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DESIRE 2015: An event that welcomed spring in an unparalleled culinary homage to the season

DESIRE 2015

Songs of Spring

Eleven Michelin stars, seven chefs and seven sommeliers joined the 3-Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck at Gusto, the Conrad Algarve's flagship restaurant, for a two-day epicurean celebration that said goodbye to the 2014/15 season of TASTE PORTUGAL London and hello to spring

WORDS: Cristina Alcock|PHOTO: Pink Imaging| 31 March 2015

Songs of Spring

‘Jeff Galvin: We want to get these guys to London and cook with us, our customers absolutely love it’

THE ALGARVE may be famed for its beautiful weather and more than 300 days of sunshine a year, but it was still an unseasonably warm weekend when seven exceptional culinary masters from London and Portugal arrived at Gusto by Heinz Beck, the modern Mediterranean restaurant of the Conrad Algarve, on March 28 and 29. It was as if it had been ordered purposely for the occasion. After all, Desire 2015 wasn't only marking the end of the 2014/15 season of TASTE PORTUGAL London; it was also an event that welcomed spring in an unparalleled culinary homage to the season.

On March 28, and in typical exuberant style, chef Heinz Beck was the host of an exclusive Kitchen Party, a unique event that offered guests the opportunity to interact with the chefs – with 11 Michelin stars between them – and witness these world-class cooks prepare their classic creations. More informal in character, the first evening of the weekend welcomed seven of the most highly acclaimed chefs from the world's oldest alliance, with Portuguese chefs sharing the floor with their London counterparts. A treat for wine-lovers everywhere, the event also saw seven of the country's leading sommeliers – led by the Conrad's own head sommelier António Lopes – carefully select a wine for each dish, in a process that led UK chef Chris Galvin (of Galvin Restaurants) to comment: “I've never seen sommeliers take so long to choose the perfect wine!” But this, in fact, defined the approach throughout the entire weekend, and indeed the whole TASTE PORTUGAL London season: excellence right down to the smallest detail.

Serving his famous fagottelli and the woodland-inspired Sottobosco, hosting chef Heinz Beck was joined by José Avillez, Portugal's newest 2-star chef, who served a delightful Algarve prawn in ceviche at his station. Ricardo Costa of The Yeatman, in Oporto, presented a veal oxtail stew, caramelised pistachio and Madeira wine sauce, while chef João Rodrigues (Feitoria, Lisbon) delivered a slow-cooked milk-fed lamb shoulder with pearl barley and chorizo. From Fortaleza do Guincho in Cascais, Frenchman Vincent Farges showcased sautéed scallops with preserved Kombu, Meyer lemon peel and crunchy fennel with Vietnamese coriander, while brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, joined by head chef Warren Geraghty, created a dish of cured salmon, vanilla-pickled cucumber, marinière jus and wasabi mayonnaise. Finally, the Hakkasan Group duo, Graham Hornigold and Henrique Sá Pessoa, presented no less than five mouthwatering desserts, which included toasted rice with soy caramel; white chocolate with yuzu and matcha; cassis macaron; Asian mango; and spiced pineapple fritter and salted lime.

It was an evening of surprises, with the laid-back atmosphere and camaraderie of the night continuing until well after the final guest had left, with the chefs and sommeliers cracking open some very special vintages.

Sunday (March 29) was a more formal affair: a six-course dégustation menu that was once again matched to perfection by seven superb wines selected by António Lopes and his team of guest sommeliers.

The fully booked event kicked off with Heinz Beck's own tonno tonnato, a nod to Italy's classic vitello tonnato and which comprised wonderfully tender tuna presented in three ways – braised, in the form of jelly and even tuna snow. For the dish, António Lopes chose the Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2013, a fresh white with notes of lemon and tropical fruits from the Dão region. 

Chef Beck's next dish was picture-perfect and typical of his modern and light Mediterranean cuisine: amberjack fish marinated with yuzu and lemongrass, enhanced by delicate guacamole and a soya macaroon. From the Vinho Verde region, the wine selected by sommelier Sérgio Pereira was the crisp Terroir Edition of the 2012 Quinta da Calçada.

The Galvin Brothers, famed for their French-inspired cuisine and who had learnt of the Algarve's exceptional seafood beforehand, presented a single ravioli of langoustine, a luxurious dish served with fennel and caviar. The biggest surprise here, even for Chris Galvin himself, was the wine selected by Ricardo Morais: the 2013 Dona Fátima Jampal. “It was a great discovery for me. High-quality, full of character and with citrus notes and a minerality that works incredibly well with the dish. Apparently it is made with this unknown grape [Jampal] that was almost extinct and which has been rediscovered,” said the chef, who admitted that he and his brother Jeff arrived in the kitchen extra early that morning so that they could enjoy a game of golf.

Paired with an extremely complex 2010 Nossa Calcário from Bairrada, Vincent Farges's colourful creation was a Mediterranean tribute to the ocean: steamed sea bass, murex and oyster tartare, young veggies with Timut pepper and bergamot sauce.

For the meat dish, Heinz Beck returned with a stunning piece of tender veal filled with dried fruit and onion, served with stewed Treviso radicchio that sat pretty on a plate whose pattern evoked a woodland setting. The selected wine came from the Algarve, a 2012 Quinta do Francês magnum, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with exuberant aromas of black forest fruits.

Finally came the dish that all chocolate-lovers had been waiting for – a smooth milk chocolate mousse, with raisins marinated in Madeira wine alongside delicate liquorice and cocoa nibs. Paired with the Madeiran Desconhecido Campanário, chosen by Sérgio Marques, the dessert was presented as beautifully and seamlessly as the team effort of those behind it: Graham Hornigold, executive pastry chef of the Hakkasan Group, who admitted to mentally deconstructing the famous Portuguese custard tart, pastel de nata, and Portugal's own Henrique Sá Pessoa, who will be reopening his Alma restaurant at a new address in 2015. Not only was the collaboration a perfect example of everything TASTE PORTUGAL set out to achieve, but the pair are actually long-time friends, having worked together in London in the early days of their respective careers. 

And that was it, the end of the season. But it finished on the highest of notes, something that has in fact defined the entire project. Having accepted the invitation from Heinz Beck when they met at an event at New York's Waldorf Astoria, the incredibly laid-back Galvin Brothers summed up the concept to perfection. “You get to know these guys remarkably quickly in the kitchen, and see the way they cook and take inspiration from it. It's quite exciting,” said Jeff Galvin. “We want to get these guys to London and cook with us, our customers absolutely love it.”

Elder brother Chris added: “We have made great friends here, and it would be great to introduce them to our customers. Portugal has that reputation of being a hidden gem, but it's important to get the message out that there are excellent chefs here cooking great food.”