PDV sat down with one of Portugal’s most influential chefs, Vítor Sobral, who spoke of his work philosophy, his influences and why promoting Portuguese cuisine is so important.
Vítor Sobral is one of Portugal’s most influential chefs. Author of 16 books and owner of restaurants both in Portugal and Brazil, Sobral stands out for his focus on Portuguese and Lusophone dishes. He spoke to PDV about his work philosophy, his influences and why promoting Portuguese cuisine is so important. “People know much more about Spanish, Italian or French food; we are very bad at promoting our cuisine,” the chef told PDV.
What distinguishes you from other Portuguese chefs?
I think that’s for others to say. But perhaps the big difference is that I invest greatly in having a matrix of regional Portuguese/Lusophone food and this is a prime concern.
What would you say is the highlight in your career?
Well, I’ve published 16 books. But what’s important is the way I do things every day, in general. I have always encouraged a team spirit and I believe the reason I have managed to write books, work as a consultant for several companies, have 2 restaurants in two different continents… I think this is all thanks to a team that accompanies me and supports me. That is my philosophy: to work as a team.
Why did you open a restaurant in Brazil?
Because it’s a very promising market, and because I’ve been going there for 22 years. And because I have always wanted to work abroad. I think Portugal needs to have a different image abroad to the one it has today, and I thought Brazil would be a good international market to start spreading the word about Portuguese cuisine.
You’ve got to be an optimistic person in this financial climate.
Absolutely. We have to be optimistic even if things aren’t so easy, and with patience you get results, both here and abroad.
But how did you become so successful?
I think it has to do with hard work and willing to not slack your efforts, I think there’s no secret way – that’s it.
What dishes do you recommend?
I don’t have any favourite dishes, we have the [restaurants] Cervejaria da Esquina and the Tasca da Esquina. At Cervejaria da Esquina, seafood is an important component, and at Tasca da Esquina it’s about Portuguese/Lusophone dishes. Both have a different focus.
Why did you publish the book “As Minhas Receitas de Bacalhau” (“My Codfish Recipes” – not translated into English)?
People abroad connect us with sardines and codfish, and codfish in particular is very interesting for Africa and Brazil. It’s a product which draws people’s attention and is appreciated by Brazilians and Africans, and Lusophones in general. So I thought it was a good way of making people familiar with Portuguese cuisine.
What is your objective abroad?
Without a doubt it is to make people familiar with my food and my culture.
Are your clients foreign or Portuguese?
Both, probably 50/50. Though we attract a lot of Portuguese and Angolans.
What’s the theme of your restaurants?
The kitchen is always in sight, we cook in front of the customers, and these are restaurants which have a relaxed ambiance, quite informal. I think that’s the evolution of gastronomy today, it has to be in unpretentious places – simple and relaxed. But at the same time it’s a place where the chef has credibility.
What about the presentation of the food?
The presentation is done with care because it has to be attractive but without being posh. It has to be simple.
What do you cook at home?
At home I cook just like any other family. I can’t forget that I’m a professional and I use a professional technique to make simple food, but it’s different to what I make on a daily basis in restaurants.
Influences in your food?
They are basically Lusophone influences which I picked up on my travels over the years, in Angola, Brazil, Macau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau…
Why do you think it’s important for other countries to know about your gastronomy?
Because it’s part of our history and economically that leverages other activities linked to gastronomy and hospitality. We have wine, we have cheese, we have cuisine, even music. These are journeys to Portugal, which could be done through food.
Do you think Portuguese food is well known abroad?
No, I think people know very little about us in that sense. People know much more about Spanish, Italian or French food; we are very bad at promoting our cuisine. We are very bad in that sense, in promoting ourselves. We don’t have that ability.
What would be the solution to that?
I could write a book about that but basically official entities need to understand that it’s important to promote this area of history and culture because sooner or later it will bring the country economic benefits. But I’ve been a chef for 20, 26 years and in all these years I have seen little interest in doing that.