Well, if it’s true that education begins at home, then José Avillez’s children are lucky. The boys are 12 and 14 and love soup (let’s say that again: they love soup), fish and seafood. If you give them a steak and French fries, they’ll be very happy too, but it has to come with a starter of prawns with garlic and clams. Thanks, Dad, you, one of Portugal’s most notable chefs, with four stars in that famous restaurant guide.

Avillez, born in 1979 in Lisbon, studied architecture, graduated in business communication (his thesis is on the identity and image of Portuguese gastronomy) and worked with Ferran Adrià, Alain Ducasse and Éric Fréchon. In 2008 he established himself in Portugal. Today he runs a group of 13 restaurants in Lisbon, Cascais and Porto, three of them with Michelin stars (one with two stars, included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list). He has also opened a restaurant in Dubai and another in Macau. And he’s still cooking. How could he not?

“Natural landscapes, but also personal, literary, artistic, internal, human. That’s what my cuisine is: an intersection of landscapes.”

If you want to get inside his head, you need to get to grips with the concept of “landscape”. “Natural landscapes, but also personal, literary, artistic, internal, human. That’s what my cuisine is: an intersection of landscapes.” This ranges from what he reads, such as the great Portuguese writers (Eça de Queirós, Gil Vicente, Fernando Pessoa), to the geography of the country, to the impact of the light of Lisbon, to what the national cuisine has inherited from the presence of Jews and Muslims in Portugal for centuries, to what the Great Navigation period from 500 years ago through the Americas, Africa and Asia brought here, to the memories of everyday life, to the people. “Cuisine is part of a people. Being a Portuguese cook makes all the difference.”

This constant amazement at his own culture is present in every detail when talking to him (“Even my restaurants outside Portugal are a cultural embassy”), and, naturally, the foodies are the ones who benefit most. “I have clients, and there are many, who, after trying my dishes, travel around Portugal to get to know the regions of the products I’ve used. Sometimes they even go looking for a specific product, like a certain type of tomato from the Douro.”


The “intersection of landscapes” began very early in his childhood. Avillez spent a lot of time on his grandmother’s property, near Cascais and Guincho Beach. There were chickens, an orchard and a vegetable garden. His father was a hunter and would bring hares, partridges and ducks, which a lady who worked for the family, Ms. Laura, would turn into pâtés, among many other delicacies. His English grandmother was an expert in sweets. And then there was the importance of the sea.

“I was very lucky to grow up there. I saw the fishermen bringing in fresh fish and octopuses and selling them immediately. Even when I was 14, I was catching barnacles with my friends to make some money. And when I was on the farm, I would pick loquats, sloes and figs. By the age of eight, I started cooking for my mother, making culinary nonsense!

There you have it, the importance of simplicity and what’s genuine. (No, this conversation with The Dispatcher isn’t about extremely complicated culinary issues. “Sometimes chefs try to defend a concept in food too much and then it’s just that, a concept.”) Listen to him talking about a certain “gastronomic landscape”, which is the oldest memory of flavors he can think of:

“Algae and resin. Putting your hand in your mouth after making a little boat out of pine bark and then taking a bite of codium, which is a type of algae found in Guincho.”

It’s impossible to be more truthful.

If you try to get him to theorize about contemporary Portuguese cuisine, it’s also simple: “Just as in the past something evolved into what today some still call traditional Portuguese cuisine, ‘contemporary Portuguese cuisine’ in a few years’ time will just be called Portuguese cuisine. And for that I foresee a bright future.”

Indeed, José Avillez, why complicate things? Let’s keep discovering landscapes.