The charm of José Avillez

The charm of José Avillez

José Avillez © ffmag

As a staunch supporter of Portuguese gastronomy, and with a mission to promote and spread it around the world, who better than José Avillez to talk to us about Portuguese cuisine. In fact, just this year, he was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurants Encanto in Lisbon and Tasca, located in Dubai's Mandarin Oriental Jumeira Hotel. 

José Avillez is a devoted and curious chef with an insatiable appetite for learning and experimenting. His hard work and dedication have led him on a unique journey of evolution and experience, but, without a doubt, his greatest source of inspiration is Portuguese cuisine.

With 2 Michelin Stars in Belcanto and more than 11 restaurants to his name as well as over 500 employees, he has never lost his passion for cooking, tradition, quality, authenticity and the value of hard work.

Belcanto Restaurant. José Avillez

Belcanto © Grupo José Avillez

José, how do you find the time to organise all your projects?
With a lot of discipline, organisation and the help of an excellent team. I like to be on top of everything, but I can't be everywhere, of course. However, technology helps a lot. And I'm very strict in planning and organising my agenda, as well as my schedule. I'm always on time, like the British, I take punctuality very seriously.

You love challenges and every year your evolution is unstoppable. What new challenges are coming up in your life, José?
Yes, that's true, I really like new challenges. I love to experiment, to build projects and I'm not afraid to make mistakes; errors are another form of learning, they're an important part of the process. At the moment, we are preparing the opening of Maré, a new restaurant in Cascais. Maré is dedicated to Portuguese fish and seafood, and the restaurant has an extraordinary view of the sea. We were supposed to open before the pandemic, however, the opening was eventually postponed for several reasons. I'm looking forward to opening Maré because Cascais and Guincho are my home, that's where I was born and raised. It's going to be a special opening. I'm also back from another great project, which was very different from everything we have done before: Casa Nossa. A gorgeous property in the Alentejo region of Portugal, it has a large outdoor area, a unique view of the Alqueva lake and private access to the dam. The building itself is a house with ten rooms, with all the comfort of a hotel. Guests enjoy meals prepared by our team, and the idea is for it to be rented as a whole by families, groups of friends and even companies.

Encanto Restaurant by José Avillez

Encanto © Grupo José Avillez

On to the importance of teams, how do you motivate them?
In this field there are always people coming and going, that's normal. However, it seems to me that many who work with us long term are those with a real passion for serving, a desire to want to learn and grow and pride in the contribution we are making to the notoriety and visibility of Portuguese gastronomy. We have extraordinary people working with us who are actively involved and help create a great team spirit. 

The way you’ve set the stage in Belcanto 2* Michelin and Tasca 1* Michelin is really stunning, and now Encanto 1* has come onto the international scene, your latest great project which opened in March 2022. So, what is special about Encanto for you, José? 
This past March, we opened Encanto, a fine dining space where vegetables are the stars of the show. Encanto, the Portuguese word for 'charm', really is a charming project. The property is where Belcanto was originally located, but in June 2019 we moved Belcanto next door, to a slightly larger space. Encanto only opens for dinner and offers a fixed tasting menu that evolves according to the seasonality of the products. At Encanto, every detail is carefully thought out. The restaurant is very welcoming, with highly attentive and friendly service, and the vegetarian menu has dazzled even meat lovers. I think it is very different from other restaurants in Lisbon. The dishes are incredibly delicate and aesthetically pleasing, with surprising tastes and textures. At the end of their meal, even the biggest sceptics of vegetarian cuisine often comment on their surprise at not having missed any meat-based dishes. And many return not long after, declaring that it is an unmissable experience. We are deeply passionate about Encanto and pleased to have such an excellent team that dedicate themselves fully to this project.

Roasted mullet

Roasted mullet © GJA

The sea and seafood are very present in your kitchen. What are we going to find in Maré, your most recent big project?
Maré will be our next opening and we're so close to getting there. Maré is located in Cascais, right above the sea, in Guincho. I grew up surrounded by this landscape, between the sea and pine forests. So, this opening will be special, it is a tribute to the place where I was born. I believe we have the best fish and seafood in the world. Fish and seafood will take precedence on the Maré menu, but we will also have options for those who prefer meat. The stunning view will certainly delight everyone who visits us.

Belcanto is your great life project, it never stops, what surprises are in store for us in Belcanto this season?
Belcanto is undoubtedly my greatest project, it showcases my evolution as a chef, as well as that of an entire extraordinary, highly qualified team. Belcanto offers Portuguese haute cuisine, and it has been a privilege to make our gastronomic culture known to the world. At Belcanto, we are constantly evolving, both in terms of creativity and in service. This season will be no different.

Meringue

Meringue © Grupo José Avillez

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