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Chefs who have made a mark on Lisbon’s culinary scene

a man sitting at a table with a plate of food

 

Lisbon is in the midst of a culinary revival. Over the past ten or so years, the city’s food scene has been transforming dramatically, driven by a mix of long time Portuguese traditions and the exciting addition of global flavors. This change of course translates into modern food trends and new dishes appearing on menus, but it also means that Lisbon is reshaping its identity as a top destination for food lovers.

Several factors have contributed to this shift. Economic growth has led to more disposable income, turning dining out into a popular social activity. Additionally, as tourism has increased, Lisbon has adapted by offering a wider variety of culinary options to satisfy diverse tastes. This influx of international visitors has brought different cuisines to local tables. But at the same time, and very interestingly, it has also encouraged Lisbon’s chefs to dig deeper into their very own culinary heritage, presenting traditional Portuguese dishes with a modern twist to newer palates.

The rise in culinary interest among the city’s youth has also fueled this transformation. More young people are pursuing culinary careers, bringing fresh ideas and innovations to the table. Here are the young chefs of Lisbon you should know!

Feat photo by Observador

 

Today we put the spotlight on the stories of some of Lisbon’s key chefs, giving insight into their personal journeys and the impact they’ve made on Lisbon’s evolving food culture. While there are undoubtedly many other talented chefs deserving of recognition in Lisbon, this is our starting point. We are excited to continue highlighting more of these food artists in future content.

 

Chef Nuno Mendes

a man preparing food in a restaurant

Born and raised in Lisbon, Nuno Mendes’s culinary journey was sparked by his early experiences with diverse food cultures, particularly influenced by visits to a Goan restaurant in Lisbon with his father and grandmother. These experiences instilled in him a passion for global cuisines and the art of flavor discovery.

Nuno attended the prestigious California Culinary Academy in San Francisco during the 1990s, where he started developing his skills and prepared for a career that would take him around the world. Post-graduation, he ventured to Japan, immersing himself in the country’s rich culinary traditions, which later influenced his unique cooking style marked by bold ingredients and innovative techniques.

Mendes’s professional journey is dotted with stints under some of the culinary world’s most revered chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Wolfgang Puck, Rocco DiSpirito, and notably, Ferran Adrià at elBulli. These experiences shaped his approach to cooking, embedding a deep appreciation for experimental cuisine.

In 2006, Mendes moved to London, attracted by the burgeoning food scene in East London. He opened Bacchus, a gastropub in Hoxton that combined a laid-back atmosphere with a molecular gastronomy approach. Although Bacchus was short-lived, it left a lasting impression and paved the way for his next innovative project, The Loft Project. This unique venture started in his apartment in Shoreditch, offering a pioneering and intimate dining experience where guests could watch some of the world’s finest chefs at work.

In 2010, Mendes opened Viajante in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel. The restaurant, whose name means “traveler” in Portuguese, was a nod to his own wanderlust and featured a menu infused with global influences, earning a Michelin star within its first year and inclusion in the 2013 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

After Viajante, Mendes took over the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, which quickly became a culinary hotspot. His current projects include Lisboeta on Charlotte Street in London, a restaurant celebrating Portuguese cuisine, and Cozinha das Flores in Porto. Both establishments reflect his continuous exploration of Portuguese culinary traditions and his commitment to bringing them to a global audience.

Notably, chef António Galapito, who later opened renowned Prado in Lisbon, also cooked alongside Nuno Mendes in London, highlighting Mendes’s influence on other talented young chefs within the Portuguese culinary community.

Mendes has also made significant contributions to culinary literature. His book, “Lisboeta: Recipes From Portugal’s City of Light”, showcases his love for Lisbon’s cuisine, providing readers with recipes that capture the essence of his hometown.

His past role at Bairro Alto Hotel and his influence on the culinary scene are eagerly watched by many who hope to see more of him in Lisbon.

Through his restaurants, books, and personal journey, Chef Nuno Mendes continues to inspire a new generation of chefs and food enthusiasts around the world. We could, hands down, state that Mendes is a chef and author who brings the flavors of Lisbon to the global stage. We can only hope we get to taste more of his work closer to our home, here in Lisbon itself.

🌐www.instagram.com/nunoviajante

Photo by Time Out London

 

Chef Leopoldo Calhau

a man standing in front of a store

Born and raised in Lisbon, Leopoldo Calhau carries the essence of Alentejo in his veins, a heritage from his family from Baixo Alentejo. Leopoldo’s initial professional journey was not in the kitchen but in the realm of architecture. He spent a significant part of his career working between the municipalities of Mértola and Serpa, honing his skills as an architect. This background has profoundly influenced his approach to culinary spaces, focusing on the importance of ambiance and setting in crafting a dining experience.

Transitioning from architecture to the culinary arts, Leopoldo embraced his deep-seated passion for cooking. His architectural background is evident in how he designs his restaurants, creating spaces that are not only about food but also about fostering a sense of community and connection. His approach clearly goes beyond serving meals, something which has made him stand out. He curates environments that celebrate the gastronomic culture and social warmth of Alentejo.

In June 2019, Leopoldo opened his first restaurant under his own name, Taberna do Calhau. Situated in Lisbon, the restaurant reflects the traditional Alentejo taverns with its wooden furniture and marble countertops, elements Leopoldo personally chose after acquiring them from an old tavern. This space is a tribute to his roots and is designed to offer more than just food. This is a place of flavors indeed, but also stories and memories.

Beyond just a dining venue, his more recent Chez Chouette reveals Leopoldo’s playful side with a name inspired by the French expression for something delightful. This spot functions as a wine bar and specialty grocery, offering a mix of Portuguese and French products. Here, Leopoldo’s philosophy that “drinking needs eating” comes to life, reflecting the Portuguese tradition of pairing good food with good drinks, even if this is a space initially not intended for a traditional kitchen setup.

Leopoldo’s wine bar, Bla Bla Glu Glu, follows a similar approach but with a more European influence, particularly from Belgium, highlighting Leopoldo’s fondness for this culture. This venue aims to be a casual place for snacks and drinks, in a relaxed atmosphere, and which we feel keeps getting increasingly relaxed as you open yet another bottle of wine.

Today, Leopoldo continues to expand his influence in the Lisbon culinary scene, not through the traditional role of a chef but more as a curator of experiences and a facilitator of gastronomic and social interactions. His establishments are extensions of his personality: places where architecture, culture, and cuisine intermingle to create memorable experiences.

Through his ventures, Leopoldo Calhau has become a notable figure in the Portuguese culinary landscape, respected for his ability to blend his architectural insight with his culinary passion, creating spaces where people can gather, share, and create memories around the table. Ultimately, his work is about the art of good eating and heartfelt hospitality.

🌐www.instagram.com/leopoldogarciacalhau

Photo by NIT

 

Chef Hugo Brito

a man sitting at a table preparing food

 

Hugo Brito’s path to becoming a chef was unconventional and fascinating. He initially dabbled in sociology at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, a field he chose in order to avoid mathematics rather than from a genuine interest. Disenchanted by academia, Hugo was profoundly influenced by a relationship with an artist, which pivoted his interests toward the arts. This shift led him to abandon sociology in favor of pursuing art at the Ar.Co in Lisbon, where he specialized in drawing.

Hugo’s artistic journey took him to Venice and later to a postgraduate program in the Netherlands, where he lived for six years. His artistic medium was primarily video art, creating long, experimental pieces that played with existing cinematic codes but where, intriguingly, nothing significant happened.

Parallel to his art, Hugo’s involvement in the culinary world began out of necessity while in the Netherlands. Starting as a dishwasher, he quickly moved up when an opportunity arose to replace a sick kitchen assistant. His knack for cooking was recognized, and he was soon sponsored to receive formal culinary training. This unexpected detour into cooking eventually became a significant part of his life, even as he continued to engage with the arts.

Upon returning to Portugal, Hugo intended to focus solely on his art. However, the kitchen continued to pull him in. He worked at notable restaurants like 100 Maneiras and Delidelux in Lisbon, where he further developed his skills and eventually took on the role of head consultant chef.

In 2014, Hugo opened his first restaurant, Boi-Cavalo, in Lisbon’s Alfama district. The restaurant quickly became known for its contemporary Portuguese cuisine, influenced by Lisbon’s traditional gastronomy and its diverse communities. Hugo’s approach to his menu is reflective of his artistic background: constantly evolving with the seasons and his current inspirations, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and minimal manipulation of high-quality ingredients.

Now in his early 50s, Hugo Brito stands as a compelling figure in Lisbon’s culinary scene, blending his artistic sensibilities with a profound understanding of Portuguese cuisine and, in particular, of the ever evolving traditions of Lisbon’s very own cuisine, incredibly open to breathe in influences of the communities who now call Lisbon home. At Boi-Cavalo and beyond, Hugo continues to challenge and redefine the boundaries between art and gastronomy, crafting dishes that are delicious, pretty, as well as a reflection of his eclectic journey.

🌐www.instagram.com/baconbrito

Photo by Gastrossexual

 

Chef Vítor Sobral

a man sitting at a table with a plate of food
Born in 1967 on the south bank of the Tejo River, Vítor Sobral’s culinary foundation is rooted in the coastal flavors of the Alentejo. His passion for cooking began early and by the age of 21, he was already dedicated to mastering his craft. Sobral’s culinary journey commenced at Iate Ben and went through various establishments which made a mark back in their days, including Alcântara Café, Café Café, and Cervejaria Lusitana.

His experiences broadened as he worked in more diverse settings such as the Clube de Golfe da Bela Vista and the prestigious Terreiro do Paço restaurant. Each step in his career added layers to his expertise, helping him refine a distinctive style that blends traditional Portuguese flavors with innovative techniques.

Chef Sobral’s reputation as a culinary innovator led to the creation of his own dining concepts under the “da Esquina” brand, encompassing several spaces like Tasca da Esquina, Taberna da Esquina, and Petiscaria da Esquina in Lisbon, Lota da Esquina in Cascais, as well as international expansions in São Paulo (Brazil) and Luanda (Angola). These establishments are celebrated for serving traditional Portuguese cuisine with a modern twist, truly embodying Sobral’s philosophy of innovation.

Beyond the kitchen, Sobral is also known as a teacher and consultant, influencing the next generation of chefs and the local culinary scene. His partnerships span renowned brands such as TAP, Vista Alegre, and Silampos, enhancing his influence within and beyond Portugal.

Also a prolific author, Sobral has penned over 20 books, sharing his culinary wisdom and recipes. His works like “As Minhas Receitas de Bacalhau“, dedicated to salt cod recipes, have won international acclaim, including the Gourmand International Cookbooks Award. Through his writings, Sobral has played a pivotal role in documenting and spreading Portuguese culinary traditions globally.

In recognition of his significant contributions to Portuguese cuisine, Sobral was honored with the title of Comendador da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique in 2006. His ongoing efforts to promote Portuguese gastronomy have earned him numerous other accolades, including the Mais Alentejo award for Gastronomic Excellence.

Vítor Sobral cooks but, beyond that, he is seen as a cultural ambassador of Portuguese cuisine. His ability to innovate within the framework of traditional flavors has not only transformed Lisbon’s gastronomic landscape but also placed Portuguese cuisine on the world map. Chef Sobral’s enduring impact lies in his commitment to the craft and his ability to inspire both diners and upcoming chefs through his innovative approaches and passionate advocacy for Portuguese gastronomy.

🌐www.instagram.com/vitorsobralvs

Photo by Evasões

 

Chef Miguel Azevedo Peres

a man standing in front of a table
Miguel Peres, born and raised in Lisbon in a family without a traditional background in gastronomy, has always been surrounded by a culture of good food. This exposure led him to pursue a culinary career, driven by his interest in food production and hospitality management. He trained at the prestigious Escola Superior de Hotelaria do Estoril, studying alongside other alongside notable chefs.

Before founding his own restaurant, Miguel’s career took him through various prestigious kitchens. He gained invaluable experience at Gastro in Madrid under Sergi Arola and at the Hotel Herederos del Marqués de Riscal in La Rioja, where he worked with Francis Paniego. Back in Lisbon, he contributed his skills at Estrela da Bica, the Museu do Chiado’s cafeteria, and chef Cordeiro at Terreiro do Paço. These roles sharpened his culinary and managerial expertise, preparing him for his very own business venture.

In his mid-30s, Miguel decided to channel his passion and experience into creating his own space, leading to the birth of Pigmeu in Campo de Ourique, Lisbon. Located in a neighborhood experiencing renewal, Pigmeu began as a humble venture in a less-traveled street, quickly establishing itself through word-of-mouth due to its innovative approach to Portuguese cuisine.

Pigmeu was initially a restaurant focused on pork dishes, following a “nose to tail” approach. Miguel’s vision expanded the menu to include a balanced offering: one-third pork, one-third offal, and one-third vegetables sourced from small, organic producers. This approach reflects his commitment to sustainability and ethical food production, ensuring that each part of the animal is utilized and honored, but that meat is also consumed in a balanced way, sharing the plate with produce.

As a restaurateur, Miguel is deeply involved in the day-to-day operations and the broader strategic direction of Pigmeu. He is an active participant in the ongoing discussions about meat consumption, environmental sustainability, and ethical sourcing. His restaurant not only serves food but also serves as a platform for raising awareness about these critical issues. Looking ahead, Miguel plans to continue his advocacy for sustainable gastronomy and further develop Pigmeu’s offerings. His focus remains on enhancing the dining experience by integrating more plant-based dishes and continuing to support local, sustainable agriculture.

Miguel Peres exemplifies the modern chef-entrepreneur who not only masters the art of cooking but also embraces the responsibilities of restaurant management and environmental activism. His work at Pigmeu is a testament to his dedication to Portuguese cuisine and his commitment to principles that respect both the environment and local traditions. We truly respect this thoughtful approach to eating and enjoying food.

🌐www.instagram.com/miguelazevedoperes

Photo by Observador

 

Stay tuned as we uncover the inspiring stories of Lisbon’s culinary heroes, signing up to Taste of Lisboa’s newsletter and following us on Instagram #tasteoflisboa 

 

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