Kiko Martins is probably one of the most popular and high-profile chefs in Portugal. A tireless worker who is hugely creative and a dedicated Ironman-loving sportsman, he’s always thinking about the next new project.
Brazilian by birth, he’s the youngest of eight siblings and moved with his family to Portugal when he was ten years old. After graduating in Business Management, he realised that his life was destined for the kitchen and enrolled at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He finished among the top of his class, an achievement that opened the doors to top-class kitchens where he could continue his training.
Meeting his wife and the mother of his four children was a turning point in his life; together they began his true life’s work after volunteering for 14 months in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world. Afterwards they decided to travel around 26 countries and discover their cultures, traditions and, of course, the food of each.
When they returned to Portugal in 2008, bursting with the knowledge they’d learned on their travels, Chef Kiko (as he’s known in Portugal thanks to his television career, having starred in several cooking programmes that have made him hugely popular) knew exactly what he wanted to do: bring world cuisine to Portugal. In 2013, he opened his first restaurant, O Talho, and since then hasn’t stopped opening new spaces and surprising Lisbon residents with new culinary concepts. He now has a workforce of around three hundred employees and runs four restaurants in the Portuguese capital; he’s been offered the chance to expand his business internationally countless times but has so far declined because he’d prefer to further explore his concept of “Eat the World” from Portugal.
What inspires you when you create your restaurants?
The big inspiration behind my restaurants is something very important that we tend to forget about these days: observing. When we’re rushing around, worrying, we don’t notice people, their behaviour, and try to understand where they want to go. My art is observing and seeing where people want to go, what the trends are.
You have four iconic restaurants in Lisbon: A Cevicheria, O Talho, O Boteco and Las Dos Manos. Each one is totally different but has your particular trademark.
All the spaces are different but the idea is to always work with Portuguese ingredients and to bring the world to Portugal. It’s easy at O Boteco, because it’s Brazil; Las Dos Manos is a mixture of Mexican and Japanese, A Cevicheria is obviously Peruvian. O Talho is different. There we work for a medium-high segment, which means we can’t please everyone, because when you try to please everyone, you please no one.
We also believe that every aspect is important: the lights, decoration, type of mint we use or the way the ingredients are explained, etc.
You have four children, and train daily to take part in Ironman races, what’s the engine or fuel that powers Kiko Martins?
There isn’t a specific engine, just a desire to still want to do things. I really enjoy food, thinking about recipes, training chefs, watching them grow, how they transform into head chefs, it gives me a lot of satisfaction...
Sport is also essential for me. Without it I couldn’t carry on. The more active I am, the better I perform.
What’s Kiko’s latest challenge?
I have a sports challenge: going to Vitoria-Gasteiz next year to run in the Ironman.
Professionally, I’d like to open another space in the first part of 2023, although by the end I’ll probably have more new developments.
Comer Do Mundo is your life’s work. How do you see yourself in the future?
This project has been really special for me. Although at 43 or 44 years old, your stamina for being in the kitchen is different from when you’re 30. I increasingly see myself as someone who really wants to be in the kitchen but wants to be there in a smarter way, not cooking so much as managing, controlling things. I also want more spaces with bars where I can be in contact with customers.
How do you see the future of Portuguese food?
I’m very optimistic. We've grown a lot in recent years. We’re going through a good period across all of Portugal, which may be small but is a country with a lot of tradition and culture. There are an increasing number of stars, but the price of everything is going up, produce too. A few years ago, eating in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Portugal was far cheaper than going to a restaurant of the same category in Spain. These days there’s hardly any difference.