Meredith Damouni speaks to José Avillez on new openings and the award of the Michelin star for TASCA in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dubai.
Tell us your first memory of taste.
My first memory is the flavour of the sea, I grew up in Cascais near the sea and surrounded by pine trees, eating freshly caught seafood.
You’ve just been awarded a Michelin Star for Tasca, Dubai. Why is this important to you?
I believe Portuguese cuisine is one of the world’s best. It’s amazing to be awarded a Michelin star in Dubai in particular, as here you can find a large amount of very good restaurants. It is also even more significant as this was the inaugural guide in Dubai and this is a important recognition of hard work, determination, consistency and quality. We are very honoured and grateful.
You have many inspirations — how do you sum up the flavour of Tasca?
Tasca takes inspiration from a traditional Portuguese eatery, “tasca”, serving genuine food and drinks but with a contemporary twist. Tasca’s menu is based on a sharing concept and it offers a culinary journey across our rich and varied cuisine.
What is your favourite food?
I love to eat so it’s difficult to choose, but for me Portuguese fish and seafood are the world’s best.
If you could only cook one dish, what would it be?
Bacalhau à Brás, a codfish dish very typical in Portugal.
How has the experience of setting up Tasca in Dubai been different to setting up your other restaurants?
The invitation came from Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai. Tasca is my first restaurant outside of Portugal. This opening represented a responsibility, a challenge and an opportunity to learn, not just for me, but also for my team. Additionally, it gave us an opportunity to promote Portugal and Portuguese gastronomy in Dubai the epicenter of the world’s dining scene. To be able to offer a taste of Portugal in this cosmopolitan city is an absolute joy and source of pride.
How did the incredible rooftop location of Tasca inspire your menu?
This incredible location makes the experience even more memorable for all: for us the team and for the guests. At night you have a spectacular view overlooking Dubai’s skyline and during the day the outdoor terrace and the infinity pool overlooking the Gulf are stunning.
What do you think is the most important thing to consider when working in a new and competitive market, how do you make your mark?
Learn about the market. Decide if some changes should be made in order to offer an experience perceived as valuable: in terms of products, flavours, ways of serving, portions, atmosphere and service.
As a chef and a businessman, how do you balance your roles and ensure that creativity and your brand always come through in everything you create?
I’m fortunate to have an amazing team. That’s the secret. Time management is my biggest challenge and I like to make decisions and be informed about everything. Creativity comes naturally, it’s difficult to explain. It’s a natural process that gives me much joy.
How have you considered the experience of Tasca when putting the concept together, the elements that go beyond the taste of the food?
A restaurant is a sum of details. Everything counts, what is noticeable and what is subliminal. Tasca was designed and planned with great time and care, from the restaurant’s design to products, service, procedures, temperature, pace of service, attention to the clientele. An important and distinctive aspect of Portuguese culture is the pleasure and the care in welcoming others so it was important to us that everyone could feel very welcome at Tasca.
Why do you think the concept has resonated so well with the Dubai community?
Because of the quality of the whole experience. I think Dubai’s community appreciates the sharing concept, the quality of the menu, the flavours, the beautiful view, the attentive service and the lively atmosphere.
Are you working on any new concepts? And if so, can you give us a hint of what’s to come?
Yes, I’m working on two amazing projects, both in Portugal. The first one is Casa Nossa, a lake farmhouse with 10 bedrooms and 160 acres of natural landscape. Casa Nossa can be rented as a single property, house and estate, with full board. I’m in love with this project. Each detail reflects my passion for hospitality.
The second one is Maré a new restaurant that will open in Autumn, in Guincho, in Cascais. Maré has a view to the sea and a cuisine based on flavour and on the unique freshness of Portuguese fish and seafood.
What is your key advice that you would give a young chef who was considering launching their own concept today?
Be prepared to work super hard, know your market and offer quality.