José Avillez, Belcanto

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th August 2017

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

With two Michelin stars to his name and a spot in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, José Avillez is one of Portugal’s most distinguishable chefs. His contemporary take on classic Portuguese cuisine has received critical acclaim from his peers and industry insiders alike.

The Portuguese chef currently own six restaurants including the two Michelin starred Belcanto, based in Lisbon and in Oporto, respectively.

José Avillez, Photo Credit Paulo Barata
José Avillez, Photo Credit Paulo Barata

Where did José's passion for food come from?

José has always had a love for food taking inspiration from the colours and flavours he was introduced to by his grandmother and mother when he was a young boy.

“When I was 8 or 9 years old I used to bake cakes which I gave to my sister to sell to neighbours and friends”, he explains.

Yet his passion for cooking didn’t follow him into the kitchen until later in life. It was only while he was studying a degree in Business Communication that he seriously considered a career as a chef.

His first step into the industry was with an internship with Antoine Westerman at Fortaleza do Guincho restaurant in Portugal.

“The first time I entered the kitchen I had this thing and my heart started to run and I was sure I wanted to stay there for the rest of my life.”

From here José took on more internships and various training courses to hone his skills including a stage at Eric Frechon's kitchen, at the Bristol Hotel, which now has three stars in the Michelin Guide as well as training at Alain Ducasse's school in France. But it was his time at El Bulli with Ferran Adrià that really helped launch his career. In 2008 he headed up the kitchen of Ferran’s Tavares which earned the chef his first Michelin star a little over a year after joining the restaurant.

Where are José's restaurants based?

Hot on the heels of success José launched his first stand alone venture, the Lisbon based Cantinho do Avillez, at Chiado, in 2011. This was followed by a relaunch of the Portuguese fine dining establishment, Belcanto which first opened in 1958. After a quick refurbishment, the restaurant reopened at the beginning of 2012 gaining its first Michelin star later that year. A second star followed in 2014 making Belcanto the only restaurant in Lisbon to be awarded two star status.

“It was a typical old restaurant based in Lisbon”, explains José. “I think we changed more than what I thought we would do. We made two big renovations to the kitchen and we now have around 30 seats.”

Grilled red shrimp with rosemary ashes, Belcanto

Grilled red shrimp with rosemary ashes,

Belcanto

A year after achieving its second star, Belcanto made its debut in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 91. It has since moved up the list sitting pretty at number 85.

What is the food style at Belcanto?

The restaurant is a modern take on Portuguese cuisine taking influences from the traditional food of his native country that the chef was raised to appreciate.

José says, “Portuguese cuisine is very special, we have a lot of different and typical regions with completely different cuisine.”

Belcanto currently offers three different menus which are designed to take the guest on a gastronomic journey through the Portuguese customs of old and new. Two of the menus, which includes the a la carte, take a more classical approach while the third changes every four to six months to offer a new spin on more conventional courses.

After opening about six years ago Belcanto can now boast to having a couple of signature dishes including a grilled red giant shrimp served with rosemary ashes.

“It’s one of the dishes that people can come here and eat, especially foreign people that don’t know the ingredients who go crazy about it.”

Originally aiming for a small local restaurant close to home, José now has over 400 people working for him across his restaurant empire including a team of 35 at Belcanto.

What advice does José have for the next generation of chefs?

Affectionately comparing his team to that of a huge family José is keen to teach the next generation of up and coming chefs entering the industry.

“I think the best thing in life for you is to be passionate about what you are doing and if you have young kids here 17/18/19 coming out of school to try and transmit that to them it’s amazing.”

And with a family of his own waiting for him to come home to José actively encourages them to follow their dreams too, whether that be into the family business or otherwise.

“The most important thing is to be happy and to do what you want to do but of course you need to make sacrifices”, he says. “But at the end of the day what you want to do is to be good with yourself and be happy.”

By Michael Parker

@canteenparker 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th August 2017

José Avillez, Belcanto

IN ASSOCIATION WITH