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Eddy Melo, from the Azores to the world

Eddy Melo, from the Azores to the world

Eddy Melo © ffmag

Born on the island of Terceira, he grew up in São Miguel, and at the age of 14, emigrated with his family to Canada. Eddy Melo, executive chef at the AKLA Restaurant, at the Lisbon Hotel Intercontinental, and one of Portugal’s best-known chefs, remembers how hard times were in the Azores at that time (the late 60s and early 70s). “Nowadays the Azores do well from tourism, but back then life wasn’t so easy. People lived on the sperm whale they hunted, and little else. Agriculture and extensive pineapple growing came later”, he adds, by way of explanation. The chef reminisces over his childhood, when he would help his father (a car mechanic) in the workshop, while his mother, a seamstress and professional cook, worked all day. “Perhaps I got my vocation from her”, he says, with a note of pride in his voice. 

At any event, when Eddy Melo was 14 his family crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life. In Canada, the Portuguese chef, who at that time did not yet know what he was, and even less what he would become, found a part-time job washing-up at the Montreal Hilton. Gradually he became more involved in the cooking, all the while discreetly learning the skills. The head of the kitchen saw how interested he was, and asked his father whether he could put Eddy to work in the kitchen; his father agreed. “Evidently, he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen myself”, he says, with nostalgia.

Grilled octopus. Akla Restaurant, Lisbon

Grilled octopus © Akla


A long journey to become one of Portugal’s most eminent chefs

Slowly, he progressed up the kitchen hierarchy until he became a chef. From Montreal, he travelled to Jamaica, where he took charge of the kitchen at an exclusive resort whose customers were drawn from the crème de la crème of American and European society, before returning to Montreal, where he took command of the kitchen at a luxury skiing resort. All these travels contributed to establishing the character and cooking of an Eddy Melo who was realising that success is not the result of being a better or worse cook, but of the ability to adapt and and to bring out the best in your situation and the people around you. As well as hard work, of course. “As an immigrant, you have to work even harder to earn recognition”, he points out, with a degree of pride. 

For seven years now, Eddy Melo has been the executive chef at AKLA, the flagship restaurant of the Hotel Intercontinental in Lisbon, and one of the Portuguese capital’s gastronomic meccas. So much so, that just a year after it opened, the restaurant headed up by the chef from the Azores was recognised as Best Portuguese Luxury Restaurant in the World Luxury Restaurant Awards. It should be pointed out that Eddy Melo has, in fact, spent 25 years in the same location, as he had already been in charge of the hotel’s kitchen for almost two decades when the building was acquired by the Intercontinental chain.

Dinning room Akla restaurant, Lisbon

Akla © Akla


The flavours of the Azores in Eddy Melo’s cuisine

Although almost half a century has passed since Eddy Melo left behind his life in the Azores, these islands in the Atlantic Ocean have always been present in his culinary imagination. It was not for nothing that he spend his childhood and pre-teenage years — probably the period that chiefly determines our character — in São Miguel (he only lived in Terceira until he was five). 

So aspects, flavours and smells of the Azores, of his childhood, have been a recurring theme in Melo’s cooking. The evidence can be seen in the menu he created at AKLA last summer, in which he tried to evoke the flavours of the islands of Terceira and São Miguel, by using ingredients from his native islands. The chef says he has endeavoured to take the roots of traditional recipes and update them. It is possible to experience the Azores menu in a different way, Eddy Melo proposes a live cooking event, at the chef's table, available every day at dinner time by previous request.

Eddy Melo acknowledges that his mission is to raise awareness of the enormously varied flavours of traditional Azorean cuisine, and of its products and traditional dishes, such as ‘curtume’ (chilli pepper pasta), and ‘alcatras’ (rump beef stew), both very typical winter dishes on the island of Terceira.

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