How did your passion for cuisine develop?
Being a chef is hard work, but it’s incredibly gratifying. It’s difficult to work in this field without a passion that drives you ahead day after day. In my case, my passion shaped my profession, not the other way around. I always wanted to be a cook, and that led me to seek training in that field, which in turn led to my current career.
Do you remember a specific moment in your life when you identified this passion? Tell us when it happened and how it developed from that moment on.
My passion for cooking was influenced by my mother, an excellent cook. She, in turn, had inherited her passion from her father, who had been a cook before the war. I was fascinated by the aromas of cooking and the clattering of pots and pans. I was a good eater as a kid and wanted to taste everything. My father grew the vegetables that my mother cooked in the kitchen, and I loved helping him out in the vegetable garden. My parents conveyed the value of fresh seasonal produce; I continue to uphold those values today. I’m grateful to them for having given me these principles, which are a key factor in my cuisine. I defined my future career clearly when I finished my mandatory school years. I went to two different culinary institutes to get the required diplomas and then started working at a restaurant with a Michelin star whose chef turned out to be a highly influential figure in my life. He was the one who really opened my eyes up to the world of cuisine and gave me the fundamental knowledge that I needed to enter the world of Michelin-star restaurants –the knowledge that I have continued to build on until today.
What values and qualities are essential for achieving excellence as a chef?
In my opinion, as in any other profession, you have to work hard, with discipline, motivation, and creativity. In addition, in this field you have to treat your products and your suppliers well, and also be open-minded to keep up with new developments.
"Last but not least, it’s essential to convey our knowledge to younger people who are entering the field and share our emotions through the work we do, so that the customers can feel that passion."
Do you have any other passions, aside from cooking?
I’ve always loved crafts and DIY projects. I did a lot of work with my father, who taught me carpentry, above all. I continue to do carpentry and really enjoy it.
How do you like to work? Alone, in a team, or collaborating with other professionals? If you prefer teamwork or collaborations, who were the people who had a strongest influence on you or with whom you felt most affinity in the course of your career?
There’s not much room for individualism in this profession. It’s a team effort, something you share, an act of generosity. I love sharing culinary moments with other chefs, exchanging ideas, knowledge, and opinions; those are highly productive moments. For me, it doesn’t make much sense to cook without sharing or conveying something. A chef needs a team to produce his cuisine. When the chef conveys his knowledge, he allows his team to evolve along with him. Besides, exchanging ideas benefits the team and the customers, who are actually our final judges.
It doesn’t make any sense to highlight one specific name, because all the people I’ve worked with were part of my development –both positive and, in some instances, negative as well.
What are your reasons for loving your profession?
I’m a food lover and a generous person; I love to share moments of happiness around a simple dish or a bottle of good wine. My greatest satisfaction is to see my customers or friends get up from the table with a big smile on their faces and wanting to come back.
What will we find in your new restaurant in the Chiado, in Lisbon?
This new restaurant in Lisbon will be a place where people will not only enjoy an outstanding gastronomic experience, but an unforgettable moment as well. The space was designed by one of the Portuguese architects with most prestige in this area.
It’s a marvelous venue with one single space that combines contemporary elements with eighteenth-century wall tiles and a breathtaking view of Lisbon and the Tagus River. The service, led by Ignacio Loureiro, known in Portugal to be one of the best in his field, particularly in terms of oenology, will be highly demanding but also unintrusive.
We will not be applying conventional restaurant service codes in this space: we prefer simplicity, welcoming our guests in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that also happens to be utterly professional. The cuisine will be very refined, and the natural sourcing, top quality and freshness of our products will be key. Happily for us and for our customers, we will be keeping a short menu and renewing it frequently.
How have the different stages in your career led to the place where you are now? How have the periods you spent in France, then in Lisbon, and later in the Caribbean influenced your new restaurant?
Each stage in my career has influenced my vision and my work. The privilege of having worked in several countries has enriched my knowledge of different cultures, condiments, and products, and that has made my work much more open to the world. I can’t define my cuisine as French, because it isn’t; it isn’t Portuguese either, or Moroccan, or from anywhere else. My cuisine combines all those experiences, all those aromas, all those spices. It’s an instinctive cuisine, but one in which everything has been thought out, tested, analyzed, and approved. All the ingredients that you can find in one of my dishes have a common goal; otherwise they wouldn’t be part of its composition.
Where would you say that Portuguese gastronomy stands today? Where would you place it in the range between tradition and innovation?
Portuguese gastronomy has evolved incredibly over the past twenty years. The emergence of a new generation of chefs, with their contribution of new blood, has transformed this country’s gastronomy. It’s a mix of old and new that I find particularly interesting.
What connections do you see between the cuisines of France and Portugal?
Ever since I first came to Portugal, I’ve discovered something new about its gastronomy every day. There are many things that remind me of French cuisine, which is and always will be an international point of reference in this field. But the most relevant value that we find in cuisines from all over the world is generosity. A meal is always a moment for exchanging flavors, customs, and traditions. I consider it very important to absorb all of that in order to interpret the expectations that my Portuguese customers have when they come to my restaurant, as well as those of guests from other countries. Because although their cultures may be different, ultimately, sharing and happiness around a meal seem to be a constant.
After having worked in haute cuisine restaurants in France for so many years, what made you fall in love with Portugal and stay here for so long?
Portugal is a small country; it’s very welcoming and has an enormous variety of excellent products that are ideal for cooking. The same is true of its wines, whose quality is extraordinary. As far as living here is concerned, I can say that there is no other country in Europe like Portugal –because of its climate, the friendliness of its people, and the beauty of a country that is easy to explore precisely because of its size. And from a personal perspective, since I love the sea, I have a fair share of it here!
What led you to start up your own business? How did you combine your passion for cooking with your entrepreneurial drive?
My main reason for opening my own restaurant was to be able to work exactly the way I wanted, without depending on other people’s decisions. I believe it’s been as enriching for me as it has been for my customers and my staff. Being a chef is not an end in and of itself; I prefer to consider myself more of a leader than a chef. Becoming a restaurateur allowed me to advance towards a stage in my life that I’ve been planning for years. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” as they say. My partnership with Pedro Mendonça developed naturally, because we share the same values and goals. It’s a truly exciting challenge, which we are looking forward to presenting to the public.
Does your passion for gastronomy also carry over to your home? Do you often cook at home?
I’m fortunate enough to have a wife who’s a wonderful cook. So I prefer to devote the little time I spend at home to being with my family rather than in the kitchen.
In what ways do you identify with the bulthaup values?
I identify with values such as rigor, perfection, precision, and attention to detail. In addition, bulthaup’s elegance, based on the quality of its materials and the aesthetic subtlety of its lines, is very close to my view of cuisine.
What benefits does a bulthaup kitchen offer you?
Working in a bulthaup kitchen makes our work more efficient. The different configurations for storage units fulfill all the requirements of either a professional or a home setting. Easy use and maintenance are also very important features.
Photos by: Mariana Braga Castro