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Food & Drink

José Avillez on the benefit of a quiet kitchen

Debonair steps into the kitchen with the Portuguese chef and restaurateur behind the two-Michelin-star Belcanto, who recently opened Tasca at the Mandarin Oriental Dubai

The simplest dishes to prepare are likelier to survive, because of the momentum and the pace of life.

What’s your earliest food memory?

I’ve loved food and cooking since I was a young child. I would spend three or four hours a day after school in the kitchen. Around the age of 10, my sister and I used to make cakes to sell to our family and friends. I grew up near to the sea surrounded and by pinewoods. The memory of being that close to the sea is very strong and is really a part of me — it defines me.

How did you enter the industry?

I went to college to study business communication, but in my last year my interest in cuisine started to grow. I had the opportunity to walk into a professional kitchen and my heart raced. In that moment I felt such overwhelming emotions; I realised I had found my path. After that, I went on several trips and did training courses and internships as a chef. I learned under the tutelage of Antoine Westermann at Fortaleza do Guincho, at Alain Ducasse’s school, in Éric Fréchon’s kitchen at Hôtel Le Bristol in Paris and at the renowned El Bulli — a step that truly changed my career and my life.

The simplest dishes to prepare are likelier to survive, because of the momentum and the pace of life.

Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?

My professional life is very demanding. To relax, I like to exercise, to spend time with family and friends and to get out of Lisbon whenever I have the chance. I love Alentejo’s tranquillity. Even though kitchen work is intense, difficult and requires great concentration and dedication, in my kitchen the atmosphere is very tranquil. We work in silence and listen to the kitchen’s sounds for guidance. The silence and concentration with which we work with usually comes as a surprise — a positive surprise.

How often do you cook outside the workplace?

I love cooking, but at home I just cook on special occasions so I can spend as much time as possible with my family. Fortunately, my wife loves cooking too.

What is the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?

My favourite restaurant is Belcanto. It’s my home. My most memorable meal was my wedding lunch here.

Conversely, what would you never eat again?

I like everything except for food made with low-quality ingredients, because you can’t make a good dish with bad products. Quality is crucial.

Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home?

I hope so!

What is your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?

High-quality ingredients.

What is your one indispensable kitchen implement?

The one kitchen tool I can’t live without is a knife. It’s my go-to kitchen gadget.

What new trends are you seeing?

I think coded (written) recipes will live on. Access to information will be wider and more generalised, therefore the diffusion of recipes will be easier. The simplest dishes to prepare are likelier to survive, because of the momentum and the pace of life. People have — and will have — less time to prepare long and complex dishes. Also, home kitchens are getting smaller and don’t have the room or the necessary conditions to carry out certain processes.

Some products may disappear, and may even become extinct. Some new ingredients will be introduced — maybe a new citrus that will replace lemon, or an aromatic herb… Aromatic herbs will be used increasingly because they add flavour and are a great way to reduce (and, in some cases, even replace) salt. Maybe the use of a product that isn’t native becomes massified in such a way that it stops being considered exotic.

There will clearly be a reduction in the amount of sugar used in preparing desserts and sweets.

The demand for less-cooked foods will increase. The technique has already evolved a great deal in terms of cooking points and will continue to expand. Fish and shellfish aren’t good if overcooked. Cooked perfectly, they have a lot to offer in terms of flavour and texture. I think taste will evolve in that sense.

Who would you invite to your ideal dinner table?

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?

I’ve been asked this question before, and the answer is very simple — a good slice of bread with butter on it.

José AvillezMandarin Oriental Jumeira in Dubai

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