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Marlene Vieira. ‘Portugueseness’ and female empowerment

Marlene Vieira. ‘Portugueseness’ and female empowerment

Marlene Vieira © ffmag

One female voice rings out loud and true in Portugal’s vibrant food scene: that of Marlene Vieira. This famous chef, who originates from northern Portugal, has achieved what many aspire to but few succeed at: skilfully combining traditional Portuguese cooking with a modern and personal touch. Her projects ZunZum and restaurant Marlene in the heart of Lisbon pay tribute to Portugal’s culinary past and are also the stage where she can unleash her creativity and passion.


Rediscovering traditions

Vieira’s cooking isn’t just measured in flavours and techniques – stories and memories are important too. From her first experiences in the kitchen of a local restaurant at the age of 12 to her recognition as a chef when she was a judge and teacher in the Chefs Academy competition, Veira has maintained a firm commitment to the flavours of her homeland. Whether you’re at Timeout market, ZunZum Gastrobar or gourmet restaurant Marlene, each dish is a celebration of ‘Portugueseness’.

Cockles a la bulhão pato. Restaurant Marlene, Lisbon

Cockles a la bulhão pato © Marlene


Women and Portuguese food today, according to Marlene Vieira

Vieira is known for both her cooking and also her opinions about women’s role in food. In “a sector traditionally dominated by men,” Vieira acknowledges the challenges and barriers that women still face. Her personal experience, from managing every aspect of her business to leading teams, has given her a unique vision of the progress that has been made and also the perpetual obstacles. Her criticism of the way traditional cooking is losing out in favour of making a quick profit underscores a passion for both cooking and also the culture and legacy of her country.

Vieira wants to see a change in the perception and representation of women in the kitchen. Despite the fact that Portuguese cooking was historically developed by women, she recognises that “there’s a long road to travel before female chefs are as highly regarded and valued as their male counterparts in Lisbon and beyond.” Her vision is clear: the “need to fight for a place next to men in the kitchen and at food events”.

There’s a long road to travel before female chefs are as highly regarded and valued as their male counterparts


Looking towards 2024, Vieira expresses her desire to be more present in her restaurants, focusing on quality (even more, if possible) and maintaining the high expectations around her restaurant Marlene. She’s one of the few Portuguese chefs to run a gourmet restaurant alone and is aware of the exclusive and demanding niche she is catering for. Her path “hasn’t been easy” but her determination is obvious from her “desire to keep on building and improving her brand,” which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.


Marlene: a mirror to her personal philosophy

Marlene, her most recent project, reflects her life philosophy and reveals her approach to cooking. At Marlene, Vieira has created a space where tradition and innovation meet, where each dish has her personal touch. It isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a meticulously designed stage that provides exceptional gourmet experiences.

Marlene is Vieira’s dream come true. It’s more than a gourmet eatery: it’s a theatre of dreams where each “act” is a dish that tells a story, a space where food becomes an all-encompassing sensory experience. At Marlene, Vieira shares her vision of Portuguese food and invites diners to be part of a culinary conversation that grows richer with each visit and each “dinner” that’s served.

Meat dish, Marlene restaurant, Lisbon.


An unstoppable career

Vieira is both a chef and a true visionary who has reinvented Portuguese cooking and challenged the sector’s rules. Her story is one of passion, determination and talent, characteristics that she has in abundance and that can be seen in each of her culinary projects. During a career that started in her early youth, working in a family restaurant during the summers until she went to catering college, and beyond, Vieira has shaped her destiny with the tools of her clear vocation as a chef. Her passion has overcome all kinds of obstacles and knows no limits or boundaries, taking her from Portugal to New York where she cultivated experiences and wisdom.

As well as her culinary skills and leadership, throughout her career Vieira has shown a deep understanding of the restaurant business and what it means to have a personal brand. Her views on the importance of “being authentic instead of looking to make a quick profit” is a voice of resistance against the fashion for excessive commercialisation. This is even clearer when you look at projects like ZunZum Gastrobar and her presence in Timeout market, where each dish is steeped in her philosophy and love for Portuguese cooking.

Vieira has been praised at events such as Madrid Fusión for her skill at reinventing Portuguese food, with appreciation from her colleagues and international critics. And although her youth might seem to contrast with her extensive experience, it’s precisely this combination that has let her cross borders and challenge expectations.

What’s more, the big red book of world food has shone its spotlight on Marlene, suggesting that official recognition and Michelin stars might not be far off. However, Vieira feels that possible stars aren’t the end goal, they’re a way to continue elevating and honouring Portuguese food. With all this in mind, she’s clearly a chef who represents the very best of cooking: innovation, tradition, and constantly challenging the established rules. Vieira is a name that rings out loudly in Portuguese cooking and will continue to do so while she carries on her mission to cook up not just dishes, but experiences and big changes in the industry.

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