CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with LUIS SALGUEIRO
My first introduction to Alto Mar was thanks to a friend of mine, Michelle Silva. I instantly fell in love with the laid back view of the fishing nets and the boats anchored waiting to sail out the next morning. It is a Mediterranean restaurant whose Portuguese chef is keen on keeping with the original flavours of the ingredients and who I believe is tyring to maintain the sanctity of how dishes were traditionally prepared. It is this passion and love of food that comes through when you talk to Chef Luis.
Name: Luis Salgueiro
Restaurant: Alto Mar
From (Country): Moura in Alentejo in the South of Portugal
Culinary School: Hospitality School from Algarve, Portugal
Knife Hand: Right
Twitter Handle: @chefluisdxb
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
Actually, I think I was. Usually I ate a lot of salads because I like them. It is fresh and so I was not so bad at eating my vegetables. Although I did not eat all the vegetables. When I was a kid I did not like broccoli but now I love it and I did not like cauliflower. These are the only two that I can think of not eating as a child.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Everybody wanted to be a pilot but I always had a passion for the kitchen and for cooking because my parents had a restaurant cum bakery which served traditional Portuguese food. I remember when I was 6-7 years, I used to love to play with dough and make some cakes. But when I saw my parents working hard, I thought this is not what I want to do but then when you start to create something it gives you that passion to go on. But this I only realised that cooking is what I wanted to do when I was 16-17 years old.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
I worked a lot in the Hotel school in Algarve. This is the most memorable probably because I got to work with a lot of different chefs, from different countries, different cultures and this gave me the background I have now. It was a challenge because we had to serve a lot of important people, because this was a Government hotel school, so usually big events, and I had the opportunity to work with the best professionals that were not only from Portugal but also invited Chefs. While I was cooking in the kitchen learning from other Chefs I was also teaching at the school. I was a teacher at the school for 6 years.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
Usually I don’t eat lunch, I don’t eat during busy times. If I eat, I usually eat salads or something fresh and don’t eat heavy food otherwise we become lazy. Yesterday, I ate a customized octopus salad.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I actually prefer to eat at home on my days off. Usually because I am tired of the stress of the restaurant so I prefer to be with my family relaxing and eating light, simple food or having a barbecue. If I go out I don’t go to any big restaurant, I try and find original restaurants. I try and read reviews, share opinions with my friends and colleagues and sometimes even guests to identify new original restaurants.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil because it’s a natural fat and more healthy than normal oil. I only cook with extra virgin olive oil. It is exceptionally important in Mediterranean food.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
My hometown, Moura and although I don’t know what I will be eating, it will be a dish made by my mother – any homemade food.
Most exotic vacation destination?
I am lucky I have travelled a lot and worked in many countries. But the most exotic holiday has been to the Amazon in Brazil when I worked there. I loved the contact with nature, we ate what we fished.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
Probably, I will go to a small country. I don’t have anything specific in mind. I would love to go to a place where they need to develop the city and culture. If I am going to work in someplace, then I believe I would like to work in places where the food culture is not so developed so I can help to develop that food culture. Sometimes we go to places, where people don’t know how to cook and they have amazing ingredients.
What has been your most embarrassing cooking moment?
When I was cooking for the King of Spain at a hotel in Seville, about 5-10 minutes before the food was to be served, a tray of crocante fell and smashed into pieces – it was to be the garnish for one of the dishes. Crocante is a thin crispy transparent sheet in various shapes made of honey, olive oil and black pepper. This was an 18 course dinner where we were serving 80 people, so it was important that the rest of the courses were on track to be plated while we salvaged the crocante – so we had to remake it and it was quite stressful when you know you have 80 people waiting for their food. Fortunately we managed.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
My parents and my wife, especially the family. My wife, Catarina, appreciates food. She’s not a big eater but she likes good food. I like to cook for her as she gives me good feedback. Even when I make something new, I like to share it with her to taste because she is not an easy person to please. The reason I would like to cook for my parents is because of their knowledge, they are Chefs too. It’s my pleasure to cook for them as they cooked for me and they appreciate what I cook now. Before I always asked them how to make something, and now sometimes my Mom calls me and asks me how to make something. We now swap recipes and I still use some of her old recipes.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
That would be the crab salad. First because its seafood, and I love seafood. I think this is an authentic dish which I have created and I believe that the combination of flavours is very good.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Simple. I think good ingredients make good food. Actually I don’t add too much to my food. I try to get combinations but with minimal ingredients. The challenge for me is to combine original flavours and of course the presentation – that is very important.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Rat. In Mozambique, Africa while I was on holiday visiting my brother. These are not your regular rats, these are rats that eat only herbs so it will be similar flavour as a rabbit or another animal that is a herbivore. The rats are very huge and when I saw it I said, ‘Oh my god’. They remove the skin, clean it inside and they open the middle and grill it. They usually use some spices. The first time its more the shock of eating a rat but if you don’t know what you are eating you would eat it. Now that I know what it tastes like, I would eat it again.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I think my mum and grandmothers food. She cooked from 6am and the smell would surround the house. She used to make stews and my mom always said that I used to be fussy at home, but at my grandmothers house I was good. It was all the stews that my grandmom used to make.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
Seafood. I love seafood. I think I love all seafood. I love crab for example, the Atlantic crab has an amazing flavour naturally. Most people make a pate with them but I just like to boil it in water with salt, remove the shell and eat it like that. The flavour is already in the meat.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Garlic. Because I am a little bit bitter and a little bit sweet depending on the occasion. We all are, I think. When you know how to treat and respect me, you will always get sweetness.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
My mom told me one day that I should become a Chef and I listened. I made my own objectives and my own goals but it was an important step. Her advice has been instrumental in where I am today. My mom also told me to study. She always told me that we should respect whatever we have. Don’t waste your time, use your time to study whatever you like.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
Designer, something creative; probably more artistic.
Most underrated ingredient? Olive oil. It does not change the food flavour and the food gets more rich, it gives richness to the food. Of course it should be good olive oil, extra virgin olive oil.
Best culinary tool? Knife.
A chef that inspires you? My mom, Almerinda. Her passion is what inspires me. She told me one day, that whatever you become; try to be the best at what you do.
Favourite cuisine? Mediterranean and Japanese. Japanese, I think the techniques and also one of the things that I learned from this food is that they also use a lot of real flavour of the ingredients. They eat raw fish, for me this is very important. I learned a lot when I learned to cook Japanese food. Mediterranean because I think we also keep a lot of original flavours but the Japanese add to this with their technique.
One dish you can’t live without? Bread. I love bread. As a child when you grow up in a bakery, I remember fresh bread being baked only for the family by my parents.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? Trends that remove the original flavours need to end. If a recipe calls for a change in flavour/taste that should be removed. Texturizing is interesting and is ok in my opinion, if we don’t change the flavour.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. The stews, I can’t describe one, by my grandmother, Antolina. Usually the stews were a mix of vegetables and meat which she used to be cooked for a long time keeping the flavours inside. She used to have a small fire in the floor and she used to put the pot filled with stew next to the fire, so the fire was not heating the pot directly and the food was cooking slowly. The texture of the meat would be amazing, it would be so soft that it would melt in your mouth.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people? Vintage garlic. It is black garlic which goes through a process of fermentation to ‘spoil’ before turning black which is what you cook. It’s available in some gourmet shops. I use a small amount. It’s a little mix of sour and sweet and is used more for meat dishes as the taste is strong.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Fresh chicken sausage which looks a bit like a German sausage with mashed potatoes. I fried the sausage with garlic and olive oil on a slow fire. The idea is to cook the sausage before the skin breaks.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words. Creative, original and simple.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!