Through the eyes of Chef Ricardo Costa, a name that doesn't go unnoticed when we talk about gastronomy in Portugal. With a reputation that precedes him, Chef Ricardo Costa has not only mastered the art of transforming ingredients into symphonies of flavors, but he has also redefined the very essence of haute cuisine. He is the mastermind behind the "gastronomic" restaurant at the Yeatman hotel, and now at Mira Mira, both with wonderful views over the city of Porto.
Our conversation promised to delve into the inspirations, passions, and philosophies that have propelled Chef Costa to the pinnacles of gastronomy, offering a rare glimpse into the mind of a culinary maestro whose creations have elevated catering to an art form.
For over a decade, Chef Ricardo Costa has been the guiding force behind the culinary masterpiece that has firmly established Vila Nova de Gaia as a global gastronomic destination. As the head of The Yeatman, a prestigious restaurant adorned with two coveted Michelin stars and honored with the esteemed Platinum Fork accolade by the esteemed Boa Cama Boa Mesa Guide 2023, Chef Costa's unwavering leadership has been integral since the restaurant's inception. Infusing every dish with a harmonious blend of technique and innate talent, he continually unveils his personal rendition of Portuguese and regional cuisine, a true symphony of flavors that evolves with each passing season.
Overlooking the mesmerizing cityscape and the tranquil Douro River, Chef Ricardo Costa's latest culinary venture unveils an array of distinct features that define its unique charm. Nestled within the World of Wine, Mira Mira by Ricardo Costa, his new restaurant presents a captivating juxtaposition of elements: a dining room that offers sweeping views for a city-facing perspective, a terrace that provides the ideal vantage point to witness nature's grandeur during sunset, and a culinary experience that embodies a delightful and spirited twist. With an illustrious background as the mastermind behind The Yeatman, the celebrated Chef, honored with the Platinum Fork and adorned with two prestigious Michelin stars, now unveils a more lighthearted and approachable rendition of his culinary artistry, allowing patrons to savor his brilliance in a simpler, yet equally captivating, atmosphere.
1. Who is Chef Ricardo Costa?
Originally from the charming city of Aveiro, "his roots are deeply connected to the essence of his hometown". Leaving the comfort of home at the tender age of 18, he embarked on an educational journey that ignited his passion for the culinary arts. "Since then, I have developed a consistent and coherent career that reflects my gastronomy, the knowledge I have acquired over time, and, of course, all the experiences that training and work have fortunately given me.", he explained. Beyond the culinary arts, his interests unfold in a diverse tapestry of passions, stating that "aside from cooking, I also enjoy jeeping, walking my dogs, kickboxing and barbecuing at home."
2. What are you passionate about?
"Constant growth, challenge, and discovery. In this profession, when we discover a new product, a new technique, or a new dish, that knowledge opens doors to other things, or other possibilities, and really contributes to our evolution. In those moments, I feel an enormous sense of joy and happiness, and that's what keeps me going."
"It wasn't an obvious or planned choice. In fact, it all started when I was younger, still a student, and I had a few jobs during the summer."
3. What is your background, and how did you choose cooking as a career?
"It wasn't an obvious or planned choice. In fact, it all started when I was younger, still a student, and I had a few jobs during the summer.", the chef began to explain. His first job, at the tender age of 17, set the tone for what he is today. "At A Cozinha do Rei, I peeled sacks and sacks of potatoes, fried fish, and washed pots, but I discovered something new and decided to learn more about it." His passion and "unexpected desire" led him to pursue this area and he studied at the Coimbra School of Hospitality and Tourism.
4. Between Madeira and Porto, you've already been to Spain and England. What did you bring back from those experiences?
From the shores of Madeira to the bustling streets of London, each chapter of his journey has been a path of dedication, discovery, and daring. On the precipice of the present, it carries with it the weight of experience and the echo of countless hours spent perfecting the art that has become my truest expression.
"At first I went to a hotel in Madeira and then to Spain, to El Girasol - a restaurant with two Michelin stars. I spent a year and a half there, working with chef Joachim Koerper and it was there that I gained the basics that I hadn't acquired here: the cooking points, the well-made broths, and the interest in fresh, authentic, and seasonal raw materials. In addition, the multiculturalism present in that kitchen and the competitive spirit was also very important for my development. I returned to Portugal and was invited by chef Jerónimo Ferreira to open the Sheraton hotel in Porto, where I stayed for two years. In 2005, I went to London to open The Portal restaurant, where I was the head chef. This start to my career is what led me to the present day, followed by the Vidago Palace and Casa da Calçada, where I achieved my first Michelin star in 2009. So there were many learning moments and many memories that I carry with me.", he stated.
5. What were the challenges at the start of your career?
Over time, the essence of this journey has evolved from the simplicity of absorbing knowledge to the complexity of charting my own path. The challenges that now present themselves bear the mark of ambition and aspiration, they were originally what drove me to venture beyond the limits of the familiar and reach for the stars. It is in these challenges that the true essence of growth and evolution lies, the crucible in which dreams are shaped and aspirations crystallized. The chef went on to explain "My career has spanned more than 20 years, and I don't feel that I faced many challenges at the start of my career. It was a phase of deep learning, everything was new and I wanted to be a sponge to absorb all the information I was given. I think the challenges came later, as a result of the goals we set for ourselves and what we thought was best."
6. Is there a chef you admire in the culinary world?
Reflecting on notable chefs, the chef recalls the power of mentoring and the profound impact that the guidance of brilliant personalities can have on one's career. "Among many chefs, both national and foreign, I have to single out chef Joachim Koerper, with whom I worked at El Girasol, for being someone I learned a lot from and who ended up becoming a great inspiration to me. In recent years, chef Dieter Koschina has also been very important to the chefs of my generation because of what he has done in Portugal and because he is setting a great example for younger chefs."
7. What do you normally cook at home?
In contrast to the complexities of his professional domain, the chef finds solace in preparing fast, unpretentious, and harmoniously balanced dishes. Chef Ricardo confesses that he likes "to cook simple, quick, and balanced things, the opposite of what I do at work. I like to make grilled sardines, barbecues, stews, suckling pig, and, now in summer, salads."
Suckling Pig - Gastronomic Restaurant
8. What is your most creative dish? And you're favorite?
There is one dish in particular that resonates with a harmonious crescendo in my heart: the illustrious suckling pig. A culinary masterpiece that combines tender succulence with a symphony of indulgent flavors, it occupies a place of honor as my favorite dish, adding that "at the Gastronomic Restaurant, through a technique involved in a totally different process, we have managed to obtain the typical Bairrada-style roast suckling pig, just as if it had been cooked in the traditional way. Perhaps the most creative dish is our Tomato Salad, where we manage to transform and mix the various flavors, textures, and nuances of the same ingredient. It's a light, fresh, complex dish that easily lingers in the memory. It's very pleasant at this time of year."
9. What ingredient cannot be missing from your kitchen?
The first point mentioned by the chef was that of generosity, an essential ingredient that occupies an extremely important position in the orchestration of a truly remarkable gastronomic experience. His speech culminated in the fact that "there are many fundamental ingredients in a kitchen, but we must always know how to please and surprise our customers. Generosity can never be lacking when it comes to serving, preparing, and providing a unique experience for those who visit us, but neither can that same generosity be lacking in the team that works with us on a daily basis," he concluded.
10. Where does your inspiration come from?
"Inspiration is what allows me to create, and it's very much based on my experience, both personal and professional. I try to balance my technical knowledge with my free time. When we are calm, free from obligations, and without pressure, we have a real sense of well-being and that's when ideas start to emerge and we try out new things.", he explained.
11. How important is pairing in a meal?
The importance of pairing in a meal transcends the mere union of dish and wine, unfolding into a sensory symbiosis that enriches the gastronomic experience. It is a marriage between flavors, an intricate dialogue between the palate and the glass, which often elevates the culinary journey to unsuspected heights. The beauty of this dance lies in the individuality of each diner, where their personal preferences and inclinations are given space to express themselves. The chef said that wine pairing "is important because it complements the experience and enriches it, often taking it to another level. I believe that everything depends on the style and taste of each client, in other words, each person should be able to pair their dish with the wine they like best, whether it's from a specific grape variety, region, or brand, if they so wish," he added.
12. Do you have a favorite wine?
"I like the wines from the Bairrada and Dão regions. In terms of grape varieties, I like Baga, Jaen, Alfrocheiro, and Pinot Noir."
13. What path do you think Portuguese gastronomy needs to follow to achieve greater recognition abroad?
"To consolidate the foundations of our traditional cuisine and gastronomy."
Mira Mira by Ricardo Costa
14. Are tradition and innovation in cooking compatible?
"Yes, without a doubt, the two complement each other and interact. Proof of this is our suckling pig dish, where the result is the same as traditional suckling pig, but prepared in a completely different way, using innovation and modern cooking techniques.", he begins to explain, the result is a creation that pays homage to the time-honored way/method, yet heralds the future of gastronomy. It's a testimony to the boundless creative potential that emerges when tradition and innovation engage in an intricate pas de deux.
15. Sustainability, one of the main focuses of catering and tourism, is deeply rooted in its projects. What do you do to promote this habit?
"Yes, this has been one of our main concerns for many years. The use of local and seasonal products is very important and we always try to integrate them into our choices and menus. Fortunately, we have a wide range of local suppliers with fantastic products that are versatile and full of flavor. On the other hand, we try to make the most of the product, avoiding waste. This is the case, for example, with our monkfish dish, which appears on the menu in a version of feijoada where the skin, liver, and bones are processed by us. I do not doubt that our cuisine is a strong reflection of these concerns.", Minimizing waste is a sacred mandate in our kitchen, where every ingredient is revered and its potential maximized.
Mira Mira By Ricardo Costa stands as a testament to his unrelenting pursuit of culinary excellence. A sanctuary of relaxed fine dining, this gastronomic haven offers a modern and sophisticated interpretation of Portuguese cuisine. Rooted in the principles of seasonality and culinary artistry, Mira Mira offers a respite from tradition, inviting patrons to savor a symphony of flavors in a more informal ambiance.
16. What can you tell us about Mira Mira?
Mira Mira By Ricardo Costa stands as a beacon of inclusivity, an alternative to The Yeatman Hotel's Gastronomic Restaurant that embraces a more accessible approach. This venture extends an open invitation to all, offering a space where delectable experiences are woven into the fabric of everyday life.
"Mira Mira By Ricardo Costa is a restaurant where we explore a more relaxed vision of fine dining, turning it into a more informal space and project. We respect the seasonality of the products and Portuguese gastronomy, but also modernity and sophistication. The space is intended to be an alternative to The Yeatman Hotel's Gastronomic Restaurant, as well as a more economical option. It doesn't close on Sundays or Mondays, as many restaurants do, and for this reason, it also takes the national customer very much into account. ", the chef concluded.
17. What's to come from now on?
This dedication is rooted in a profound love for the art of gastronomy and a profound respect for the ingredients and techniques that shape it.
As for what awaits him, the chef says that "I hope to maintain the work I've done so far and be able to continue doing it with great consistency and quality. "
As Chef Ricardo Costa's culinary odyssey continues, he remains steadfast in his commitment to consistency and quality. With an unwavering dedication to his craft, he navigates the ever-evolving currents of gastronomy, leaving an indelible mark on every plate and crafting experiences that transcend mere sustenance. In each creation, he pays homage to his roots, embraces innovation, and embarks on a perpetual quest for culinary perfection.