World Chefs: George Mendes bares 'soulful' Portuguese cuisine

NEW YORK - George Mendes shares the fare served at his Michelin-star New York restaurant Aldea in his first cookbook, "My Portugal," which contains 125 recipes - from salt cod and potato croquettes to cuttlefish curry.

In the book, co-written with Genevieve Ko, he recounts his childhood in Connecticut, training in Europe's top restaurants, and the opening of Aldea, which means village in Portuguese.

Mendes spoke to Reuters about his Portuguese-American upbringing, cooking for Portugal's president and what sets the country's food apart from other cuisines.

Q: You use the word "soulful" to describe the dishes in the book. Why?

A: The recipes in the book are very robust and use a lot of hearty products like charcuterie and chorizos. It goes back to my childhood with what was happening in the kitchen and the aromas coming off the stove. It was very warming, very soulful what was coming from the kitchen.

Q: What sets Portuguese fare apart from its Mediterranean cousins?

A: The primary difference is our consumption and use of the salt cod. That's what we use more in comparison than the Spanish, Italian and the French. We marinade a lot ahead of time - whether it's meat or fish - in wine, olive oil, herbs and aromatics. Thirdly, I think we use a lot more pork.

Q: What are Portuguese influences you taste when you eat food from Brazil or Mozambique, which were Portuguese colonies?

A: With Brazil it's coconut milk and working with roots like yuccas and a lot more cilantro and coriander. It's a lot more of a tropical cuisine, with different fresh fruits. With Mozambique, it became more shellfish and the opportunity to work with more heat like the piri-piri pepper.

Q: What was more exciting for you: getting a Michelin star or cooking for Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva in 2012?

A: Both. In 2011 when I got our Michelin star, it was a huge honour. Definitely with the president choosing to dine at Aldea and my dad flying from Florida that day, it was really something else. It was a big deal.

Q: What are the plans for your new restaurant, which is set to open in the winter of 2015?

A: It'll be rustic Portuguese.

Q: What is your Portuguese comfort food?

A: I am a sucker for good rice dishes whether it's tomato rice or rabbit rice.