‘‘Bringing together these five fine chefs to produce a meal representative of a culinary tradition they are all passionate about is bound to produce something exceptional.’’
TASTE PORTUGAL teams up with OBSESSION at Northcote to bring a celebration of Portuguese cuisine to the Ribble Valley’s annual gastronomic festival.
OW IN ITS 15th year, the annual OBSESSION festival, run by the Northcote Leisure Group as an homage to the finest food and wine from across the globe, is the only event of its kind in the UK and regularly takes place in January/February each year. Showcasing some of the world’s best chefs, each presenting a specially curated menu, harmonised wine list and evening of entertainment, this culinary extravaganza promotes Lancashire and the Northwest, the region’s culture and agricultural products. Inaugurated in 2000 by Northcote’s chef patron Nigel Haworth, the festival has grown steadily year by year and tickets always sell out as soon as they are released.
This year, TASTE PORTUGAL will be joining forces with OBSESSION for two Portuguese events: an invitation-only wine master-class and a Taste of Portugal dinner, prepared by five of the very finest chefs and solid ambassadors for Portuguese cuisine, Dieter Koschina, Matteo Ferrantino, Miguel Laffan, Vitor Matos and José Avillez.
Austrian-born Koschina has been head chef at Portugal’s two Michelin starred Vila Joya since 1990. He was awarded his first star there in 1995. His contemporary cooking style centres on taste, colour, presentation and precise processing. Innovation is also key. His guiding culinary philosophy is: ‘First the flavour, then the presentation.’ Having taken part in OBSESSION twice before, Koschina is keen to return to: ‘Nigel is a really clever and nice guy,’ he says. But, for him, the real draw in 2015 will be the newly refurbished kitchen. ‘They have a completely new kitchen now and this, for me, is really important. I’ve been saying all the time “You should get this and this!” So I’m really interested to see this new kitchen.’
Ferrantino, who has been working alongside Koschina at Vila Joya for the past seven years, hails from the small town of Mattinata in Apulia in the south of Italy. Arriving in Portugal after a long and winding route through Europe, working in some of the top restaurants along the way, he believes he has found his place in life in the Algarve. ‘I have found what I like in my life: the food, the products... I seem to have found the right place for my tastes,’ he says. Ferrantino’s kitchen style is modern, but he has learnt a lot of traditional Portuguese recipes from friends and colleagues, books, and visiting fish markets and farms. He likes to bring these up to date in terms of presentation, while maintaining the best of time-honoured flavours. Mediterranean in style, everything is cooked fresh, using a lot of olive oil and a lot of fruit. Fish is often lightly grilled, or served raw, with a lot of lemon, oil, and coriander, almost ceviche-style. Ferrantino firmly believes that Portuguese cuisine is becoming and will continue to become ever more popular internationally: ‘Portugal is a really small country, but it is rising really well in the ranks.’ Speaking on a more personal level he adds: ‘Now is my time. I have a lot of experience and I love my job more than anything. I want to use my name around Europe.’
Laffan has been executive chef at the L\'AND restaurant, at the L\'AND Vineyards Resort in Montemor-o-Novo, Alentejo, since 2011. L\'AND’s concept seeks to affirm the new Portuguese gastronomic culture, reflecting both the history and the culture of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as integrating ingredients from the East. Laffan is thus the perfect choice, since his own culinary style is flavoured with Luso-Asian and Middle Eastern inspiration and fresh ingredients. He has a proactive culinary approach and believes that perfection is achieved through detailed research and sheer determination. Describing his personal culinary philosophy, Laffan says: ‘I believe that it’s a mix of several different factors that I’ve assimilated throughout my personal life and my professional career. Attention to detail and determination are key, and since my cooking is undergoing a constant evolution, I need to research carefully and always ensure that I have top quality products to hand. For me, the freshness of the food is equally as important as the freshness of the mind – this is what really transforms the ingredients into great cuisine.’
Trained in Switzerland, Matos’s first job was at the Restaurant des Jeunes Rives in Neuchâtel. He soon followed his family back to Portugal, however, and had a period of cultural and culinary readjustment, as he learned to savour the flavours and gastronomic customs of the Iberian peninsula. In 2002, he took up the reins at the Grand Hotel Caldas da Felgueira, where he stayed for a couple of years, developing his career and knowledge. Looking back now, he credits the idyllic mountain scenery with much of his blossoming inspiration. A year later, participating in a wine and gastronomy competition on behalf of the hotel, he won gold. In the same year, he also won gold in the national finals of the Chef of the Year Contest 2003. This was not only a dream come true, but also marked the opening of many doors, paving the path of his future career. After working at various restaurants around the country, Matos finally arrived at Casa da Calçada, where is now works, basing his cuisine on four key pillars: influences and memories, the quality of the products, a sensory component, and techniques and technology. His work is driven by a constant search for perfection.
Avillez is often touted a Portugal’s new rising star. With four established and successful eateries in Lisbon, the young entrepreneur with a marketing background also owns a takeaway and a pie chain, provides consultancy services, is involved in catering, writes and publishes books, and has his own television show. Training first as a sommelier, Avillez went on to undertake several trips, training courses and traineeships as a chef, among others with Antoine Westermann at Fortaleza do Guincho, at Alain Ducasse’s school, in Eric Frechon’s kitchen at the Bristol Hotel, and at the renowned El Bulli – a step that really catapulted his career. Born in 1979 in Cascais, an elegant seaside resort just west of Lisbon where he still lives, Avillez’s memories are all centred on food. ‘Portuguese cuisine brings tears to my eyes,’ he says. ‘My life is cooking. I was born and raised in Cascais. The memory of being that close to the sea is very strong and is really a part of me, it defines me. I love creating dishes with the taste of the sea.’ Avillez is reluctant to categorise his culinary style, preferring just to call it ‘inspiration cuisine’.
Bringing together these five fine chefs to produce a meal representative of a culinary tradition they are all passionate about is bound to produce something exceptional. Watch out for tickets going on sale and get yours quickly before they all sell out!
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