Corinthia Hotel Lisbon’s new executive chef Carlos Gonçalves is making waves in the Portuguese capital
Carlos Gonçalves has had a lot on his plate since being appointed Corinthia Hotel Lisbon’s Executive Chef. But reimagining the hotel’s culinary offerings – whether breakfasts, banqueting, or room service, or its exquisite new restaurant and bars – is a skill that comes naturally to this passionate young cook.
Carlos was born in Lisbon, a city renowned for its stunning gastronomy and six months on from joining Corinthia, this young chef has certainly made his mark. Lisbon’s culinary tradition, like Fado – the rich haunting music of the city’s backstreets – is expressive, adventurous and colourful, and Carlos’s dishes are no different.
Brought up in the village of Moita, just south of the city on the shores of the Tagus river, Carlos’s grandparents owned a sea salt business, and it was his grandmother and mother who first encouraged him to cook.
“I’d spend carefree summers with my brothers and cousins, swimming and fishing and cooking. We’d have prawns and crabs from the river, boiled or pan fried. Those tastes stay with me,” says Carlos, as we talk in Erva restaurant, his team around us, quietly preparing for the evening service . “We were lucky to grow up close to the sea – the freshest seafood was always on our table.”
Carlos wanted to cook from an early age. “My parents both worked, and my mother would leave out the ingredients for our evening meal. As my school was close I was always the first one home, I would start cooking. I was very young, just seven years old.”
Today, fresh seasonal produce is still key to his cooking, and combined with a passion to innovate, the opening of Erva Restaurant and Bar at Corinthia Hotel Lisbon provides the ideal platform to showcase his skills . Inspired by classic Portuguese gastronomic traditions, but given a contemporary edge, Erva opened in July.
Carlos’s signature dishes, such as Beef ‘from head to toe’, Meagre with razor clams and salicornia, and roast octopus with smoked paprika and aubergine caviar, have already made it a favourite in the city’s highly competitive restaurant scene.
For this quietly spoken chef, it’s all about authenticity. “It’s about creating something special and truly authentic – a dish that will remain as a precious memory in the guest’s mind,” he says.
“I like to get away from formulas and be experimental – to refine and build on the traditional. For instance, classic Portuguese dishes can be very oily, so we’re getting away from that.”
“I also like to use artisanal products – ingredients produced locally in small quantities, in the old ways. Much of the Erva menu shows this, and I’m introducing more artisanal products to our breakfasts.”
At 34, Carlos is young for an executive chef of such a large hotel, and his rise through the ranks has been remarkable. His early childhood ambitions saw him later enrol at the School of Hospitality and Tourism of Estoril at 15. At 18 he got his first job – as a junior chef at Hotel Ritz Four Seasons in Lisbon where he rose to chef de partie. Five years later he joined the Bica do Sapato restaurant – Lisbon’s most revered and fashionable at the time – with part-owner actor John Malkovitch ensuring its celebrity status.
As sous chef in of Lisbon’s most famous eateries, Carlos was popular and his cooking remarked upon. Little wonder his reputation grew. Stints at at more of the city’s top hotels followed, including the Hotel Grande Real Villa Itália & Spa and the Hotel Ritz Four Seasons, before he became Executive Chef of the Praia D’El Rey Marriott Beach Resort in 2014.
Carlos says the opportunity to open a new chapter in Corinthia’s story was an irresistible challenge.
“Lisbon is a fashionable and dynamic place, and the hotel is a mirror of the city.The chance to work with a world-class F&B team and take the hotel to new culinary heights is very exciting. Working with marketing and our F&B Director Luis Madera to develop our products and services is an amazing experience.”
“The concept behind Erva was to create something natural, organic and rustic – a place where guests were in contact with the chefs, where the kitchen is part of the dining room.
With Soul Garden, our new outdoor restaurant and bar, this has also brought another dimension to what we offer.”
“Along with my grandmother’s cooking, my inspiration has been the great chefs I’ve worked with. I’m a quiet person, and the way I approach my work is that I try to be a leader as much as a chef. I enjoy passing on skills and my experience to my colleagues. It’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job.”
And what does this modest young chef savour most when he has a chance to leave the Corinthia kitchens behind for a few hours?
“To spend my one day off a week at home, with my wife Noélia and my three-year-old daughter Rita is all I want and need. If the weather is good, we’ll sit outside by our small swimming pool and I’ll grill fresh fish for lunch. That’s just a perfect day.”
“My pastry chef Pedro Dias is like my brother. If we have to work overnight, do something crazy, Pedro’s always there to support me. He’s a crazy guy, loves motorcycles, he has the same passion as me. Sometimes we’ll work 14 hour-days; he’s always there for me. He’s my energy. We started together 12 years ago, and he’s always moved with me.”
Three signature dishes of Carlos Gonçalves
Mackerel with tomatoes and beetroot salad
“I love this starter. It has a very fresh taste with a balance of sweetness and acidity. The intensity of the cured mackerel comes from the curing technique, which is a very old, traditional way – how our ancestors preserved fish. In this dish, I use different varieties of tomato and beetroot which I source from a farm agriculture in a small village i west of Lisbon. Mackerel is an abundant species in the Portuguese waters, so it is a sustainable food, and that’s important to me.”
Beef ‘from head to toe’ – with parsnip puree and mushrooms
“This dish reminds me of the delicious ’comfort’ food my mother cooked when I was a child. It uses various cuts of beef – such as tongue, cheek, tail and chuck – which are all rich in the protein collagen. The meat is marinated in wine, vegetables and aromatic herbs, before being baked in a charcoal oven until it’s tender, then shredded. The parsnip puree is made by simmering the parsnips in milk and mashing them into a silky smooth puree. The sauteed mushrooms with garlic and thyme add the final element to what is a rich but delicately flavoured main course.”
Roasted octopus with smoked paprika and aubergine caviar
We’re so blessed with seafood and this is my take on a Portuguese classic.The octopus is cooked first in a steam oven, then seared and crisped in the charcoal oven, which is where the eggplant is roasted and caramelized, before mashing its flesh with virgin olive oil and fleur de sel sea salt. This dish is so simple, delicious and healthy.