The connection between Japan and Portugal is established without filters and seasoned with the technique and creativity of chef Pedro Almeida. Having earned a Michelin star, the restaurant Midori, in Sintra, promises to present dishes never before tasted.
Traditional origins explain this chef’s career. Pedro Almeida comes from a family very close to the rural environment, to agriculture, grown in an environment with the natural and authentic taste of the food that came from the land and the trees: “I recall eating a tomato directly from its natural state, that is something that marks us, the true taste of things”, he remembers nostalgically. In addition, his parents cook very well and Pedro always had all the signs indicating that the kitchen was meant to be in his future. But before that, he tried computer engineering, something he quickly dismissed because it limited the creative side that always characterised him.
The oldest Japanese restaurant in Portugal goes by the name of Midori. It opened in Lisbon 25 years ago. Chef Pedro Almeida says that the space was created by a Japanese company, “with an extreme quality that the Japanese themselves brought, but as it was a hotel restaurant, people didn’t use to go there”, he explains. With a cuisine very close to Japanese tradition, there was a time when change was inevitable. In this transition, the restaurant received a much younger team that decided to bring in a different Japanese cuisine, with many international influences, “and that’s when I arrived, almost 8 years ago, and it was a process of change, through which we started creating a concept and changing things”, says the chef. The dishes gained a lot, namely given the strong irreverence through a signature cuisine, bolder and more tailored.
The flavour influences came from dished Pedro Almeida himself had already tasted, and when the opportunity came to create a 3rd Midori generation, that’s when the real gastronomic adventure began.
We became stronger and chose a direction: the history of Portugal and our reality
Concepts of typical Portuguese dishes, such as Portuguese kale soup or codfish Mizu. And it should be noted that, in this kitchen, all products are national, including the fish.
It is well known that it is hard to please everyone, but at Midori the customers who don’t like sushi right away can establish a bridge between the Portuguese and the Japanese flavours: “it’s a super special food, we usually say we’re neither worse nor better than anyone else, we are unique and completely different, there’s no one doing what we do and with this line of thought”, Pedro Almeida underlines. In addition, the chef pays tribute to the team that works with him, constituted by excellent professionals and whose creativity lifts Midori to a level above average.
Cooking is the art of transforming a product to see other people smiling
With a Michelin star, Pedro admits there were many ingredients behind this acknowledgement, but one outshines all other: the team. “We managed to bring together a team that works very well, that has that very well-defined mentality with self-awareness; we often see that the dishes are getting too Portuguese-like and, by exchanging some ideas, we see what we have to change”, states the chef. The project becomes special because the team tries to stand in that very thin line that divides the two cuisines, together with the restaurant’s financial capacity and the best products.
At Midori, creativity has no boundaries, it’s possible to experiment with the most different ingredients, because as the chef advances, “there’s carte blanche to do what we want, and that’s very special”.
Regarding the originality that makes such a difference in a growingly more competitive universe, Pedro highlights that nowadays it is crucial to have access to a network of endless images and contacts. “In the old days we had many recipes in books, but nowadays we really like to add flavours, different ingredients, that’s what we look for, for example we get inspiration from colleagues who combine flavours”, he stresses.
Aware of the importance of introducing the flavour of novelty in the dishes, the chef took the team and travelled to Japan. In Japan one can find everything, several types of soy, aged soy sauce and 30 years old soy sauce. “There’s a set of knowledge we don’t have, and therefore we have to go there”, states the chef. The dishes must have something differentiating and which will surprise the customers, and sometimes just by adding an ingredient like Japanese black garlic the flavour becomes completely different.
When you go to Midori, the experience you get is completely different and new, you eat things you never ate elsewhere
Every chef has his own personality which overpasses slightly to the professional side, and Pedro Almeida is no exception. He defines himself as having a strong stubbornness besides being hard-working and creative. In addition to cooking, he’s fanatic about table games and reading: “books are my doom, I spend more money with books than with anything else, all related to gastronomy… I eat many books”, he describes with irony.
Tea Ceremony at Midori
What if the experience lived at a restaurant started at a tea room instead of at the typical space? This year, Midori will bring the Japanese ritual closer to the customer’s meal. This is a format the chef classifies as being more “Michelin” or refined. The idea is that, just before the meal, we should start with a ceremony “creating a slightly different experience”, defines Pedro Almeida. An attempt to develop even further the gastronomic component so that it becomes bolder, with new flavours, besides the whole new way of approaching the meal.