Out of the 14 starred restaurants in Portugal, as many as seven have non-Portuguese chefs. Exactly half. One of the many contradictions of this country: on one hand, extraordinary products (and wines), on the other hand the best restaurants under the guidance of foreign chefs, while the local talents go (or flee?) abroad. «Portuguese chefs are still seeking their own identity and style» explains Portuguese journalist Ana Musico. Together with her partner, photojournalist Paulo Barata, Ana has created the most courageous and innovative fine food and drink event in the country, Sangue Na Guelra.
Inspiration came to Paulo during a trip to Italy, more precisely to chef Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. There he met Enrico Vignoli, communication manager of the Francescana and creator of the Postrivoro, "happening" of up-and-coming young (Italian and non-Italian) chefs. «Paulo came back full of ideas» explains Ana «Why not organize an event for those who work in the background but who make everything happen? Nothing fancy, luxurious or glamorous, but something to inspire young chefs». Hence the creation of Sangue Na Guelra, entirely dedicated to young Portuguese under-chefs.
The first edition was held in 2013, as a «satellite» event of the Lisbon Fish & Flavours (Peixe em Lisboa), an event organized by Duarte Calvão and dedicated to Portuguese fish. Some of the chefs participating in Sangue Na Guelra had emigrated abroad years ago without ever having cooked in their own country. Like Leandro Carreira: 35 years old who, after an experience at the Mugaritz, relocated to London where he now lives and works. «It would be untrue to define my cuisine as “Portuguese”, even though some of my dishes revisit traditional fare, such as the boiled salted pork bones with corn bread and boiled cabbage» explains Leandro «I left Portugal ten years ago: cooking was not viewed as a career, just a job. But in recent years, I have seen evidence of a movement that starts from our culinary roots and is opening up to research, education and travel».
The potential of Portugal - in terms of products, tourism and historical heritage – so far only exploited by foreign chefs - is starting to be seen as a value, also by local operators. Sangue Na Guelra proves it: in the space of just two editions, it has become a catalyst of young talents. «We wanted to create a movement, a kind of ‘wave' that could mobilize people in Portugal» enthuses Paulo «We have succeeded but it is still a work in progress».
The future of haute cuisine is up to the Portuguese, without any intention to underestimate the work many “foreigners” have done and are still doing to discover and valorise local products: in this respect Ana and Paulo recommend, among others, Fortaleza do Guincho (one Michelin star awarded to French chef Vincent Farges) and Ocean (with two-starred Austrian chef Hans Neuner).
A new generation is emerging which is not afraid to take on hard work or a challenge. Such as David Jesus, who – following working experiences in France, Spain and the UK – now holds the position of under-chef at the Belcanto in Lisbon, working for the two Michelin-starred chef José Avillez. «Lisbon, and Portugal in general, have played an important role in world history. From here, explorers set off to discover and colonize unknown lands. Now we must get them to return so that our country may have the image it deserves!». A few months ago, Enrico defined Portugal as «A sleeping gastronomic giant». Could it be waking up?
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.