About ten years ago I wrote that in any future treatise on the recent history of the restaurant business, Vítor Sobral – then 37 years old – would be entitled to the longest chapter in the book. If I’m now repeating the idea it’s because on the one hand, an introduction always lasts longer than a magazine article, and on the other, the Portuguese habit of rushing to every new restaurant that opens on a daily basis, affects their memory. Even for the most absent-minded among us, it is worth remembering that many years ago Vítor Sobral led the way in modernising Portuguese gastronomy. With his radical approach to our products and recipes, he developed a signature cuisine with dishes that still exist today in the minds of those of us not suffering from memory loss. He did not merely recreate flavours; he diligently devoted himself to the technical aspects of cooking. The treatise – As Minhas Receitas de Bacalhau (Casa das Letras, 2012) (My Cod Recipes) clearly demonstrates what I mean.
Seven years ago, Sobral was the first celebrity chef to create a modern snack bar. ‘Sacrilege!’ said some, ‘the man’s crazy’ said others. Today, which districts in Lisbon or Porto don’t have snack bars, eateries, or gastro pubs? But between the original Campo de Ourique project and the wave that rippled throughout the country, there exists, with few exceptions, the classic difference between art and imitation. This is because in Esquina restaurants (there are already five in the world), there are new snacks on the menu every day. I repeat – every single day! Many people will say, ‘Oh, it’s easy to come up with a few new snacks’. Nothing could be further from the truth! Creating little titbits with harmony, balance, flavour and the ability to awaken the interest of customers is something only a genius can do. Sobral didn’t become a cook to follow fashion; he became a cook because he inherited the gift of cooking from his family. Passion, study, work and learning from life’s mistakes did the rest.
And with this gift, he’s developing his Portuguese cuisine, which is to say that he gives Lisbon customers dishes with Brazilian and African notes and flavors; The customers of São Paulo and João Pessoa all our wealth and that of Angola and those of Luanda, things here and Brazil. One day, I photograph Vitor’s suitcases. They must smell from a distance. They must be a tremendous color of spices, herbs, flours, fruits, sauces and other products from all latitudes. It’s all this that is featured in this Petiscos da Esquina, which will give a great way at home when we want to make good figure with friends. Here you can feel the whole kitchen of Vítor Sobral: the importance of the products, the cooking times controlled to the second, the precise orientation of the aromatic herbs and some nuts, the boldness in the combinations and always – but always – the intensity of the flavor.
This fusion food prolongs the Portuguese, African, South American and Asian conviviality that began centuries ago. Each Tasca is a tasty diplomatic post in the Lusophone world. To my knowledge, no Portuguese chef has created such a thing in three different geographical points. Moreover, our Government would do much more for the image of the country and Portuguese products if it challenged Vítor Sobral to open Tascas on the corners of Beijing, London, New York or Brussels, each with national product stores. That would be economic diplomacy. Active, effective and inexpensive. Take note of Dr. Paulo Portas, that this helped the crop. In any 10 of June they put a medal to the chest of our cook. They did well, but I think that the role of ambassador is better than the commander.