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Now in its 17th year, Congresso dos Cozinheiros, a chefs’ conference and hub for culinary talent in Portugal, hosted conversations October 17 and 18 for this year’s theme, Pessoas, Natureza and Gastronomia (people, nature and gastronomy,) at Nirvana Studios in Oeiras.
Food in any culture is big business. It’s an entry point for those who are curious. It’s also another way to showcase culinary traditions and innovations. Paulo Amado, director and founder of Edições do Gosto, is keenly aware of the ways food and culture converge and move the culinary industry forward. Congresso dos Cozinheiros (Chefs Congress) is Portugal’s annual celebration of culinary talent.
The event was held in Oeiras, Portugal, at Nirvana Studios in October. I attended as a panelist for the discussion on African connection and was joined by chefs, business owners and restaurateurs to include André Magalhães, Paulo Amado, Antonieta Mata and Hernâni Miguel.
Amado, along with Magalhães, were co-chairs of the bilingual panel. Magalhães is a chef and restaurateur at Taberna da Rua das Flores in Lisbon, Mata is the head chef at Petit, a restaurant in Algés and Miguel is the owner of Tabernáculo by Hernâni in Lisbon. The two-day event featured presentations, food, wine and panel discussions that brought chefs from all over the country together.
Portugal has largely been under the radar for its culinary prowess, but that is beginning to change with an influx of foreign nationals moving from the United States and elsewhere. And with this latest influx, the country’s food scene is increasingly becoming a travel destination for culinary connoisseurs and oenophiles.
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Congresso dos Cozinheiros
Launched and organized by Inter Magazine, a subsidiary of Edições do Gosto, a Portuguese culinary publication, since 2005, the Chefs Congress is a hub for innovation and recognition of chefs in Portugal. “At the time, the Portuguese culinary scene needed exposure to grow. I felt that was the time to make it happen as the culinary world was growing and I felt like the country’s culinary scene was expanding,” says Amado.
He realized they needed a large platform that brought the culinary community together. “We needed a stage for new ideas to spread and we did it and started with one hundred people. In my mind, I thought, if one person out of a hundred can influence ten people, that would impact one thousand people. That’s a lot of people and so we launched,” he shares.
Amado wears many hats, and one of them includes connecting the vast culinary community and innovators to the public in hopes that it inspires future generations of culinarians. Sometimes that looks like coordinating with culinary academies, restaurants, businesses and vendors. Other times, it’s pouring into new chefs, networking, setting-up introductions or hosting impromptu luncheons at Edições do Gosto headquarters in Marvila, east of Lisbon city center, which invariably lends itself to the camaraderie the Congresso is known for in its almost two-decade existence.
This year new faces got a seat at the table and an opportunity to give due recognition to the impact African chefs, specifically women, have had on the culinary landscape in Portugal.
“This is an event made by people who are interested in food and sharing what we know. A change came when I realized there were not many women in the culinary space, and I asked myself what do I need to do to make it more balanced,” shares Amado.
What is the African connection and culinary contributions of women chefs in Portugal and how can the Chefs Congress amplify its importance? That was the premise of the bilingual panel co-chaired by Magalhães and Amado and invited panelists, Mata, Miguel and myself on the topic of recognition. “It is important that we get more people to start talking about giving recognition to African chefs,” shares Mata.
Amado shares that the panel on African connections was strategic to the Congress’ programming and an important feature. “We had two panels, one with Bel Coelho, a Brazilian chef about African food and religion and the other with André Magalhães, Angolan chef and co-chair of the panel with me, African Connection,” says Amado.
“I think that it is very important to give visibility to the African chefs who work very hard in contributing to Portuguese cuisine. Also, I think there needs to be more bloggers and writers documenting the African chefs who are in the culinary industry here,” shares Miguel.
People, Nature and Gastronomy
Amado’s philosophy is simple, “Hospitality is made by people and for people. The Chefs Congress is more like a reunion where we share knowledge and build connections. It’s a stage to spread ideas.” This year’s theme encompasses three pillars: people, nature and gastronomy. “The term pessoas translates to our desire to keep our focus on the people in the industry. Natureza represents a need to change the way we relate to nature and lastly gastronomia, which highlights the culinary scene in Portugal,” says Amado.
Amado is aware that the conversations that matter right now must center on inclusivity and dismantling barriers that prevent diverse groups from culinary spaces in Portugal. “What’s happening in cuisine and in restaurants is not much different from what’s happening in society as a whole. Women were not participating in this system and that concerned me,” he says.
“We have so many tools and projects under the umbrella of Edições do Gosto like the Chefs Congress, Young Chefs Competition and Inter Magazine, so that was the moment I realized I needed to do something to affect change.”
And so with the pandemic being as terrible as it is, the Chefs Congress gave Amado “the opportunity to address the issues” of a lack of recognition of African chefs as well as the mental health crisis impacting chefs. “I believe the most important thing is that we have this subject we can freely discuss about African connections to Portugal,” says Mata.
Amado reveals the Chefs Congress is eager to address and rectify the imbalance. “We aim to change society and thus next year’s theme for the conference will be African Connection,” says Amado. The connector and his team are committed to “taking actionable steps to integrate African chefs in this recognition system that’s part of the conference,” stressing the importance of “recognizing all the cultures that make up Portuguese society.”
With Amado confirming next year’s Congresso dos Cozinheiros or Chefs Congress theme, he finishes by saying, “Our aim is to help the restaurant business to be more balanced and hopefully to change tourism, the economy and Portuguese society.”