The man crowned Portuguese chef of the year in 1999 is a keen supporter of his country's regional cuisine. He talks to Joyce Pina about mixing in ingredients from former colonies - just don't call it fusion.
How would you define your cuisine? 'I cook regional food from all over Portugal but at the same time I keep an open mind. For example, I mix cassava or saffron - products from former Portuguese colonies like Brazil and Mozambique - with our traditional cuisine while respecting its originality. What I try to do is to use products we all know in Portugal and the former colonies but seldom taste in the same dish. But this is not fusion, it is still traditional cuisine.'
Portuguese food is often seen as heavy and strongly flavoured. What do you highlight? 'I underline the healthy use of the best ingredients. For instance, I only use olive oil, no butter, and although we have great fish and meat, we don't have to eat fish and meat every day. We can eat lightly and be satisfied. Why not eat plain rice with a great sauce or well-seasoned vegetables and salads and save the money we might have spent on fish and meat to buy better-quality products? Nowadays, people eat badly and eat bad-quality products. What I do is bring the kitchen to everyone, using all possible recipes and the best of the products.'
You are trying to make children eat better. How do you do that? 'Make them eat vegetables by eating soups. It is extremely important for their dietary balance. I think the world is divided into two parts: half eat vegetables and the other half don't. In China, for instance, they do, every day. Soups fight obesity and even help prevent diabetes. I used to say that if parents really love their children, they must make them soup every day.'
When you eat at your friends' houses, can you stay out of the kitchen? 'No, absolutely not! They all know that if they want me out of their kitchen they must have the food ready by the time I arrive, otherwise I will end up doing the cooking and telling them their work station is messy. I do the same with my mother and she is a great cook.'
You once said that when you need to get back to your roots, you ask your mother to cook for you. Do you still do that? 'Yes. The cuisine gives us our identity and tells us who we are and my mother reminds me of that when she cooks. Portugal has one of the most creative cuisines I have ever tasted because people were forced to use their imagination to cook the same product in different ways. The same happened in poorer areas of Italy and Spain. Recipes came out of necessity. This historical fact gave us an extremely rich repertoire.'