José Avillez is considered one of the great references of gastronomy in Portugal and has stood out because of his enterprising spirit and drive to keep pushing further. He has several restaurants in Portugal, in Lisbon and Porto, and also in Dubai, each with a different concept, but all expressing his passion for cuisine: Belcanto, distinguished with two MICHELIN Stars and elected one of the 50 best restaurants in the world by the prestigious “The World's 50 Best Restaurants”; Mini Bar; Bairro do Avillez; Cantinho do Avillez in Lisbon (Chiado and Parque das Nações), Cascais and Porto; Pizzaria Lisboa; the three restaurants in the Gourmet Experience of El Corte Inglés Lisboa, Tasca Chic, Jacaré, Barra Cascabel (in partnership with Mexican chef Roberto Ruiz); and Tasca, at the 5 stars hotel Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, in Dubai.
You are a widely known chef not only in Portugal but all throughout the culinary world. What started your journey to become a chef? When did you decide this was the path you wanted?
I’ve had a passion for food and for eating ever since I was a child. I started cooking at home when I was 7. I used to bake with my sister and we sold the cakes to family, friends and neighbors. I went to university to study Business Communication, but it was only in my senior year of the degree in Business Communication that I decided to be a chef. In that same year, I participated in individual study sessions with Maria de Lourdes Modesto, the most important Portuguese author on Traditional Portuguese Cuisine, who encouraged me. Those sessions and my first traineeship in a professional kitchen changed my life. I knew I had found my path.
You are a champion of the Portuguese Cuisine, but what makes your country’s cuisine special? How would you describe Portuguese food?
Portuguese cuisine is tremendously rich and varied due to the wide variety of landforms, climatic conditions, and soils. Northern Portugal is a mountainous region with green fertile valleys and tree-covered mountains, the Central coastal region consists of dunes and pine forests, Southern Portugal (known as the Alentejo) is an area of plains, so each region has different products (cheese, charcuterie, meat, fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc.) and a different cuisine. We also have long coastline which explains why fish and seafood is a culinary flag. The Portuguese coast provides great quality fish and seafood —for me, the world’s best— with a unique flavor and texture.
Your restaurant Belcanto has garnered 2 MICHELIN Stars. What does this recognition mean for you and is it your goal to be award a third star?
I'm very grateful to the MICHELIN Guide, it’s an important acknowledgment for me, for the team, for the restaurant and for the Portuguese cuisine. BELCANTO's team is very dedicated and professional and every day we do our best. Let’s see what the future holds.
How important is the quality of the ingredients you use? What is the dining experience you wish to give every person who enters a restaurant of yours?
The quality of the ingredients, the accuracy of preparation, the temperatures, the textures, the service… everything counts. At Belcanto we offer revisited Portuguese cuisine and a unique sensory and gastronomic voyage.
As many consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about health and healthy eating, nuts and dried fruits can be an important part of one’s diet. How do you include nuts and/ or dried fruits in your restaurants?
We are careful about food allergies and food restrictions, but I like nuts and I like to use them in different ways: starters, dishes or even desserts. Nuts are a good source of nutrients and add interesting flavors and texture.
Nuts and dried fruits offer much more than just a healthy addition to a meal, they can change the texture, flavor, and even elevate a dish to the next level. What do you think are the benefits of cooking with nuts and dried fruits, aside from their health benefits?
Exactly that. Nuts add an interesting flavor and texture and can be used in starters, main dishes, or desserts. Just as an example: at Belcanto we serve a Portuguese shore prawn with pine nut cream, iced lupine and caviar, a Carrot and olive in different textures with pine nut milk and lupin bean “caviar”, a Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, roasted baby leak, barbela wheat crunchy toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter, and smoked ham; at Cantinho do Avillez we serve a Meagre and shrimp moqueca with cashew nut and the most requested dessertis Hazelnut3 —hazelnut ice-cream, hazelnut foam, freshly grated hazelnut and fleur de sel.
Over the years, you have essentially become a celebrity chef, writing many cookbooks, appearing on TV, radio, and even expanding into international projects. Are there any exciting projects you’re working on that you could share with us? What can the world expect next from Chef José Avillez?
I’m always thinking about new ideas. In relation to other projects, we’ll see what the future holds. Stay tuned!
What do you enjoy the most about being a chef?
The pleasure of welcoming and providing good moments to others.
What is your personal favorite dish with nuts or dried fruits?
Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, roasted baby leak, barbela wheat crunchy toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter and smoked ham from Belcanto.
What is the next big gastronomical trend in the world?
I don’t know if it’s the next big trend but there’s a search for identity, for what is unique about each culture, each cuisine.
What nuts and dried fruits do you always have in your kitchen at home?
Hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachio, dried figs…
Check out Chef Avillez's delicious Hazelnut Trio recipe.