Carlos Gonçalves has had a lot on his plate since being appointed Corinthia Hotel Lisbon’s Executive Chef. But reimagining the hotel’s culinary offerings – whether breakfasts, banqueting, or room service, or its exquisite new restaurant and bars – is a skill that comes naturally to this young passionate cook. Carlos was born in Lisbon, a city renowned for its stunning gastronomy, and six months on from joining Corinthia he has certainly made his mark. Lisbon’s culinary tradition, like Fado – the rich haunting music of the city’s backstreets – is expressive, adventurous and colourful, and Carlos’s dishes are no different.
Brought up in the village of Moita, south of the city on the shores of the Tagus River, Carlos’s grandparents had a sea salt business nearby, and it was his grandmother and mother who first encouraged him to cook. “I’d spend carefree summers with my brothers and cousins, swimming, fishing and cooking. We’d have prawns and crabs from the river, boiled or pan-fried. Those tastes stay with me,” says Carlos, as we talk in Erva restaurant, his team around us, quietly preparing for the evening service . “We were lucky to grow up close to the sea; the freshest seafood was always on our table.”
“I’d spend carefree summers with my brothers and cousins, swimming, fishing and cooking. We’d have prawns and crabs from the river, boiled or pan fried. Those tastes stay with me…”
Carlos had a passion to cook from an early age. “My parents both worked, my father was a carpenter and my mother, who worked in a factory, would leave out the ingredients for our evening meal. As school was close I was always the first one home, I would start cooking. I was very young, just seven years old.”
Today, the freshest seasonal produce is key to his cooking, and combined with a passion to innovate, the opening of Erva Restaurant and Bar at Corinthia Hotel Lisbon provides the ideal platform to showcase his skills . Inspired by classic Portuguese gastronomic traditions but with a bold contemporary twist, Erva opened in July.
“Pedro is like my brother. If we have to work overnight, do something crazy, Pedro’s always there for me. He’s a crazy guy, loves motorcycles, and has the same passion as me. We started together 12 years ago, and he’s always moved with me.”
Carlos’s signature dishes such as Beef ‘From Head to Toe’, Meagre with Razor Clams and Salicornia, and Roast Octopus with Smoked Paprika and Aubergine Caviar, have already made Erva a favourite in the city’s highly competitive restaurant scene. For this quietly spoken chef, it’s all about authenticity. “It’s about creating something special and truly authentic – a dish that will remain as a precious memory in the guest’s mind,” he says.
“I like to get away from formulas and be experimental – to refine and build on the traditional. For instance, classic Portuguese dishes can be very oily, so we’re getting away from that.”I also like to use artisanal products – ingredients produced locally in small quantities, in the old ways. Much of the Erva menu shows this, and I’m introducing more artisanal products to our breakfasts.”
At 34, Carlos is young for an executive chef, and his rise through the ranks has been remarkable. His early childhood love of cooking later saw him enrol at the Estoril School of Hospitality and Tourism at 15. Three years later he got his first job – as a junior chef at Hotel Ritz Four Seasons where he rose to chef de partie. Five years on he joined the Bica do Sapato restaurant – Lisbon’s most revered and fashionable at the time – part-owner actor John Malkovitch ensuring its celebrity status. As a sous chef in one of Lisbon’s most famous eateries, Carlos was popular and his cooking remarked upon; little wonder his reputation grew. Stints at at more of the city’s top hotels followed, including the Hotel Grande Real Villa Itália & Spa and the Hotel Ritz Four Seasons, before he became Executive Chef of the Praia D’El Rey Marriott Beach Resort in 2014.
Carlos says the opportunity to open a new chapter in Corinthia Hotel Lisbon’s story was an irresistible challenge. “Lisbon is such a fashionable and dynamic place, and the hotel is a mirror of the city. The chance to work with a world-class F&B team and take the hotel to new culinary heights is very exciting. Working with marketing and our F&B Director Luis Madera to develop our products and services is an amazing experience.”
“The concept behind Erva was to create something natural, organic and rustic – a place where guests were in contact with the chefs, where the kitchen is part of the dining room. With Soul Garden, our new outdoor restaurant and bar, this has also brought another dimension to what we offer.”
Carlos Gonçalves has undoubtedly brought a new dimension to Corinthia Hotel Lisbon’s F&B offerings – a celebration of traditional Portugeuse cuisine, but with a fresh adventurous style.
“Along with my grandmother’s cooking, my inspiration has been the great chefs I’ve worked with,” he says. “I’m a quiet person, and the way I approach my work is that I try to be a leader as much as a chef. I enjoy passing on skills and my experience to my colleagues. It’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job.”
And what does this modest young chef savour most, when he has a chance to leave the Corinthia kitchens behind for a few hours?
“To spend my one day off a week at home, with my wife Noélia, and our three-year-old daughter Rita, is all I want and need. If the weather is good, we’ll sit outside by our small swimming pool and I’ll grill fresh fish for lunch. That’s just a perfect day for me.”
Three signature dishes of Carlos Gonçalves
Mackerel with Tomatoes and Beetroot Salad
“I love this starter. It has a very fresh taste with a balance of sweetness and acidity. The intensity of the cured mackerel comes from the curing technique, which is a very old, traditional way – how our ancestors preserved fish. In this dish, I use different varieties of tomato and beetroot which I source from a farm in a small village west of Lisbon. Mackerel is abundant in Portuguese waters, so it is a sustainable food and that’s important to me.”
Beef ‘From Head to Toe’ with Parsnip Puree and Mushrooms
“This dish reminds me of the delicious ’comfort’ food my mother cooked when I was a child. It uses various cuts of beef – such as tongue, cheek, tail and chuck – which are all rich in the protein collagen. The meat is marinated in wine, vegetables and aromatic herbs, before being baked in a charcoal oven until it’s tender, then shredded. The parsnip puree is made by simmering the parsnips in milk and mashing them into a silky smooth puree. The sauteed mushrooms with garlic and thyme add the final element to what is a rich but delicately flavoured main course.”
Roasted Octopus with Smoked Paprika and Aubergine Caviar
“We’re so blessed with seafood in Lisbon. This is my take on a Portuguese classic.
The octopus is first steamed then seared and crisped in the charcoal oven, which is also used to roast the aubergine before it’s mashed with virgin olive oil.
Simple, delicious and healthy.