Raised in Mimoso do Sul, a small town north of Rio de Janeiro, Junior Borges came of age as a chef in New York City, where he lived and worked for 13 years. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute (now the Institute for Culinary Education), he worked under Missy Robbins at A Voce before becoming executive chef at Amali, a highly regarded Mediterranean restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Borges splashed onto the scene in Dallas in 2014 as opening executive chef at Uchi — earning a rare 5-star review from The Dallas Morning News (its highest rating at the time). He went onto lead the kitchen at Matt McCallister’s FT33 as executive chef, and then moved to the Joule Hotel as executive chef of the property’s multiple outlets. There he developed and assisted in the success of Mirador, Americano, CBD Provisions and other concepts.
Now, on the leading edge of what promises to be a significant trend nationwide, executive chef Junior Borges and his team have opened Meridian, introducing modern Brazilian cuisine to the United States. “I am beyond excited that we are bringing the first tastes of modern Brazilian cooking in North America to Dallas here at Meridian,” says the 40-year old chef. “To my knowledge, we are the first in the U.S. — at least in this century.”
As it plays out on chef Borges’ plates, modern Brazilian cuisine celebrates the country’s early Indigenous, Portuguese and African diasporic ingredients, traditions and flavors, pulling them together with the contemporary Japanese, Italian, French, Lebanese and other influences that give today’s Brazil its dynamic verve. “Americans are surprised to learn that Brazil has literally the largest Japanese population outside of Japan,” says Borges, “and the greatest number of people of Italian descent outside of Italy.” For the chef — who grew up in Mimoso do Sul, in the state of Espírito Santo — connection with the land is hugely important. Borges’ father was a country doctor whose patients often paid him in produce. “We’d get live chickens, and avocados and bananas, and eggs, and pork — that was all showing up at our door.” Equally important are the food traditions Borges learned from his Bahía-born grandmother. Her moqueca — traditional Bahían seafood stew — is the inspiration for one of his signature dishes, the day’s featured seafood in a velvety seafood-and-coconut broth tinted orange with dende oil. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. Meridian represents where I come from and who I am, and ties all my experiences and influences into an expressive cuisine,” says Borges. “That’s modern Brazilian.”
In addition to being executive chef of Meridian, he is vice-president of culinary for The Village. Borges is an active member of the Culinary Council of Ment’or, the foundation led by chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jerome Bocuse that helps support young culinary careers through educational grants and opportunities.