Profoundly Portuguese Like No Other: Chef Alexandre Silva
Meet Chef Alexandre Silva, a culinary visionary and creative genius making waves in the gastronomic world. With his renowned restaurant, Loco, which boasts a prestigious Michelin star, Chef Silva has captivated diners by pushing the boundaries of traditional Portuguese cuisine. Loco, established seven years ago, has become a culinary destination that challenges guests to explore new flavour horizons, emphasizing seasonality and sustainability in its dishes.
But Chef Silva's culinary journey doesn't stop there. His latest venture, Fogo (meaning “fire”), is a testament to his dedication to exploring the depths of gastronomy. This concept revolves around the elemental power of fire, infusing its distinct flavour profiles and ancient techniques into every culinary creation. Like Loco, Fogo is committed to selecting the finest seasonal ingredients while championing sustainability and supporting local producers and projects.
Chef Alexandre Silva's culinary prowess is well-known in Portugal for his Michelin-starred restaurant and his victory on the RTP1 show “Top Chef” in 2012. With a background in cooking, pastry, F&B management, and molecular gastronomy, Chef Silva's charisma and innovative spirit have won the hearts of many.
Join us as we delve into the culinary universe of Chef Alexandre Silva, where tradition merges with innovation and the flames of creativity continue to ignite new culinary adventures.
Chef Alexandre Silva: The Interview
Welcome, Alexandre. We are pleased to have you with us!
What initially sparked your interest in becoming a chef, and when did you decide that it’s something you want to do professionally?
It was by chance. I’d love to tell a beautiful story almost out of a dream, but it happened by chance. I studied saxophone for half my life, and I dreamed of being a jazz musician. But life didn’t smile at me; at the time, I had another way of looking at life. Being born in a village with 600 inhabitants didn’t help me achieve my dream, and I didn’t have an older brother to guide me in that direction.
I had reached a point where I felt I was spending my parent’s money on a path that would not have a happy ending. That’s when I decided to study cooking. My friends then asked me, “But do you have to study to be a cook? That’s ridiculous!”.
I entered a world I didn’t know professionally and fell in love with it shortly afterwards. The stress, the anxiety, and the demands were things that made me feel alive, and I loved it. It was at that time that I realized and discovered my vocation. Nowadays, I have a younger brother, who is 8 years younger than me and is a musician (saxophonist), and that, alone, makes me happy because at least he had his older brother to help guide him.
You are a prominent figure in Portuguese gastronomy. How do you describe your cooking style, and how has it evolved over the years?
My cooking style is to do what I feel like. I only have one premise in my kitchen, to use only products produced in Portugal. The creative processes evolved, and what I believed 5 years ago doesn’t even make sense in my head nowadays. I evolved a lot, not only in the way I look at things but also as a human being.
But if I had to label my cuisine with a style, I would say that I make Portuguese cuisine with a strong Atlantic influence at LOCO and FOGO. 80% of my kitchen is based on the Atlantic Ocean.
How did earning your first Michelin star change how you approach your craft? What changes, if any, did it bring to your restaurant?
Everything changed and nothing changed. Winning the Michelin star at LOCO in the first year of opening was something unique, perhaps the most joyous event that happened at LOCO. No one was expecting it to go so fast. But it was significant for us and Portuguese gastronomy. It made it possible to change the idea of what Fine Dining was and to get out of the stereotype of the rules of etiquette, with a posture closer to the customer and treating hospitality as it deserves.
LOCO started to be fully booked daily and had a waiting list of two months, which was unimaginable in the Portuguese scenario. I made waves. I passed on the message that “if I, with no money, managed to open a restaurant and earn a star in the first year, then YOU, a cook with desire, will be able to do it too”. Nowadays, there are more and more owner chefs, which was lacking in Portugal when I started.
Can you walk us through your journey and victory in “Top Chef Portugal” and how it influenced your career?
Winning TOP Chef Portugal was essential to me. I applied because I wanted to put myself to the test. At the time, I had just left the BOCCA restaurant and had nothing else to lose. I was overcoming the tests and, at the same time and more importantly, I was overcoming myself. I realized that what I had given so far had been nothing, I went beyond what, I thought, was my limit.
Winning brought me more credibility. I was the unloved kid who nobody knew where success had come from. I had no godparents or tutor chefs. Furthermore, I always followed my path, learning from my mistakes and winning the program, which gave me the credibility I needed to start a job as an entrepreneur. It was also significant to show people who I am.
Portuguese cuisine has its unique flavours and traditions. How do you incorporate these into your innovative and creative dishes?
I'm Portuguese, and even if I wanted to escape this culinary influence, it was impossible. Our dishes must have Portuguese DNA; without that, it’s just another dish with no history and interest. As a good Portuguese, I suffered and still suffer from influences from everywhere. Our cuisine 600 years ago didn’t have spices; nowadays, it is impossible to make sweet rice (Arroz Doce) without cinnamon or a black pudding without cumin.
The pessimist talks a lot but gets very little right. We’ve always been like this; we must set out to conquer something, and the kitchen is no exception. Can you imagine Thai cuisine if the Portuguese hadn’t taken the chilli peppers there? Nobody cares about little things, either because they don’t know or don’t want to know, but that says a lot about what we were, are and also who I am.
What is your signature dish, and how did it come to creation?
I don’t have a signature dish. When I feel that a dish is becoming the “signature dish”, I remove it from the menu. I would rather not be a slave to a dish. I want to make new things. Likewise, I am not interested in signature dishes; I am a militant of innovation, the search for knowledge, and being able to create something new. For us, at LOCO, consistency is not presenting the same dish for 7 years, for us, consistency is always doing something new and different and not repeating.
Your restaurant, LOCO, is known for its immersive dining experiences. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of the dining atmosphere and the food?
The most crucial thing in a restaurant like LOCO is the employees' proximity to the clients. They are the stories that are told to put something in context. People often don’t appreciate certain dishes in restaurants because they aren’t put into context. Which is better, the dish or the story of the dish? I think both are significant. And that’s what sets us apart, that proximity to the customer. We have already created many friendly customers at LOCO, and that, for us, is what makes a restaurant alive.
In FOGO, your second restaurant, you use fire to cook almost everything on the menu. Where did this idea come from, and maybe you could share some tricks to prepare the perfect BBQ with our readers?
I was born with a kitchen of fire. We Portuguese have a vast know-how about cooking with fire, but unfortunately, we quickly forget things. I needed to bring this kitchen back. It’s a tribute to my roots, to the smoke ingredient that doesn’t appear in recipes, but it's there. A suckling pig roasted in a wood-fired oven is different from that roasted in a gas or electric oven because there is no firewood; therefore, the oils and smoke released from this combustion are lacking. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the 4 elements. I can live in front of the sea, and every day, when I wake up, I will be impressed with that magnificence. I can look at fire every day, and I will always be awed by that element.
What are the tricks to making a good BBQ at home? Have always fresh beer!
Who are your culinary heroes, and how have they shaped your cooking style or philosophy?
For me, the great heroes are the people who are with me every day, who work with me, who teach me how to see better without telling me anything. I read a lot, travel a lot, and identify myself a lot with some of the world’s chefs. Zaiyu from DEN and Alex Atala from DOM are friends with whom I identify. We have the same passions, identical visions and a familiar premise,: “Be Happy”.
Please share a memorable or pivotal career experience that has greatly influenced your work.
The day my daughter Noa was born. It made me a more sensitive man, a significant sensitivity for my career. It made me look at my profession differently, that’s when I started looking at the quality of life we all deserve.
Who was the most prominent guest you'd had the honour of hosting in your restaurant, and what was that experience like?
All of our clients are the most influential people in the world. But the first time Alex Atala dined at LOCO was particular.
Can you recall when you created a dish that didn't receive a positive response? If so, please describe the dish, your reaction to its reception, and how you handled the situation.
In a menu of 18 moments, it is impossible to please everyone. I don’t have that dilemma in my life. I would instead not please everyone. Only imposters can please everyone. Furthermore, I know that technically, it’s flawless; it’s in line with what we’ve created, so, for my team and me, it’s okay.
If someone doesn’t like it, it’s just that they don’t like it. It’s never the end of the world. At the same table, we’ve had reactions of hating and loving. The experience for us in certain dishes is also that of creating emotion. Disagreement is part of people’s lives, as it happens in political parties or football clubs.
Do you love any particular dish, and if yes, why?
I love Cabidela Rice, and we have it in FOGO restaurant.
Can you share any hobbies or interests you pursue outside your culinary career?
I love off-road expeditions and also love sailing by boat.
Finally, please share with us which is your favourite city. And what five spots would you recommend visiting there?
I particularly love walking along the Thames and, sometimes, standing there looking at the city lights and thinking that I was born in a blessed place.
Thank you, Alexandre, it was a great pleasure!
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Last Updated on January 15, 2024 by Editorial Team
As editor-in-chief, Raffaele infuses the magazine with a cosmopolitan flair, drawing from his experiences in London, Berlin, New York, and Barcelona. His 20-year tenure with luxury brands, coupled with a love for travel and food, enriches the magazine's content.