Chef Arnaldo Azevedo was in conversation with TimeOut Porto.
Chef of the Palco restaurant, at Hotel Teatro, since the age of 26, Arnaldo Azevedo is one of the great promises of the gastronomy of Porto. Born between pots and pans, started cooking early and is passionate about fish and shellfish. He talked to Mariana Correia de Barros about the myth of hotel kitchens, the importance of the raw material and the fearful inspectors of the Michelin guide - who have already visited him.
"Every day I go to Angeiras to get fish!"
"You're in a hotel kitchen. Is that still a stigma, to the point of keeping a lot of people out of the front door? "
There is still much the idea that eating at hotels is very expensive, people think we are only open to guests. In addition we are a hotel behind closed doors, there is no opening to the outside, which inhibits people from entering. At first it was more complicated to manage. Now people are looking for us, either because they hear it or because they read it somewhere. At the moment we are with a room occupancy of 50-50. That is, 50% of customers are guests and 50% are customers from abroad.
"How do you fight being inside a hotel? With communication? "
Communication is important, but we have never sought to communicate here. At least at the beginning. I think the big houses are slow. Teams must be formatted and prepared to be able to do a balanced job. And this balance can only be achieved after some time. It is only at the end of that time that we are prepared to call this communication.
It was not easy here. It is only now that I feel comfortable to say that I have a more consistent job. We prefer at first to work a bit in the form of word-pass. People come, try and if they like it then they will talk. The idea has always been to make sustainable but gradual work. Go slowly.
Your father has a restaurant in Ermesinde [Toca da Formiga]. Did you start cooking there?
I am 30 years old, the restaurant is 32. I was born basically in the middle of the pots. The restaurant is now mine, but for now I do not have much time to dedicate myself to that - and as long as my father insists on being there, he will stay. It is a very traditional family restaurant with my father in the kitchen and my mother in the living room. I took the first steps, only after I went to the hotel school (of Santa Maria da Feira), did the cooking course and the internships. But it was there that I started very kid. First to help my mother at the tables, then I started to get interested in the kitchen and to go more to my father's side.
I was there when I finished 9th grade - I never got along with the books - but then I saw that to get more I needed training.
Comparisons between the two, father and son, are inevitable. On top of that they are homonyms. Do you feel that weight?
No. When we are at the table together, on Sunday, it is inevitable to talk about cooking. And today we share a lot. I've learned a lot from him over the years. Despite being a self-taught, he studied hard and was always interested. And nowadays he also asks me some questions. It's cool.
Only your father's kitchen is very different from the one you're making here.
Yes, it is 100% traditional. I do not practice it here, but I respect the products a lot. Often when I think of a dish, I think first of the traditional recipe, and then I do my interpretation and take turns to make it different. But never forgetting the flavors.
... I try to go get memories that I have as a kid, things I did in my father's restaurant and give them a personal stamp.
That is, you transform the products. But you leave the taste there?
Having a good product is half way to have a good dish. Then I try to get my memories of the kid, the things I did in my father's restaurant and give them a personal note, maybe more in the modern kitchen.
Can you give an example?
I had a dish until recently in the letter inspired by Bairrada typical pig feijoada, which used a piglet belly, made for 72 hours, where the skin looked exactly like the skin of the roasted piglets. Then he added Beira Baixa beans and mushrooms. It had similar flavors, but it was my inspiration.
You were talking about cooking at low temperature. Hotel kitchens are known to have a large investment in machinery. Do you have everything you want?
Here was precisely the opposite. The concept at first had nothing to do with this and when I got to the kitchen I was a bit naked. Little by little we were changing. Then I think I'm more prepared, like what I was telling you, for the release. When I got here I had five elements in the kitchen and now I'm 12. With the equipment it was also like this: I got it until I got to where it takes to do high-end cooking.
Yes, is this high cuisine?
From the moment we work with modern techniques of cooking and products of high quality, the cream, say, the kitchen, this is usually high cuisine.
I read in a profile of yours that you would like to visit your suppliers. Chef a kitchen still gives you time for this?
Yes, indeed, that was one of the things I inherited from my father. I still do the shopping today. I make a point of going to the suppliers, getting to know them. I go to Angeiras every day to get fish. I think you get a lot of quality. I have this philosophy as a way of working and I try to implement it in the people who work with me.
Are not you going to Bolhão? You're next door ...
Initially I worked with some suppliers but, contrary to what it seems, they can not get a price. The product is important, of course, but if we get the same or even better, for a lower price, we have to resort to that.
You were at the Sheraton in Algarve, at Amadeus and at the Mesa. What did you learn there?
I've been for three years at Pine Cliffs (Sheraton) and did my interns there. As a young man, he found it immense joke to live in the Algarve. I left there and Luis [Americo] called to say that he needed my help [in Mesa, in Foz] and I accepted. But after some time I decided that the help was given and it was time for new horizons. Amadeus had gone through a complicated phase and had closed down, just reopened and I became a sub-chef at that time. I was there in a pleasant period and then I came to the Stage.
Are the kitchens so very different, the North and the South?
They vary in some details, otherwise the base is the same in Portugal as a whole. Some products are that vary. I brought from there a clab of clams and barnacles that I have in the letter and also another of the things I like to bet on: fish and shellfish. I still have a supplier there, which I look for when weather conditions do not help.
There are many chefs who speak of the importance of international experience that you have never had. Do you miss it?
No, I worked long time with foreign chefs. From the Sheraton, which at the time had around ten restaurants and I passed by everyone, to Amadeus, where the chef was Austrian. Without leaving my country I was able to work several types of cuisine. The Sheraton was important because I went through several kitchens, but Amadeus was essentially the great school I had.
Amadeus had a star. Is it your ambition here?
I think winning a Michelin star is every cook's dream. It is the highest tribute of the profession. I liked it, I will not hide it. I've worked in a starred restaurant and I know what the hustle and bustle of working for a particular purpose is. Right now we are doing a decent job and close to that. But of course it's a guide we do not send. As much as we think we are close, only they can say it.
I think winning a Michelin star is every cook's dream. It is the highest tribute of the profession. I liked it, I will not hide it.
Have you ever visited an inspector?
Already, this year I had three times. And twice they introduced themselves. In one of them I wanted to go to the kitchen and wanted to meet. On the other, which was the last one, he was staying here and announced at check out. He wanted to talk to me, but since I had gone shopping, I was not here.
A week before the latest results [end of November] are announced. It should already be for the next one. I do not know if I was visited in the other years. If I went, they never announced.
What is missing from Porto to have more stars?
It was necessary that the guide had more will. Since this is a fashionable city, the stars would help and bring a more specialized audience. Even because there are many people making gastronomic trips.
Do you also do gastronomic trips?
Every year. This year I went to Madrid, to the restaurant of David Muñoz [Diverxo], and with my team I do at least one a year. We went to Azurmendi, three Michelin stars and now we go to El Celler de Can Roca.
And here in Portugal, who are the chefs you admire?
I have restaurants that I love, because I was there, I learned and I spent time with them. Case of Ocean by chef Hans Koschina.
What is your favorite Portuguese product?
I do not have any. I enjoy working fish and shellfish - it covers a larger range than a specific product. I like to work fish more than meat.
You're down in the middle of dozens of restaurants, what do you have for dinner when you get out of here late?
During the week I try to eat anything at home. Even today, when I have time, I try to have lunch at my parents' restaurant. And at dinner, as something lighter, because I have to wake up early.
But it is usually something at the base of traditional cooking. I still live with my parents and usually my dad cooks. Or we go to the kitchen and make a joke, in the wave of the simplest possible. That's good. But of course we do a lot of damage [laughs]. When I stay here, I go after things that do not do so well. A good little Frenchie, a good dog - I like to go to the Gazelle - that kind of things that we know are bad, but it's supposed to be different from day to day.
Source: TimeOut / Mariana Correia de Barros
Photos: TimeOut / João Saramago