country’s national dish.
Feijoada, pronounced as fay-joo-ah-dah to those who aren’t quite sure how to say it, is a bean stew involving meat. Keyla’s version is made of smoked sausage, bacon, smoked pork shank, garlic, bay leaves, a handful of spices, and black beans. Her feijoada is served with rice, collard greens, and farofa, which Keyla describes as a topping made out of yuca flour—added to give texture and depth to the bean stew; Brazilians eat farofa with anything, as its own dish, even at barbecues.
To make dining conversations easier pronunciation-wise, Keyla revamped her food efforts in 2016. That year, she opened Keyla Cooks, LLC as a way to lace together some wit and charm along with a simpler name to accompany her chefpreneur-ways. And while Cook as a last name joined her identity once she stepped more so into her life above the equator, she admits that after her first marriage, everything fell into place whimsically, in hindsight, with the culinary verb suiting her career so well. It helps that her son Amyr is one of her most supportive food fans through taste-testing and also assisting her with setting up for dinner events. And her foodographing—one nommm-worthy picture after another—is a testament to the artistry per bite but also with Keyla’s understanding of the beauty in creating.
As a new nightlife adventure in the food-world for many folks in Pittsburgh, Keyla’s catering, supper-clubs, private dinners, pop-up restaurant lineups, and performances in cooking through invitations into chef competitions brighten the local landscape with a taste of Brazil through her own recipe-savvy route in this city which she’s grown to love.
Keyla is also one of the main women behind Cocinando Con Arte in Pittsburgh, a community project combining cooking and art; these efforts are supported by Vibrant Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts administered by Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. These community leaders work in partnership with the Latino Community Center, Latin American Cultural Union LACU, and CRAFT, the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation, housed at Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment.