Maz Cogo brings Brazilian flair to the east sussex food scene

roast skate wing, samphire, lemon and brown butter at the union rye (credit sam a harris)

Brazilian flair has arrived in the East Sussex food scene in the shape of Maz Cogo taking over the food operation at The Union Rye. Absolutely Sussex met her to find out what we can expect on the menu.

maz cogo head chef at the union rye credit sam a harris
Maz Cogo, head chef at the Union Rye credit Sam A Harris

For any student currently undergoing careers advice meetings, and not really sure on the direction they want to head in, Maz Cogo is worth listening to. “My first option had been to be an airplane mechanic in the Brazilian air force,” she smiles. “Only when my sister told me about how amazing and creative the cheffing world was did I start to consider it as something I wanted to explore. I guess when you think about it, both involve a lot of discipline, so it makes sense those were my options. Then I realised mechanics involved too much studying and didn’t involve enough human interaction; I love to host people and express my love for them through food.”

the union rye credit key quill 27
The Union Rye credit Key Quill 27

Absolutely Sussex is chatting to Maz at Marina Fountain in Hastings, as she continues to explore what the county has to offer in the way of food and drink. “There’s so much amazing stuff here,” she enthuses. “Big shout out to The Plough, Tillingham, The Royal in St Leonard’s, The Fig in Rye, The Cove in Fairlight, Boatyard, Bangkok Delivery Boy. Not to mention my favourite cocktail bar, Cactus Hound, and our lovely local, Marina Fountain. I can’t wait to explore more as I haven’t even scratched the surface.”

small plates at the union rye credit sam a harris 2
Small plates at the Union Rye credit Sam A Harris

Then there’s The Union Rye, of course, where Maz is now head chef. It’s been quite the journey since those early days being swayed by aviation. “I come from a big family that has always barbecued and cooked with open fire as a base of our meals,” she says on how her Brazilian upbringing has influenced her cooking. “You would probably see a barbecue happening at my parents’ house at least twice a week. I’ve always been as interested in the food as much as hosting people in my home and making them feel welcome.”

small plates at the union rye credit sam a harris
Small plates

Today, Maz promises to show offer her whole animal butchery skills at The Union Rye, but when was she first exposed to it? “One of my first jobs was in an amazing Peruvian restaurant in Sao Paolo, called La Mar. We used to prep whole fish and all types of seafood – Brazil is a country very rich in seafood. After that, I went to work in a French restaurant where I met incredible chefs. My food mentor, Julien Mercier, used to bring lots of butchery principles and old school methods to the table. That’s when the combination of my love for fire and fish came to the fore.

“One day, Julien brought a gigantic whole tuna fish to the restaurant, and we worked to break it all down into its various cuts – this was one of the most incredible days,” she smiles at the memory. “It was the type of restaurant where anyone who worked there never wanted to go home. Brazil is a very interesting country when it comes to food. The skill levels and knowledge of the chefs that came from Europe is extremely high. In such a fertile, produce rich country where the chefs were so skilled, it was the perfect combination of classic cooking techniques and history that makes such amazing food in Brazil.”

sea bass ceviche at the union credit sam harris
Sea bass ceviche at the Union Credit Sam Harris

Eventually, though, London called. “Amazing, mind blowing,” Maz says of the capital’s foodie scene, which started for her at the acclaimed Plum + Spilt Milk in King’s Cross. “You can find anything you want and it’s all at such a high level – there is no space for mediocre. London is everything that a young chef needs to help them learn – in terms of food, service, volumes, consistency, attitude, ambience. London is polished. The one thing I would say, there are some incredible female-led businesses and kitchens coming through that need to be better acknowledged for what they’re producing, as it’s currently quite a male heavy industry.”

roast picanha pickled giroles and pink fir potatoes at the union rye credit sam a harris
Roast picanha pickled giroles and pink fir potatoes at the Union Rye credit Sam A Harris

Maz is certainly leading that charge, but why leave all this behind and come to Sussex? “I come from Sao Paolo, which is a very big city, straight to London, which is another very big city! I’ve always been drawn to the sea and felt like it was time to explore a different way of life,” she says. “I was drawn to The Union based on their style of food and how they take seasonality and sustainability seriously. They also prioritise staff wellbeing, which is very important for me. My wife is also from West Sussex, so it’s great to be closer to family down here.”

globe artichokes at the union rye credit sam a harris
Globe artichokes at the Union Rye credit Sam A Harris

The Union is a restaurant and bar in a beautiful 15th century building in the heart of Rye, East Sussex, with a menu made from seasonal produce that is primarily British and local to Rye and the East Sussex region. The small menu changes daily depending on what ingredients are best and what is available each day – and already Maz is getting our taste buds tingling. She has introduced beef cuts such as Picanha to the menu, salsas and condiments and sea bass ceviche. Other new dishes include Maldon Rock oyster topped with tomato, trout roe and bronze fennel; grilled chicken heart skewers covered in an oregano and sourdough crumb; Violet artichokes with butter beans, green sauce and oyster mushrooms and Cornish mussels in a spicy Sobrasada and heritage tomato sauce. For pudding there’s Basque cheesecake and raspberries and Baron Bigod, grape chutney, cherries and home-made linseed crackers.

chicken hearts and mussels at the union credit sam harris
Chicken and Mussels at The Union (Credit Sam Harris)

What would she say really sums up what her cooking is all about? “Chicken Hearts: the sign of a good barbecue in Brazil is if they have chicken hearts,” she grins. “If they do, you’re in good hands! I’ve done a version of something called farofa by adding sourdough crumb to this dish, which is another staple of any Brazilian meal. Pork chop – often a misunderstood cut of meat and needs a high temperature to get juicy and crispy, which is achieved with a lot of care and attention.”

With live fire cooking also on the menu, Maz and The Union Rye will certainly be on any foodie lover’s must visit in Sussex this autumn and beyond. 


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