The World’s Bravest Chef?
Not many chefs can say they have received an award for their bravery, not even one perhaps, but Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes can. Born and raised in Lisbon, Nuno became interested in food at a young age and has dedicated his life to exploring and perfecting his cooking. Working on the family farm, he gained a deep connection with the land and the importance of how food is produced and Nuno’s love for Portuguese cuisine and seafood is still very much evident in his cooking.
Leaving Europe in the 1990’s Nuno went on to train at the prestigious California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, before going on to work with some of the world’s leading chefs. One such chef was Mark Miller from The Coyote Café where Nuno first worked as a Chef de Cuisine. Mark’s influence encompassed South Western American and Latin American cooking, an influence which later allowed Nuno to develop further Latin American concepts and he has recently been a consultant for Chilango, the popular new burrito concept in London. Other key influencers of Nuno’s culinary development include Wolfgang Puck, Rocco di Spirito (Union Pacific) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges in New York and Rama at 50 St James in London). During this time Nuno travelled throughout Central America, Europe and Asia gaining both culinary and life experiences along the way, including learning from highly respected Ferran Adria during a ‘stage’ at the world famed El Bulli restaurant in Spain.
In 2006 Nuno opened the gastro pub Bacchus in Hoxton, London where he received critical acclaim for his avant-garde food which, usually found in Michelin-starred restaurants, could suddenly be found in East London at gastro pub prices. It was here that Nuno experimented with the technique of sous-vide which was famously being used by Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, from which Bacchus drew comparisons with. The Observer newspaper named Bacchus the most futuristic pub in Britain, and this creative period really ignited people’s interest in Nuno and his cooking techniques.
After the closure of Bacchus in 2008, Nuno set up and developed a brand new concept called The Loft Project. Still running, The Loft Project has grown from an underground supper club movement to, what Nuno calls, a ‘chef’s gallery’. The Loft Project was a fantastic platform for Nuno to try and test his new recipes whilst hosting informal dinner parties for willing and intrigued diners. Now acclaimed chefs from around the word take up residence and use The Loft Project as their platform to create and offer an intimate experience that takes place in Mendes’ own home. It has a dedicated following of food lovers and admirers, so much so, that dinners are booked up months in advance, and The Loft Project started an underground dining scene, mainly in London’s East.
Nuno Mendes’ most recent venture is the opening of his own restaurant and bar Viajante, in March 2010. Set in the imposing Grade II listed Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, Viajante combines the simple with the extravagant and takes inspiration from Portugal, Spain, Asia and Scandinavia, culminating in menus that manifest as ‘the sum of my experiences until today’, according to Mendes. Portuguese for ‘traveller’, Viajante has received wide-spread recognition from critics and has received the coverted Michelin star within it’s first year of opening, the Remy Martin VSOP Award for ‘Best-Rated Newcomer’ in Harden’s upcoming London Restaurant Guide 2011. The London Restaurant Festival 2010 commended Viajante for its upcoming location, forward-thinking philosophy and cutting-edge food and awarded Nuno with ‘The Bravery’ award.