Interview - José Avillez

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Belcanto is José Avillez’s two Michelin stars restaurant in Lisbon. We interviewed him in September 2018. 

T.F.: How can you describe your cuisine?

J.A.: On one side it’s quite hard to describe because I don’t really like labels that force you to make some things. It’s easier if you talk about contemporary Portuguese cuisine, it’s very wide. I’m inspired by Portuguese History, culture and traditions but also in poets, landscapes, in Portugal as a whole with the people and traditions.  

T.F.: What is your philosophy regarding the products?

J.A.: It represents a lot. We try to buy 95% of the seasonal ingredients in Portugal but we still have these 5% from abroad, because of our History also. What we try to deliver is something that has our identity and our soul. I think the biggest challenge for a chef in a country that has amazing food traditions is to deliver the soul, in a contemporary way. Some dishes may look very simple but they can have 24 or 48 hours of preparation. But then, it seems to be something quite simple. Because I want to people to get that soul and to not get lost in translation.

T.F.: How did your passion begin?

J.A.: I love food since I was a child. Then, when I was a kid I used to bake cakes with my sister and to sell it to the neighbors. Then one day I thought, why not being a chef? I didn’t know what it was exactly. The only references I had were from TV. In Portugal, 25 years ago, there were maybe one or two chefs that people knew, especially French chefs, not Portuguese.

Every time that I think about food, I have this feeling that I want to create with different ingredients, different experiences and flavors. That’s why I created so many concepts, so I can do different kinds of cuisines, more contemporary, more fun.

I thought about one dish but it didn’t fit here or there so I told myself, “let’s create a concept”. It’s quite crazy but we did it. Now, things are different from when I started, I have a big family, a big team so it’s more about making a big team work. We are creating together. I still have time for myself to create but then I share it with my team.

T.F.: How do you create? How do you find inspiration?

J.A.: Sometimes I look at an empty plate, sometimes I look at an apple, and think what I can do with that. And sometimes, I’m eating a soup and I feel something. Or even sometimes I don’t even have any inspiration. I look in the kitchen, to find it. You need to be open to find inspiration.

T.F.: What is the main intention that you want to bring into your food?

J.A.: I like to give pleasure to the people who sit at the table, no more than that.

T.F.: What do you think food can bring between the human beings?

J.A.: Happiness. The Portuguese word “comer” which means “to eat” comes from Latin “to eat with” so it’s like to share, eating together is about sharing, to share your secrets. I try to bring that to the people who sit at the table.

T.F.: And now, more personal questions… What is your favorite comfort food?

J.A.: Sometimes I just eat tomato with salt and olive oil and that’s it.   

T.F.: What would be your last dish?

J.A.: I think a a good piece bread. With butter.

T.F.: And you would share it with?

J.A.: With my kids and my wife.

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