Gusto for Portugal: As an homage to Portuguese flavours, chef Heinz Beck created a spring menu using some of the country’s finest ingredients
Promoting sustainability, working with small producers and cooking with locally sourced ingredients certainly is a fast-growing trend in the gastronomic world. But, so far, few have taken it a step further, looking into how ingredients affect the body and digestion.
German-born award-winning chef Heinz Beck, whose La Pergola restaurant in Rome has three Michelin stars, delved into this concept many years ago. Today, thanks to his research, he creates flavourful, creative dishes that not only taste and look like works of art but are also nutritious and easy to digest. Jokingly, he says that the proof of his menu’s quality and digestibility is felt “the following morning, when you wake up feeling rested”.
This season, Gusto’s consultant chef pays homage to Portugal and its incredible flavours. Together with head chef Libório Buonocore, he took traditional dishes and ingredients from the four corners of the country and created a Portuguese gastronomic symphony, with a few touches of Italy.
Gusto’s spring tasting menu, which can feature seven or nine courses, starts with three amuses-bouche inspired by Portuguese traditions: squid salad with peppers, onions and coriander, an homage to the Algarve region, with olive oil from Trás-os-Montes, a region known for the quality of its olive oil; octopus salad with cream of parsley and garlic, which the chef explains, was blanched four times in milk “not to have an intensive smell” and be easier to digest; and black pork cheek from the Alentejo, on a little potato cushion with pickles, “to give acidity and cut the greasiness of the pork”.
Then come the starters. Greater amberjack tartare with coconut cream, rhubarb and wild strawberries.
Then white asparagus, mushrooms and olive oil Béarnaise, which is more digestible than when made with butter. And tortellini stuffed with peas and lemon, with seafood, cuttlefish and nduja, a spicy pork sausage from the region of Calabria in southern Italy.
The main courses start with a marinated langoustine cooked in beeswax, served with artichokes and fava beans in oxidised onion broth. Then, turbot with wild broccoli and rose hip, and a saddle of lamb in chard, with carrots and spices. The chef makes a point of saying the lamb comes from a small producer in the Alentejo: “We are the first restaurant to buy lamb from this producer,” he proudly affirms. To bring out the full potential of this dish, it was paired with an Arvad Reserva 2019, a full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional from the Algarve.
To finish this delicate menu, the chef serves a tangy raspberry tartelette with caramel ice cream, paired with sweet DSF Colecção Privada, Moscatel Roxo from Setúbal. The pairing, created by Gusto’s sommelier Emília Craveiro, features wines from several Portuguese regions, taking guests on a journey through the country, except for the first wine, which is Italian.
The young sommelier focuses on personalising the experience for each guest as she believes “the greatest luxury you can have is an experience tailored to your taste”. Although Gusto’s impressive wine cellar counts various French, Italian and Spanish references, Emília says guests are usually eager to discover Portuguese wines.
A man of many talents, Heinz Beck is also a professional sommelier and has a particular penchant for Port wine, which he always has a glass of when he visits the country.
“When they offered me this place 10 years ago, I wondered if I would have the time to come here,” says the chef, who lives in Rome. He admits that his wife was the one who convinced him to give it a chance, and that when he came, he had no doubt he wanted the project. “Part of my heart is here. I love the people, nature, the sea…”, and the incredible flavours.
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