Paulo Amado and the Congresso dos Cozinheiros – Culinary alleys

The annual Congresso dos Cozinheiros (Cooks’ Congress) returns to Lisbon on September 25-26, with two days of events, workshops and talks. It is one of the highlights of the year for professional chefs, but also an event open to all lovers of gastronomy and catering. The theme of this year’s congress is particularly rich: Conexão Africana – the African connection.

The rally is organized, as always, by Paulo Amado, a man who fought and worked tirelessly for chefs and restaurants in Portugal. Paulo is a jack of all trades; an author, musician and songwriter. He is perhaps best known for Edições do Gosto, his multidisciplinary business dedicated to Portuguese gastronomy. Edições do Gosto is responsible for many food-related projects, including Inter magazine and events such as Congress.

Paulo’s work has been invaluable in supporting restaurants, producers and the professional activity of the Portuguese gastronomic scene – among chefs, restaurateurs and industry journalists, he is considered the “ambassador” or “father” of Portuguese chefs.

Paulo usually keeps a low profile, but we were able to catch up with him ahead of Congress 2022, to learn more about his background and this year’s Congresso dos Cozinheiros.

Paulo, 50, was born in Olhão (in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal) and moved to Lisbon to study law when he was nineteen. “I wanted to study literature, but my dad used to say that lawyers also write books,” he tells us. While in college, his activities outside of class brought him into contact with the then editor Inter magazine, a publication aimed at professionals in the gastronomic scene, which has been instrumental in promoting Portuguese gastronomy. Paulo started working for Inter as a trainee journalist, eventually adding journalism studies at Cenjor, a journalism school in Lisbon, to his curriculum vitae.

Paulo finally took over Inter in January 2002, and faced the prospect of publishing a magazine with very few resources and no investors. As a solution, Paulo rolled up his sleeves and started organizing professional events centered on Portuguese gastronomy. In 2004, he launched a forum on Innovation in Cuisine and Pastry, and the following year, the Congrès des Cuisiniers. “I was already traveling a lot around the country and I thought it would be good to bring cooks from all over the country to Lisbon,” he said. His idea was to bring professionals from all over Portugal to the capital, to foster discussion and share experiences at national level. During the challenging year of 2020, the Congress theme was “We the People”, with a particular focus on mental health. That same year, the Congresso dos Cozinheiros announced a collaboration with the Oficina de Psicologia, to provide psychological help and well-being to professionals in the industry. Other previous themes include ‘People, Nature and Gastronomy’, ‘Tradition/Innovation’ and the link between Portugal and France, to name a few.

These themes reflect Paulo’s professional endeavors, which over the years have expanded to include a number of different initiatives and projects across all sectors. “I started taking on different causes, [with a focus on] gender and diversity,” he says. “Thinking of the whole country, and not just Lisbon, gastronomy is an engine to drive change.”

We met Paulo at Marvila (East Lisbon) at Manja, a kitchen and creative space that Paulo opened in early 2022 to fuel discussions, ideas and cooking. “Manja was the result of problems encountered during the Covid: we had to change offices, and I had this bold idea to transform our new space into a kitchen, studio and cooking school, to share knowledge but also to support the causes that I champion on gender, race and age equality,” he said.

Sitting in Manja’s beautiful kitchen, which is housed in a former factory, he says, “This space has good energy. It is in this space that Paulo launched Curso Livre de Cozinha, a monthly series of discussions around cultural diversity in food. For these events he has been joined by chefs such as João Sá (Sala), Vitor Adão (Plano) and André Magalhães (Taberna da Rua das Flores), as well as Margo Gabriel (writer and CB contributor) or Kika Santos, a singer. The idea is to question looks and talk about representation in gastronomy. Since early 2022, once a month Lisbon gathered in Manja, interested in learning more and tasting more.

African cuisine was at the center of events at Manja, and it’s a theme that carries over to this year’s Congresso dos Cozinheiros, where Paulo hopes to bring these ideas to an even wider audience. Paulo explains that the important culture and cuisine of the former colonies has not been properly recognized, referring to Portugal’s historical ties with countries like Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, São Tomé and Mozambique . “We want to hear from more people who have African heritage and who work in Lisbon,” he says. “The stereotype of the young white man [historically] occupied all the discussions, and we must remember that gastronomy is a subject beyond young and white men. We must strengthen the African connection and the culture of Africa, and not only of the Portuguese-speaking countries. There is a huge influence here.

Topics on racism, gender discrimination and mental health will also be discussed during the Congresso dos Cozinheiros 2022, which will be held at Nirvana Studios in Oeiras on September 25 and 26, 2022. The event offers talks, workshops and entertainment including amazing Cape Town music. Verde by Orchestra Batukadeiras.

Guest speakers include João Carlos Silva, a chef from São Tomé (known for his RTP TV show “Na Roça Com os Tachos”); Marlene Vieira from Marlene and Zunzum restaurants; Jeny Sulemange, originally from Mozambique, chef of Cantinho do Aziz; Fatmata Binta, chef from Sierra Leone and ambassador of Fulani cuisine; and Sheree Williams, founder of the Global Food and Drink Initiative and editor of Cuisine Noir magazine.

Tickets for the lectures and presentations can be purchased on the website and include tastings and the competition for the best pastel de nata (cream pie), another important event of the congress, which takes place on the 26th at 2.30 p.m.

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