Over the 12 years of his career at the Ocean Restaurant (2 Michelin stars), the Austrian chef Hans Neuner (aged 43) has developed his culinary art, immersing himself in the essence of Portuguese cooking. Neuner’s vision is based around four fundamental elements: Portuguese cooking from the perspective of an Austrian, fish, traditional Portuguese recipes, and the ingredients themselves. Having presented, last May, the fourth Fine Wines & Food Fair gastronomic convention (which brought together the holders of over 34 Michelin stars), Hans Neuner has recently introduced new menus “with Portuguese DNA” at the Ocean Restaurant.
What are you like in and out of the kitchen?
Outside the kitchen, I think I’m a funny, relaxed guy… Inside the kitchen, I’m much more serious; I have to behave properly and I’m always more focused.
What do you do when you’re not cooking?
I like to go out with my friends to restaurants in Portugal, Spain… anywhere in the world. In the summer, I love going to the beach, surfing, and going out on my Harley-Davidson.
Why did you decide on a career in cooking?
My parents had a restaurant, and I learnt from them. My grandmother was a cook, and so were my parents and my brother… I never had any doubts. I grew up in the restaurant and at a very young age, I started to help my family in the kitchen.
How did you train as a chef?
When I was 15 years old, I did a few work placements, and I entered a catering school, and studied there for three years. Then I travelled to England, Dubai, Spain, America… I’ve been to lots of countries, and worked in hotels and restaurants all over Europe, such as the Carlton in St. Moritz and the Dorchester in London; then there was Restaurante Tristán in Majorca… and then, 13 years ago, I arrived in Portugal.
How would you describe your cooking?
I believe my cooking has strong Portuguese roots. My motto is “make it simple”. The most important thing for me is that the raw materials remain recognisable.
What is the most important thing you have learnt as a chef?
To be patient. I think that’s the most important thing in my job.
How do you get on with your team?
Sometimes well and sometimes badly. It depends on the day. But I think that, on the whole, I have a close relationship with the entire team.
Tell us about Ocean’s new gastronomic offering.
At Ocean, we change the menu every season. We reinterpret traditional Portuguese recipes, and we don’t use many products from abroad. We work mainly with Portuguese ingredients.
Word has it that you’re one of the candidates in line to be awarded the third Michelin star in Portugal. What do you think about that?
I’m pleased that people say that, but I don’t know anything about it. There are other chefs too, and it’s something we’re not told about. I just try to be a better chef year by year. Perhaps that recognition will come one day, who knows?
What do you think about the prizes and awards from guides such as Michelin and Repsol?
I think the most important thing for a restaurant is that it should be full of happy customers. But it’s also important to gain international recognition: that people from New York come to Portugal and visit you restaurant—that’s very important.
What are your goals in life?
To retire (he laughs). That’s a joke. My goals are straightforward. To go on working, and who knows? One day I might start up new business ventures, but let’s see what the future brings. I’ve had a nice job here for years and, of course, I’d like to be here for a few more years. But perhaps, in the future, I’d like to open other eateries that might be simpler or more fun.
What do you think about the way Portugal’s cuisine has evolved in recent years?
When I arrived in Portugal 13 years ago, there weren’t many haute cuisine restaurants. In recent years, that has changed enormously. So many great foreign chefs are arriving in Portugal, and also, many young Portuguese chefs have gone to work in other countries around the world, such as Spain and France. I believe that over the last 10 years, Portugal’s gastronomic scene has undergone a complete change.