1. You are one the most celebrated chefs in Portugal – what was the pivotal moment for your career to date?
After almost two decades of work, there have been many pivotal moments from my time at El Bulli to working at Tavares (where I got my first Michelin star), to having had the opportunity to create my projects, to Belcanto getting its first and second stars in 2012 and 2014, to opening Bairro do Avillez in 2016, to inaugurating Tasca at the Jumeirah Mandarin Hotel…
2. What do you think characterizes Portuguese cuisine of the past five years? What do you attribute to its popularity?
Portuguese cuisine is vibrant and diverse and owns a plentiful heritage of recipes. We also have so many good products, especially fish and seafood. In the last few years, restaurant projects have boomed. Many are Lisbon-based. But there are also many good projects throughout the country. The growth of tourism and the development of gastronomic tourism have contributed significantly to promoting Portugal on an international level. Unfortunately, since the beginning of 2020, the hospitality and tourism businesses are facing an unprecedented crisis because of the pandemic. Still, I believe gastronomic tourism can play a strategic part in the country’s recovery.
3. How does dining out in Lisbon compare to other capital cities?
Compared to others, Lisbon is a small capital. Nonetheless, considering its dimension, the offer nowadays is excellent. And the proximity to the countryside and direct connection to the ocean allows the restaurants to have access to very fresh ingredients of the highest quality. I believe we have the world’s best fish and seafood.
4. How does sustainability fit into your vision for contemporary and fine dining?
It’s important to be aware and try to evolve within what’s possible. Sustainability is a broad concept. When we speak of sustainability, we’re talking about reducing environmental impact, reducing food waste and guaranteeing good working conditions.
5. Tell us about how the Cantinho de Avillez – how does it fit into your restaurant portfolio?
Cantinho do Avillez is a special concept; it was the first place I opened when I left Tavares and started creating what is now José Avillez Group. The goal was to create a comfortable place with good Portuguese-inspired cuisine influenced by my travels abroad. The first opened in 2011 in Chiado and became so successful that in 2014 we opened a Cantinho do Avillez in Porto. Then we opened Cantinho do Avillez here in Parque das Nações and later in Cascais. The menu is varied and includes many successful dishes, like the Marinated Scallops, the Peixinhos da Horta, the Flaked Cod with Breadcrumbs, the LT Egg and Exploding Olives, the Cantinho-style Steak, the Spoon-tender Veal, the Hazelnut3, and many other dishes.
6. Why did you choose Park of Nations for Cantinho?
Parque das Nações is a uniquely located neighborhood, near the Tagus, with a laidback atmosphere, family-friendly, and very dynamic from a cultural and entrepreneurial standpoint. This part of the city will forever be linked to the celebration of the Oceans and our openness to other peoples and cultures, a side of Portugal and the Portuguese that I admire very much. It’s a perfect place for a Cantinho do Avillez, a restaurant where we also celebrate this openness to the world by offering contemporary Portuguese cuisine influenced by travels abroad.
7. We have been forced to embrace at-home dining concepts over the past year – What trends are you anticipating in this new era of dining out?
In Portugal, takeaway concepts saw a lot of development in reaction to the limitations imposed by the pandemic. However, I think it doesn’t even come close to the experience you have at a restaurant. The fact that you have that amount of time between the dish’s preparation and someone actually eating it is a loss and means that not all dishes are adequate for this type of service. Besides, people who like to eat out like the feeling of wellbeing, escapism, and entertainment that restaurants offer.