Hubert Burda Media

A Word With Chef Henrique

Cookbooks, TV shows and numerous awards, Henrique Sá Pessoa has been setting the stage for Portugal’s gourmet scene.

He is the presenter of one of the most watched culinary shows, Entre Pratos, in Portuguese television and is already into the fifth season of another series, Ingrediente Secreto (the second-most watched show on the country’s channel RTP2). And that’s not all that’s going on with chef Henrique Sá Pessoa.

As the chef-owner of award-winning restaurant Alma in Lisbon, the culinary artist has sold over 35,000 copies of his five cookbooks. In April last year, he opened his second restaurant Cais da Pedra in the same city, which boasts 180 seats, a cocktail bar and stunning riverfront views.

The masterchef was in Singapore for the recent World Gourmet Summit 2014, where he hosted two events — @ Home With Miele on April 1 and the Portuguese Wine Dinner with Quinta Do Vallado at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore on April 2. We caught up with the man to find out more about his cooking style and what’s next for him.

You’ve been a chef since 1996. What is your cooking style and has it changed since?

It has been a long journey and a wonderful one. I still think my style is developing everyday but I do very simple food that combine good flavours and focus on uncomplicated presentations.

Who was it who showed you the ropes?

My aunt was the first person to encourage me to cook at home. What started off with cooking spaghetti bolognaise, developed into a professional career.

So did you receive training later?

I went on to culinary school (Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts) in the US in 1996.

It’s said that you always season your food only with fleur de sel. Why is that?

Fleur de sel is the most natural of salts — it is pure. We are very blessed in Portugal to have great quality fleur the sel from the south of the country, considered by many Michelin-star chefs to be one of the best in the world.

You’ve mentioned that there’s only good and bad food. What do you mean by that?

Well, that is my personal opinion — when we go for an experience, we either like it or we don´t like it! So eating is always a very personal experience where opinions differ extremely.

Do you have a personal philosophy when it comes to your food?

I try, above all, [to make] my customers feel my passion for food in my dishes and that the flavours I offer them stay in their memories.

That seems to have worked very well for you. You’ve won multiple awards, hosted TV shows and wrote a cookbook. So what’s next for you?

I am relocating Alma this year and opening a small market concept in one of the most emblematic markets in Lisbon. I will very much be focusing on Alma in the next few years — my team and I want to take our cooking to a higher level. We will have a great new kitchen and a very focused team as well as a prime new location for the new Alma.

Alma was set up in 2009. What do you think sets your restaurant apart from others in Portugal?

Alma provides a very cosy and personal experience, where our team focuses on giving our customers a memorable experience. We showcase the very best that Portugal has to offer in wine and food. I try to give a very up-close and personal experience between our guests and me as a chef.

With your special WGS dinner, what is something unique that you brought to the table?

For World Gourmet Summit 2014, I brought some of Portugal´s gastronomic icons to Singaporeans — who I don’t think have heard much about — such as our salted cod, suckling pig and carolino rice. I was also very fortunate to have Quinta do Vallado in partnership with the local Alentasia, supplying the most amazing Portuguese wines to go along with my menu.

This is the first time you’re part of WGS. How has the experience been and will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Being a part of the World Gourmet Summit has been an awesome experience, especially because I was reunited with a friend who I lost touch with from my early days in London — Chef Ryan Clift (from Tippling Club). Ryan and I worked together in 1997 in London and he was one of my best mates from that time. I learned a great deal from him as I was starting in the kitchen from school. And now we are both doing well and he is one of the most respected chefs in Singapore and the world. Amazing! I hope to be back again in the future for the World Gourmet Summit and I will be coming back for sure to visit Ryan now that I have found him again.