José Avillez is one of the most famous chefs in Portugal. He is very sensitive to the world of art and History. The Foodalist interviewed him in September 2018.
J.A.: Yes of course, imagine that what we are now as a country, a gastronomic country, we are only because of historical discoveries. So, before that, our food was less rich than it is today. So, it’s impossible to go around it and not to consider that as one of the most important things for our country.
J.A.: Yes, we are one of the only countries in Europe that use cilantro, as part of our almost everyday-food, especially in the South of Portugal. We use white rice as a garnish for many different things like the Asians, South-Americans or Latin-Americans do. We use a lot of cinnamon as a spice.
But also, you can find desserts in Thailand that will make you think of Portugal. Or the Japanese tempura, that everybody knows well, is coming from Portugal too. You know pasteis de nata? People in Asia think it was made in China, but no, it’s Portuguese.
So, we took a lot of influence, ingredients, techniques, and we brought a lot of influence too.
J.A.: I think it changed a lot. I think people in the big cities can travel more and they now have a different relation with contemporary cuisine. 10 or 8 years ago, people were very fanatic by the traditions, they didn’t want to change anything.
But that thing happens always in countries that have a very rich gastronomy, a very traditional gastronomy. People feel that it’s part of their identity and they don’t want to change and I think you need to respect that a lot when you are changing. But now people are accepting more and more contemporary cuisine.
J.A.: Yes, for example the MAAT. A museum of art, architecture and technology in Lisbon. It’s very interesting to see this kind of artistic project starting in the city. There is a lot of artists travelling more and more and being well known around the world. And I think that it inspires us, chefs to continue developing. For me, food is an expression of art.
Just like chefs, I think that the Portuguese artists are inspired by the Portuguese culture, Portuguese discoveries and Portuguese History.
J.A.: Yes, I think it started around 6 years ago, but the last 3 were quite strong and now we have about 15 or 20 young chefs developing their work.
Actually, this is good for tourism. People come only to try and taste the Portuguese gastronomy. So, I think one of the must in Portuguese culture is our cuisine.
J.A.: Yes, I think we have a strong community between chefs now in Portugal, stronger and stronger. You have a lot of different influences with people that worked abroad: in Spain, in Scandinavia, in France. Now they are putting together their own identity, their own cuisine with Portuguese ingredients and culture. And there’s a place for everybody.