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José Avillez. Paying homage to Portuguese geography, history and multicultural influences

José Avillez. Paying homage to Portuguese geography, history and multicultural influences

José Avillez © ffmag

How are things? Could you share your current personal and professional outlook?
Things are going well, right now is a period of reflection and solidification for me. The past two years have been hard work, marked by the resurgence of activity after the pandemic and the groundwork for our new projects, like Encanto and Maré. Encanto is a rather special space, offering a vegetarian tasting menu. In fact, Encanto was awarded a Michelin star in its inaugural year, something that gives us great pride as it is the first vegetarian restaurant in the Iberian Peninsula to receive this prestigious recognition. Meanwhile Maré, situated in the stunning seaside town of Cascais, has been well-received for its excellent cuisine and service. We are thrilled to have gained a loyal customer base in such a short time.

As the Portuguese chef holding the most Michelin stars (four in total), it is clear that you have reached an exceptional level in the gastronomic world. How does this recognition shape the way you see the future and your current projects?
It brings me a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. However, our objectives won't change; there is a greater certainty that we are on the right track and doing a good job. Michelin stars serve as an important acknowledgement not only for me but for the team and our patrons. We are committed to continually growing and evolving, always on the lookout for ways to enhance our craft.

Green Curry. Encanto restaurant. José Avillez

Green curry © Encanto

Belcanto restaurant stands as the pinnacle project in your career. How has it evolved since opening, where are you now, and what is your vision for the future of the restaurant?
Belcanto best expresses my evolution as a chef and boasts an exceptionally talented and dedicated team. The restaurant has undergone significant developments on all fronts. Just in terms of the space itself, several changes have taken place since its opening and, in June 2019, we moved next door. This new larger space was carefully designed to provide even better conditions for our diners. Belcanto is more than a restaurant, it is a place dedicated to showcasing Portugal. Our goal is to highlight the progression of our gastronomic heritage, honouring the past while propelling Portuguese cuisine to a more prominent position on the global stage in years to come.

Belcanto remains your main project in Lisbon. How do you strike a balance between tradition and innovation in your cuisine to uphold the excellence that defines you as a chef?
Belcanto offers a comprehensive gastronomic experience that takes guests on a journey through the geography and history of Portugal, engaging all the senses and culminating in a newfound appreciation for Portuguese culture. While paying homage to geography, history, and multicultural influences, Belcanto preserves traditional flavours, applying our knowledge and creativity to present a contemporary interpretation.

Since the debut of Encanto, the first Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant in Portugal, what has the public response been like and what challenges have you faced in creating an entirely plant-based culinary experience?
The reception has been fantastic. The truth is, the menu is meticulously designed to offer a delightful blend of surprising and creative elements, both visually and in terms of flavours and textures. It's not uncommon for guests to schedule a second dinner right after the first. Chef Diogo Formiga and his kitchen and dining team have done an exceptional job. The challenge lies in keeping up with seasonality and ensuring a consistent level of creativity and interest.

Tasca Dubai José Avillez

José Avillez © Tasca Dubai

The restaurant A Tasca (Dubai) marks your international presence. How do you manage to blend the essence of Portuguese cuisine with international influences in this project?

Our international presence is made through A Tasca in Dubai and through Mesa in Macau. Multiculturalism is deeply ingrained in Portuguese culture, dating back to long before the foundation of Portugal and continuing today. The country's history is marked by the presence of different peoples, and the maritime expansion during the fifteenth century reinforced those multicultural influences.
The success of the maritime expansion brought several cultural influences from different parts of the world to Portugal. Portuguese sailors brought back spices, new ingredients, and different preparation techniques that enriched the country's gastronomy. The introduction of ingredients such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg transformed Portuguese cuisine into a fusion of flavours. And let's not forget that Portugal has been a hub of both emigration and immigration throughout history, where each of these peoples and communities have left their mark on various aspects of Portuguese culture, particularly in gastronomy.

Bringing Portuguese cuisine to Dubai and Macau is a privilege and an extraordinary way to showcase Portuguese cuisine at the same time as getting to know local tastes and reinforcing multicultural influences.

Let's talk about your new estate in Alentejo. How is the culinary experience integrated into Casa Nossa and what unique elements does it offer guests?Casa Nossa is a particularly special project, offering an entire property for rent nestled along the bank of the Alqueva and with spectacular views. The best thing about Casa Nossa is the surrounding natural beauty, comfort, and privacy it provides. The service is characterised by its friendliness, attention, and discretion. With a capacity to comfortably accommodate up to 20 people, the kitchen is also a distinctive element. The cuisine at Casa Nossa is Portuguese-inspired and we strive to embody the farm-to-table philosophy whenever possible. Our aim is to introduce guests to the delightful flavours of the Alentejo, the region where Casa Nossa is located, along with showcasing some of Portugal's finest culinary traditions.

Fly me to the moon. Belcanto Restaurant

Fly me to the Moon © Belcanto

Portuguese cuisine has undergone significant evolution in recent years. How would you describe this change and, in your view, what is the role of Portuguese cuisine on the world gastronomic stage?
Portuguese cuisine is extraordinarily rich and interesting, marked by geographical diversity, historical heritage, and centuries-old multiculturalism, three defining traits. The combination of various regional cuisines creates a tapestry of flavours. In an era where everything travels so fast-information, knowledge, products-what really differentiates restaurants is their identity.

Portugal has an immensely rich heritage and a unique identity, carrying historical, geographical, and cultural value. I would like to see Portuguese cuisine gain even greater recognition at an international level.

Product quality is fundamental in your culinary approach, as exemplified by Maré restaurant. How do you select the ingredients for your dishes and how important is it to prioritise local and seasonal products?
Ensuring the quality of ingredients is paramount. In a venue like Maré, which focuses on showcasing Portuguese seafood and fish–arguably the best in the world–maintaining quality and freshness is essential to achieve the desired flavours. We are diligent in our choice of products and suppliers. 

Mare dishes

Maré restaurant © José Avillez

As a chef with a successful career, how do you perceive the responsibility of being a leader and a reference on the Portuguese gastronomic scene?
I try to be a positive ambassador for Portuguese cuisine, by promoting and showcasing our culture as well as opening doors for other chefs.

Finally, could you share with us any exciting future projects you're currently working on?At the moment, our focus is consolidation. And, if possible, contributing to enhancing the visibility of front-of-house service, advocating for its general recognition and importance within the culinary landscape.

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