Meet Lisbon’s Award-Winning TV Chef Avillez at his Café Lisboa – Window to Global Roots of Portuguese Fare

Chef Avillez' kitchen in the Belcanto restaurant. Photo: Paulo Barata


Tip #1:   If the following article intrigues you to taste Chef Avillez’ menu,  you can take advantage of several specials on Portugal flights from the States now being offered by TAP airlines and visit one of the Grupo Avillez restaurants in Portugal --- Belcanto (Lisbon), Cantinho do Avillez (Lisbon and Porto), Mini Bar (Lisbon), Pizzaria Lisboa (Lisbon), and Café Lisboa (Lisbon) described below.


This lacey crab sculpture in the inside Café Lisboa dining hall is called "Traviata", probably in homage to the seafood on your plate and the arias around the corner


Tip #2:  But if you can only get as far as New York City on October 15, 2016 you could join Chef Avillez in a four-handed demo of his skills along with New York’s Chef Mendez as part of the 2016 Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival


Chef Avillez. Photo: Paulo Barata


Look at his biography and you’ll see that Chef José Avillez or his restaurants have earned more than four dozen prestigious culinary awards. 


Jose Avillez likes to travel and experience other cuisines, and notes these same global influences combined to create the typical Portuguese dishes as their explorers brought back spices and other treasures from their travels


Look at his face light up when he talks about food, and especially his excitement at experiencing the world’s cuisines, and he seems to be the embodiment of that most famous of American cookbook titles—“The Joy of Cooking”. 


Mariana Marques, who handles communications for Grupo José Avillez, shows us a bottle of the Chef's private vintage wine, which you unfortunately can't get in the States


We had the chance to meet Chef Avillez at his well-located Café Lisboa in Lisbon before sampling a menu chosen to first and foremost represent traditional Portuguese fare.  


Our waitress Sandra has Portuguese parents but grew up in Germany. She, like all the waitstaff, had the gift of being very patient and genial while answering questions even amidst dashing to keep up with the fast noon-time pace in the restaurant


Very early on in our conversation, however, Chef Avillez stretched our notions of where world cuisines come from, and especially the mark that the Portuguese had made during the Age of Discoveries and beyond.


Even the breads were interesting. A carrot cream topping for the bread looked like mustard, for example


The interesting goat cheese was at once a strong flavor, gritty, and perfectly accented by lemon zest


Avillez says, “Tempura?  That came from a Lisbon Jesuit who went to Japan and taught how to fry.  The Chinese “bao” or “congee”—also of Portuguese origin.  


“But then there is the opposite.  Bacaulau, the most traditional Portuguese dish there is, is not native to Portugal.  Like most of the seasonings we use today, salt was used to preserve it. …


It was the ever so light crust on this Portuguese "Cozido" Pie that won us over. It seemed to melt in our mouths. The pie is stuffed with several meats, cured sausages and cabbage and is called "Portuguesinha"


“Foi Tong, the Thai dessert might have been a Portuguese food brought to Thailand or it could be a Thai food brought to Portugal…”


“..Portuguese food is full of flavor.  Sometimes the preparation is just raw fish and lemon juice…You really need to try Portuguese cuisine here, in Portugal—to experience the sun, the aromatic herbs, the fresh seafood and the culture mixed in….”


This is Avillez, totally in his element talking about food with delight and relish. 


You might think he learned about cooking at his mother’s knee, but you’d be very much mistaken.   He explains, “Actually my mother didn’t cook because she was working.   I did love to be with the cooks our family hired while she at her job.  It gave me a lot of memories of good food. 


“The more important influence on me as a child was being able to travel and eat different foods in other places…


“Also, my grandmother was a very good cook, and from her we always ate the freshest food.  She was near the sea and this was the biggest influence on me.  It was also a restful place in the countryside..”


How interesting to hear these words, so similar to those of a top chef from Lucca, Tuscany who similarly had a grandmother by the sea and country and whom we interviewed last year!—Read the profile of Chef Cristiano Tomei from the Lucca Center for Contemporary Art here.


Café Lisboa is both in a space inside the São Carlos National Theatre and also in a terrace on the plaza in front of it


The proof was in the pudding, as they say.  With the guidance of Grupo Alvillez’ Communications Officer Mariana Marques, we then enjoyed a “traditional” Portuguese meal at Café Lisboa that showed how Avillez puts his unique imprimatur on classic Portuguese dishes to give them gourmet flair.


At lunch, patrons waited to sit in the outside terrace


Café Lisboa's interior dining room


Café Lisboa is open every day from noon to midnight


Although all the dishes we sampled were delicious it was the dish we later learned that is Chef Avillez’ favorite that became ours too-- Brás Style Cod with “Exploding” Olives.


Our favorite dish was Chef Avillez' take on Brás style cod with "exploding" olives. This was shoestring fries, eggs, minced parsley, onion and flaked cod with their special recipe olives that DO explode in your mouth


We sampled many variants of this dish as we toured Portugal, but this version is an absolute standout.  “Exploding olives” is a very apt term to describe how a shot of fortified olive shoots into your mouth as you enjoy the many textures of this classic dish.


It was so intriguing that we just had to ask for the recipe—which the Chef generously shares with Splash readers, as well as several others from his much quoted and revered cookbooks. 


Click here to find read more Chef Avillez recipes.  Read below to find the “secret” of exploding olives.


Brás Style Cod with “Exploding” Olives.


Serves 4



400 g soaked cod

500 g potatoes, peeled and finely cut into matchsticks

Olive oil (to fry the finely cut potato chips)

3 onions

1 garlic clove

3 tablespoons virgin olive oil

8 organic eggs + 4 yolks

Fresh parsley




“Explosive” olives:

1 dl green olive juice (stoned green olives, blended, strained and squeezed with a cloth)

0.2 g gluco

0.5 g xanthan gum

30 g olive oil marinated with Orange, lemon, garlic, thyme and filtered

500 ml low-calcium water

2.5 g alginate



To prepare the “explosive” olives, combine the green olive juice, Xanthan gum and gluco. Mix with a hand blender and keep in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Then blend 25% of the water with the alginate. Add the remaining water, mix well, pour into a deep, transparent recipient (preferably glass) and keep in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Remove the olive mixture and the alginate mixture from the fridge 30 minutes before continuing the preparation. Then fill a scoop with the olive mixture (if you don’t have a specific scoop for this, you can use a melon baller), take it as close to the alginate mixture as possible (it should be 1mm away) and turn over. Wait 30 seconds for it to form a ball and carefully remove with a slotted spoon. Drain and transfer to a bowl of water. Carefully drain again and set aside in olive oil.


Clean the cod. Remove the skin and bones. Separate the flakes of cod.

Fry the finely cut potato chips in hot olive oil. As soon as they are fried, drain. Reserve.

Chop the garlic, and slice the onions into rings.  Heat three tablespoons of virgin olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and onion. When the onion begins to turn transparent, add the flakes of cod and cook for a few minutes. Add the fried potato straws and give a quick stir. Add the lightly beaten eggs and yolks with salt, pepper, and chopped parsley, stirring constantly until smooth. Sprinkle with some more parsley and add the olives. Serve immediately.


Pastel Lisboa with Rapini Rice-- a very traditional savory and puffy pastry filled with stewed beef. We especially appreciated its gentle taste and how it avoids being too salty


Dessert in Portugal doesn't get more traditional than this "Pastel de Nata", for which Chef Avillez has a special recipe to ensure it's sweet cinnamon taste is light and pleasing


"Toucinho-do- Céu de Lisboa" with raspberry sorbet. This is a traditional dessert made with egg yolks, almonds and sugar, and served with raspberry sorbet, crushed carmelized almonds, fresh raspberries and mint


Café Lisboa is open from noon to midnight daily.  Booking a table at the last minute is said to be easiest on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Usually you can drop in for lunch but it is advised to book 3 -4 days ahead of time for dinner. 


Chef Avillez' kitchen in the Belcanto restaurant. Photo: Paulo Barata


(Note:  The recommended booking time for Chef Avillez’ Bel Canto restaurant on the other side of the square is 3 weeks in advance for either lunch or dinner.)



For more information or to make reservations visit the Café Lisboa website or call  +351 21 191 44 98


Café Lisboa

Teatro Nacional de São Carlos

Largo de São Carlos, 23

1200-410 Lisboa



Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated



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