Known in the Lisbon culinary scene as ‘chef Mimi’, at 75, Licia Mimi Silva is an eminence in the kitchen. She has spent more than 19 years at the helm of the ‘Grupo K’ kitchen, turning Mimi into a woman who is more than accustomed to working in a ‘man’s world’. And despite her age, restaurant Kais chef still has some aces up her sleeve to surprise her guests, and many more ideas to carry out before retiring from the stoves. These include writing her autobiography or designing a four-handed menu with the collaboration of another chef. The secret of her cooking, she explains, is “putting a lot of love into it”.
Interview with ‘chef Mimi’, chef of Kais restaurant
How did you get started?
I worked as a hairdresser in Geneva (Switzerland) and my husband had a vegetable and fruit company. I met the best chefs in the city because my husband supplied the best restaurants in Geneva. One of them was a close friend of mine and offered me the opportunity to practice in his restaurant two days per week. After a year, I left my job to dedicate myself full-time to the kitchen. I worked there for seven years. My personal life took a turn and I returned to Portugal to start working here. I started working in hospitality in Sintra. I was there for 11 years before ‘Grupo K’ came knocking and asked that I manage their gastronomy. And I’ve been here ever since… I’ve been with them for 19 years.
How would you define your cooking?
It is cooking based on love. I bring a lot of love to my work, which is the only way I can do great things. Even when I work with ingredients that aren’t the highest quality; with love and focus we can do incredible things.
What do you expect from the future?
Over the next few years I hope to continue working and write a book about my life, because there is a lot to tell. Before retiring, I would like to hold a big event at Kais restaurant with the collaboration of another chef. I am 75 years old and I am not young any more, but my dream is to make a special dinner with a ‘four hands’ menu.
With love and focus we can do incredible things
What is your fetish product?
Fish. I like all kinds of fish, and I especially have a soft spot for the ray. I also like many fish that are not so well-known. I enjoy working with not so well-known products as they often give results that surprise diners.
How do you see the present role of women in the kitchen?
Women are essential in the kitchen. I do not want to detract from the value of men in the kitchen, but having women in the kitchen gives it a balance. We are not better or worse than each-other, we balance each-other. Women are more delicate and meticulous, they do not talk much while working… that’s why I think we provide the perfect balance to male teams.
Everyone who works in the kitchen must sacrifice many things. This is even more true in the case of women
Have you had to give up much of your personal life for work?
Everyone who works in the kitchen must sacrifice many things. And this is even more true for women. Family is one of those things. But I love cooking, it’s my real passion and I give it all the love I have.