How do you describe the cuisine at Aldea? I operate with my history in mind: the Portuguese were seafarers and explorers, discovering new lands. We brought spices and new flavors that influenced a lot of menus. Aldea is Portuguese-inspired with global influences. Early on, Portugal had colonies throughout the world, so you can see flavors from Brazil, Japan and India in my menu. You can also see my French training in there. All of my exploring has helped define my style. What is your presentation style? Minimalist. I like to focus on the color of food. My favorite time of year is spring, where all these edible colors pop out naturally. I’m not one to manipulate. I love the bounty of what comes in during those months. And maybe it’s my Mediterranean roots, but I love to enjoy my meals in the sun.
Top Chef really give food the opportunity to shine. I love to be in my restaurant, but it was a great platform for exposure. Would you do TV again? I would, if it were the right fit. I’d love an educational role where I teach the public about Portuguese cuisine, about growing your own food and eating as local as possible. I don’t want to be formed into a character. Do you have a cookbook in the works? It’s scheduled for spring 2014. It will be about Aldea, and be an introduction to Portuguese cuisine for the home cook. It will also include the story of my life and, of course, some great recipes.
FROM GEORGE MENDES’ KITCHEN
I know the term ‘fusion’ is kind of overused... I hate the word fusion. Some chefs will mismatch cuisines just to be creative, but they don’t necessarily know what they’re doing in terms of pairing flavors. You should know your history and combine things because they work. You don’t just pair because you want to create some new, unheard-of style. These fusion chefs overlook history and ancestry. True cooking comes from your heart, your ancestry, what was in your home. What are some exciting things on your menu right now? We’re using a lot of ramps, wild leeks, wild onions and wildflowers. We’re working with a forager, Evan Strusinski, who is bringing in things from the wild—herbs and plants not readily available from our regular sources. We’re always looking for new ingredients. We’re using chickweed, different kinds of mints and wintergreens, fiddlehead ferns, ramps and all kinds of exciting stuff in the mushroom category. If you’ve never eaten at Aldea, try the sea urchin toast; it’s refined and elevated. Or anything with shrimp, my duck rice... I’d say they all encompass rustic refinement. That’s a lot to introduce to the average (potentially not-soadventurous) eater! It’s about coming across what grows naturally in the woods that people don’t know they can eat. The forager has been providing us with things that I didn't know existed! For winter we’ll work with more robust, heartier flavors. Warm foods with an elevated level of refinement. Look for the tripe stew with root vegetables and quail eggs. Plus, winter means blue truffle season. Are there plans to open a second restaurant? We have plans but there is no forecast. When the right place comes along, then it’s the right time. We need a place that allows our vision to flourish, so it could take another 18 months to come together. You were on Top Chef Masters, so you’ve got an insider’s perspective on the reality show business. What are your thoughts about these cooking shows? I’m really split on it. Food TV can have a great impact on business, but it really depends on the chef’s desires. Does he want to be on TV, or does he want to be in his restaurant? Top Chef Masters was difficult, but it was a fantastic experience. Some of the food shows are just about entertainment; they pretty much forget the food. But Tom Colicchio and
Eggs Baked with Peas, Linguiça and Bacon extra-virgin olive oil, as needed 11/2 ounces slab bacon cut into 1/2-inch slices, then into 1/4-inch batons 1/ 2
white Spanish onion, finely diced
garlic cloves, thinly sliced
fresh California bay leaf, notches torn every 1/2 inch
pinch crushed red chile flakes
tbsp. strained tomatoes
ounces linguiça, cut into 1/2-inch dice
ounce chorizo, casing removed and thinly sliced
cups frozen petit peas kosher salt to taste
cup parsley leaves, chopped
fresh lemon juice, to taste Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a 4-quart cocotte over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the bacon. Cook, stirring
occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a dish. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf and chile flakes to the cocotte and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon olive oil and cook, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan, for 4 minutes. The tomatoes should be sizzling steadily. Stir in the linguiça, chorizo, reserved bacon and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the peas and season to taste with salt. Make 4 little nests for the eggs in the mixture, spacing them a few inches apart. Carefully break an egg into each nest, making sure each egg is nestled in the stew and flush with the top. Transfer to the oven and bake until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 8 minutes. Top with the parsley and season to taste with lemon juice. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
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