Having a Michelin star chef write the foreword of your book is tremendously gratifying. But on top of the prestige, what makes Chef Jose Avillez’s contribution so meaningful to us is his dedication to unraveling Portugal’s food culture to the world. In Porto: Stories from Portugal’s Historic Bolhão Market we share his mission. We get personal with the Portuguese, peeling away the layers to bring fresh, authentic voices, flavors and destinations to the conversation.
As our book was launching internationally this year, Chef Avillez partnered with a Porto-based restaurant group and opened a second restaurant in the city. We caught up with him to chat about Porto’s food scene, sustainable eating, his hopes for our book, and more.
Far from your typical culinary tome or collection of trendy recipes, this is a book about people, lives, dreams, and desires. It’s a book about identity and culture, a journey through Bolhão Market, one of the most emblematic food markets in Portugal—a discovery of local flavors and life stories. — Chef José Avillez
You have joined forces with the Cafeína Group. What makes you want to continue investing in Porto’s restaurant scene?
I acquired a participation in Cafeína Group together with my business partners. However, Cafeína Group and José Avillez Group are two independent restaurant groups. Recently, José Avillez Group opened a second restaurant in Porto—Mini Bar, at Rua da Picaria. I love Porto; it’s a city that has also been increasingly exploring its potential, driving its gastronomic offer. I’m immensely proud of being part of this moment in this city’s life and I hope I can contribute to the incredibly interesting dynamics of this extraordinary city that keeps on getting better and better.
How would you describe Porto’s cuisine? And what do you see as its future?
Porto’s cuisine is rich in traditions, good products and flavors. I’m very pleased that Porto is gaining prominence as a tourist and gastronomic destination, because it’s an extraordinary city that deserves to be discovered. I believe Portugal has one of the best cuisines in the world and it lacks in nothing to be a prime gastronomic destination.
You have said that you are inspired by Portuguese suppliers. What does the northern region bring to Porto’s tables? And what role in general does regional cuisine play in Portugal’s evolving food scene?
Northern suppliers, just as those from other regions, bring very high-quality and varied products to our tables. It’s very interesting to watch someone who’s unfamiliar with our cuisine discovering it. There’s a certain emotion about that discovery, and a sense of amazement because of its flavor and quality. We should be proud of our producers and products, this is a hugely important part of any great cuisine. Even though we are a small country, we have many different regions in terms of landscape. This diversity translates as abundance in terms of products, traditions, techniques and recipes—all of this variety and richness makes Portuguese cuisine unique.
How does sustainable eating factor into the picture? What would you like to see as we move forward? Do you see markets like Bolhão as part of the mix, and how so?
There may be different ways to understand the term “sustainable.” However, if we look at it closely, we are actually talking about using resources to a level that doesn’t exceed the Earth’s ability to renew them. When talking about a sustainable system of consuming food, we should consider different aspects, such as suppliers, health, access, safety and how they factor into issues of environmental sustainability…it might encompass a wide range of themes. In the future, I’d like to see us recovering and valuing agriculture, local products and producers. I think we’re living interesting times of change. I can’t say exactly all the changes that will occur, but our awareness about this need to change is in itself a sign of hope. I love markets, whenever I travel, I always try to get to know the local markets. I think it says a lot about the cuisine, traditions and culture of a people.
Authenticity, tradition, sustainability, identity and preservation are some of the themes in the book. In past interviews, you have upheld many of these values as well. What are your hopes for this book? What would you like for it to accomplish?
This book lets people know about many of the traditions of the country’s northern region in a very captivating way. I’m sure it will enrich the outlook on Portuguese cuisine and make many readers come here to try these flavors and discover even more about the country.
Grab a copy of our book for a loved one this Christmas, and evoke Chef Avillez in your kitchen with his recipe for “Sautéed Poultry Livers with Grapes and Port” served at his Cantinho do Avillez restaurant in Porto, or let us bring the pages of our book to life for you with a visit to Portugal.
Sonia Andresson Nolasco