“This dish is inspired by my mother,” shares Chef Pedro Lemos, as he melts fat over a marvelously marbled slice of beef with a blowtorch. On its own, the dish was remarkable –heritage beef brined for seven days then smoked and topped with piquant horseradish and fried salsify. Yet when paired with Chef Lemos stories—about the Marinhoa cattle who roam where his mom was born and how the vinegar’s acid balances the fat of the beef – each bite was even richer. This personal touch was just what you’d expect at a new gastronomic festival hosted by an island retreat that prides itself on guest service.
On June 8th– 10th, the Art of Flavours was held at Madeira’s Belmond Reid’s Palace, the historic hotel stunningly perched above the Atlantic Ocean. The three-day affair gathered 8 Michelin-starred chefs: 6 from Portugal’s top tables and an Italian from sister property Belmond Hotel Cipriani where George & Amal bunked for their Venice wedding. This first-time food fiesta served up master cooking classes, a poolside Food Party perched above the ocean, and a 9-course sit down Stars Dinner at the hotel’s own starred spot, Williams Luis Pestana, Belmond Reid’s Palace Executive Chef—himself the only Madeira-born chef with a Michelin star—and the affable Italian manager, Ciriaco Campus, handpicked the participating chefs.
To pique their palates, guests attended master classes held by Holland’s Michel Van Der Kroft and Italy’s Davide Bissetto, from the aforementioned Cipriani The seafood–laden waters of Venice and Madeira inspired Chef Bissetto’s Conchiglie e Conchigliacei, a shellfish pasta dish whimsically made with shellfish-shaped pasta. With the warmth of an Italian nonna and the expertise of a 25-year industry veteran, Bissetto explained how pasta in the south is typically egg free while northern Italy’s richer cuisine incorporates eggs. Here, he used egg yolks as a wink to the Portuguese pastries that are packed with yolks, leftovers from the egg whites nuns use to starch their wimples. In the demonstration, Bisetto used sumptuous sauces composed of five kinds of seafood. Luckily, he handed out a simplified recipe even an amateur chef could make. As guests sipped sparkling wine, he showed his signature technique where he spoons dollops of different colored sauce onto a plate, then thwacks it with his hand to spread the hues like an edible artist’s palette.
On the following eve, a convivial Food Party was held around the pool and beneath a sprawling Indian Fig tree overlooking Funchal Bay. To the soundtrack of seagulls and DJ Yen Sung’s grooves, guests hopped between 20 stations, tasting dishes by the 8 Michelin stars plus local chefs making island favorites like espedatas, grilled kebabs with bay leaves and garlic. Dishes included cuttlefish by Ricardo Costa of Porto’s Yeatman Hotel and ravioli stuffed with Portugal’s famous sheep queijo, Serra da Estrela, by Dutch chef Michel van der Kroft. As scallops sizzled, guests got to glimpse the action up close and hear the chefs talk about their inspiration behind each dish. “The process to get to the plate can take days, but it has to be totally natural for the guest,” shared Sergi Arola of Lisbon’s LAB, his mackerel dumplings in a delicate mackerel daishi broth a delicious mouthful of Asian flavors.
Though 250 attended, the alfresco affair was wonderfully intimate as attendees chatted with chefs and amongst each other. To sip, flutes of Pommery champagne kicked off the eve, followed by choice selections of Portuguese wine. There were brews from Portugal’s booming craft beer industry, including a Barley Wine aged in Madeira barrels, its spiced orange and cinnamon notes ideal for a dessert beer. Of course, the island’s eponymous wine was served, from dryer Verdelhos to sweeter Malmseys so diners could taste the different varieties of Madeira. After guests satisfied their sweet tooth with desserts and chocolates, they were dazzled by a firework show, Madeira Atlantic Festival, with Reid’s Palace cliffside perch offering prime viewing.
Art of Flavours culminated in a Stars Dinner, where the 8 chefs united in the kitchen to craft a one-of-a-kind 9-course feast. Held at William’s, the Reid’s Palace restaurant that boasts both an epic view and its own Michelin star, 60 guests were regaled like the royals who have bunked at the luxury hotel. Pedro Lemos cooked succulent Bluefin tuna bathed in a bonito broth, with tiny pearl onion boats filled with wasabi cream. Joachim Koerpor’s contemporary saltimbocca featured a delightful veal tartare, succulent ham, and Parmesan in two ways—crunchy and slivered—on top. Sergi Arola’s indulgent dish was a crowd favorite, seared foie gras hidden beneath luscious, caviar-topped whipped potatoes.
Young sommelier André Franco, of Porto’s Yeatman, paired each dish with wines from Portuguese producer, Niepoort. Highlights included the Charme 2015, an elegant, earthy red from the Douro’s Vale de Mendiz whose red fruit and soft tannins paired perfectly with Vitor Matos’ roast pigeon and beet dish. Guests also discovered a unique aged white port, Porto Branco. The gorgeously golden sip burst with orange peel and fig notes—the ideal pairing for the chocolate and passion fruit dessert. While the chefs each prepared their own dishes—aided by their assistants and Reid’s Palace cooks—there was convivial camaraderie in the kitchen as chefs shared recipes and techniques together.
As the meal wound down with espresso, the chefs appeared, weaving their way through the tables to appreciative applause. Both the diners and chefs’ smiled wide, the sign of a most successful inaugural Art of Flavours festival. We can’t wait to see what’s in store next year when the festival returns on June 13-15, 2019.