'It's always flavour first'

In conversation with celebrity chef Jose Avillez of Tasca, Mandarin Oriental


A Staff Reporter

Published: Fri 12 Apr 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 24 Jan 2023, 8:49 AM

Your favourite memory of food.

I've loved food ever since I can remember. As a child, I would spend 3-4 hours a day after school in the kitchen. I loved food so much I started venturing into the kitchen alone, trying to cook what I liked to eat the most. There are some flavours that evoke childhood memories of the meals I ate at my grandmother's house: fresh herbs, the flavours of the sea...

What's the most challenging part of your job?

There are difficult moments when I'm tired and don't feel like getting up in the morning after having slept for only two hours and worked for 20 hours the previous day. Yet, I love what I do: offering pleasurable moments to the people who sit at our table and helping them appreciate Portugal and Portuguese gastronomy. Above all, I have a great team. It's been a long time since I've said: "I did this" or "I did that alone". I never have. I try to surround myself with people who are better than me in different areas; it's the only way we can do better every time, because we learn.

Do you have a personal mantra or motto that drives the way you cook food?

My culinary philosophy is: flavour comes first, technique serves the product, and a meticulous selection of ingredients.

If you could cook for a high-profile personality, who would it be and what would you serve them?

My dream guests would be those who love eating as much as I do. I would serve some of our restaurant menu highlights: tuna tartare cone, giant red shrimp, steak with egg on top and mandarin orange.

How often do you eat out? What's your favourite place around town?

I don't eat out that often because I don't have much time, but I enjoy going to Torno Subito by Massimo Bottura when I'm in town.

After cooking all day, do you cook for yourself at home too?

I love cooking but, at home, I only cook on special occasions so I can spend as much time as possible with my family.

You're asked to invent an unusual dish - what would it be?

Portuguese cuisine has an unusual way of combining flavours from the sea and the mountains; for example, meat dishes that include shellfish. If I were to create an unusual dish for other cultures, it might be interesting to explore this combination, knowing that the most important aspects would be the products' quality and the flavour.

Who do you admire most in the culinary world - and why?

Ferran Adrià had a life-changing role in my career and in my life. He was the one who opened my mind when I worked with him, as he taught me to look further. When I left elBulli, I knew I would never look at food the same way again.

Favourite comfort food?

Maybe Brás-style codfish. It's a very comforting dish. Over the years, I've perfected the recipe and now have my own version with exploding olives (a spherification of olive juice). This olive spherification gives it a fun twist and adds intensity to the flavours. It's a dish that's loved by many.

One ingredient/dish you can't stand, and why.

Low quality ingredients, because you can't make a good dish with bad products. Quality is crucial.

If you could choose a last meal, what would it be?

I've been asked hundreds of times the dish I would like to have as my last meal, and the answer is very simple - a good slice of bread with butter on it.

Your favourite culinary destination, and why?

San Sebastian, Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Paris, New York. and many, many others.

Where can we find you, when not in the kitchen?

My free time is very limited, so I love to spend it with my family.

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