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João Sá. The art of enjoyment

João Sá. The art of enjoyment

João Sá © ffmag

Kitchens have been João Sá’s natural habitat from a very young age. He was already organising food events at his school at the age of just 12, and at 14 his passion for cooking inspired him to enrol at the Estoril School of Tourism and Hospitality. This was the beginning of an early start in the demanding world of cooking, which has been an intense and tireless journey. His career includes experiences at iconic restaurants such as Bica do Sapato, Viridiana, in Madrid, and the Sheraton Porto hotel, before going solo with G-Spot in 2009. After collaborating with some of the most influential chefs in the world, including Lubomir Stanisic at 100 Maneiras and Nuno Mendes in London, Sá opened SÁLA, where he’s created a contemporary menu that is firmly rooted in the finest Portuguese organic produce. Today, Sá is enjoying one of the best times of his life, having achieved professional and personal maturity, as he explains in this interview.


You’re more relaxed than ever, enjoying your project and assured about what you're doing. How do you see yourself?I love to enjoy myself. I’m at a time in my life when I can clearly see what really matters. Because if you’re stressed, everything becomes a problem. If you change your point of view a little, and aim to enjoy yourself, you can do the same things but better. I don’t listen to that voice that says “you need to do this or that” anymore. I feel much calmer and can hear a voice that says: “you’re doing things well, enjoy it.” Of course, age plays its part. I’m not old, but you do change over the years. And family has an impact too, I changed after having my daughter. I always say that a chef isn’t just a person who cooks: they’re a father, a son... They’re a chef too and I’ve also got a restaurant. At the end of the day, it’s about uniting all these “worlds” in one, but with pleasure and a sense of balance. Enjoying it. That sums up the past year for me: enjoyment. I’m calmer, more confident and happier (not so worried).

That sums up the past year for me: enjoyment. I’m calmer, more confident and happier

And this talent for enjoyment can be seen in your team too...
Yes, I really like the stability we’ve achieved. There are people on the team who, while I don’t like it, leave because they’re young and have to follow their own paths. But we’ve succeeded in forming a great team. We’ve also tried to improve working hours, wages... Ultimately, the aim of all this is to achieve a balance. I can’t be in the restaurant all day, because, as I said, I’m a father, son, husband... So, I need to have people who can manage everything. And to have that, you have to pay more, treat them well, be a team with them... They have to feel that they’re a part of everything. SÁLA isn’t mine: SÁLA is theirs. I always say that, if the food isn’t good, it’s my fault, but if the food is good and everything goes well, it’s thanks to the team. That approach is important, because people aren’t numbers. We need to be able to put all our heads together (it can’t just be me who contributes ideas, they all need to feel they can join in and share their talent.) And that’s why we’re better now than ever.

Rice with octopus. SÁLA de João Sá Restaurant, Lisbon

Rice with octopus © Sála

What are your goals for 2024?
My main goal is to keep on being happy, which is what matters most. For the past few years, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to start a small hotel project in a more peaceful location, far from Lisbon. And I think we’re almost ready to put that idea into action...

And in terms of SÁLA?
I’d really like to move SÁLA from where it currently is (because we’ve reached the point where we can’t do much more, due to the physical space.) I’d like to move it to a better (bigger) restaurant so we can keep on improving the food, the service and the dining space for customers. But I also don’t want to leave where we are now, because SÁLA is located on a street that’s really special to me. We’re at the point where I still want more and am convinced that I have the team to do it. But I don’t have the space... 

Monkfish, arugula, beurre blanc and caviar. Restaurant SÁLA de João Sá

Monkfish, beurre blanc, caviar © Sála


Are there any awards or prizes you’d really like to achieve?
If everything goes well, I’d love to win a star. But by taking things calmly: no stress or obsession... Doing what we do. If we succeed, great, and if we don’t, no problem, because the restaurant is always full and that’s what really matters. I think that anyone who says they don’t want acknowledgement for their work is either lying or crazy. Because you always like to have a little recognition for your work. I’m lucky to get recognition from my customers, because my restaurant is full. But, naturally, I’d also love to get it from a publication like the Michelin Guide, which I’ve always enjoyed reading. 

Dinning room SÁLA de João Sá, Lisbon

Dinning room © Sála

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