Chef José Avillez

Two-Michelin-Star Portuguese Epicurean

By Kelly Villasuso

As Portugal adjusts to its ever-growing popularity, chefs throughout the country look for ways to keep step not only with the influx of global gastronomes, but with the changing tastes of the locals, too — all while preserving and honoring Portugal’s deep-rooted, diverse culinary culture. Leading this charge is Chef José Avillez.

Chef José Avillez

Chef Avillez has risen to the top of the Portuguese culinary scene, bringing with him national and international accolades. From two Michelin stars, to “Boa Cama Boa Mesa” Platinum and Gold Forks, and Repsol Suns, to 2016 Best International Restaurant (Condé Nast Traveller International) and one of the world’s best restaurants (Restaurant magazine; 85th in 2017), it seems this charismatic, innovative super chef is just getting started.

After having the opportunity to experience Chef Avillez’s bravura at Belcanto — from the Elderini (a martini made with elderflower liquor and a “green olive” filled with a chocolate and cumin core), Azorean tuna “bouquet,” and the Portuguese pot-au-feu, straight through to the strawberries, lychees, roses and yuzu — one can only imagine what he will conceive of next.

I interviewed Chef Avillez to get a glimpse of the man behind the Portuguese culinary wizardry.

International Opulence: When did you develop your passion for cooking?
Chef Avillez: I have had a passion for food ever since I was a child. Really it was more of a passion for eating. I started cooking at 7. My sister and I baked cakes that we would sell to our family, friends and neighbors. We didn’t measure the ingredients, but the cakes came out fine.

The garden of the goose that laid the golden egg

International Opulence: Who do you feel made the most significant impression on you as a cook? As a chef? As a person?
Chef Avillez: My mentors: Maria de Lourdes Modesto, the most important Portuguese author on Traditional Portuguese Cuisine; José Bento dos Santos, the most important Portuguese gastronome; all the great chefs I have worked with and learned from, including my training at Alain Ducasse’s school; my internships in Eric Fréchon’s kitchen at the Bristol Hotel and at Fortaleza do Guincho under Antoine Westerman; and Ferran Adrià at El Bulli. Ferran Adrià had a life-changing role in my career and in my life.

A gastronomic experience is made up of several details: a passionate team, high-quality products, the accurate technique, excellent service and the right atmosphere, along with the meal’s rhythm, its temperature and textures.

The drive to innovate comes from my passion for food and from the joy I feel by surprising others.

Dip In The Sea
Photo by Paolo Barata

International Opulence: Name one of the iconic dishes you believe helped distinguish you as a chef.
Chef Avillez: If I had to choose one, [it would be] …”Dip in the Sea”, a dish from Belcanto with sea bass, seaweed and shellfish. I grew up in Cascais by the sea, surrounded by pinewoods. The memory of being that close to the sea is very strong and it really is a part of me, it defines me.

The creative process is complex, because everything influences me: the past, the present, my travels, the people, the landscape… along with my inner world. Usually, I make these creations mentally and I only execute them later. It’s a mental process. When I put them into effect, the dish is already 90 percent created.

Mandarin – Photo by Paolo Barata

Portuguese cuisine is tremendously rich and varied, but if I had to make just one suggestion, I would recommend our fish and shellfish. For me, it’s the best in the world. Our shore’s cold water makes its flavor and texture extraordinary.
www.belcanto.pt/EN; www.joseavillez.pt

Chef José Avillez