Zero KM, seasonal ingredients and small producers are concepts that are increasingly well-known to the general public. Eating with respect for nature is a necessity rather than a trend. From north to south, Portugal is well represented.
Words: Teresa Castro Viana
The history of Seiva, in Leça da Palmeira, is inseparable from that of its owner and chef David Jesus, a 27-year-old from Setúbal who always dreamed of having a place that would represent him. Its name pays tribute to his grandfather and father, both of whom were resin tappers.
Staying in communion with nature, respecting the seasonality of the ingredients and their origin, almost always sourced from small producers, he develops dishes with a lot of flavour and spices from other latitudes. It is, in essence, “plant-based world cuisine”, as he introduces it. You can try pani puri, a crisp hollow flatbread stuffed with mushrooms and chaat masala, a blend of spices, cauliflower with chives, nori seaweed and egg yolk and quince terrine with wild mushrooms, roasted celery root and buckwheat, among other creative dishes. And the journey extends to the dessert, with persimmon panna cotta, crunchy chocolate with dark mole, “dulce de leche” and lemon and puff pastry waffle with vanilla ice cream, nougat and seed oil.
For the more adventurous, we recommend the tasting menu, with eight small plates selected by the chef, including one snack, two starters, two main courses and a dessert. The aim? “To embark on a journey of flavours in order to enjoy nature and its seasons.” After an enviable career in various top restaurants, including the Feitoria and Fortaleza do Guincho in Portugal, Frantzén in Sweden and Quique Dacosta and Diverxo in Spain, David has opened the doors of a vegetarian restaurant that is just a stone’s throw from the sea, where the menu is as diverse as his creativity.
In 2021 it was recognised in the Michelin Spain and Portugal Guide with a Michelin star and a green Michelin star, a distinction awarded to restaurants with sustainable practices. The Herdade do Esporão restaurant in the Alentejo town of Reguengos de Monsaraz takes this ethos very seriously. “The restaurant’s work with local suppliers, its zero-waste practices and the elimination of plastic and other non-recyclable materials” were some of the issues highlighted.
And you can understand why: much of what they serve is self-produced, true farm to table, including the vegetables from the extensive kitchen garden, the fruit, the lamb and the homemade eggs, always according to the season, prioritising organic produce and contributing to the reduction of their carbon footprint.
You can now enjoy a meal in both the restaurant and the wine bar, where you can also taste wines, craft beers and olive oils. The dishes by the young chef Carlos Teixeira that are served in the wine bar are “fresh, simple and seasonal” and are offered in a more relaxed way, while adhering to the same sustainability premises as are applied in the restaurant. The peixinhos da horta can be made with green beans, courgettes, peppers or cauliflower; for the escabeche do campo, the alternatives vary between duck, chicken or rabbit; the oven-roasted lamb shoulder allows the entire animal to be used; and the beetroot salad is accompanied by plums, peaches or persimmons, depending on the time of year.
Sustainability is a watchword in a growing number of restaurants from the north to the south of the country and from the coast to the border, and can be applied in various ways. In Évora, one of the most recent national gastronomic destinations, Híbrido, offers old-style cuisine with a focus on seasonality. If there is any product that chef/owner João Narigueta wants to use out of season, it becomes a preserve “for future use”.
For this reason, the menu is “constantly changing”: barley porridge and wild mushrooms, crayfish toast, game bird pie, mackerel with orange flower water, seasonal fruit compote and fresh fruit are just some of the dishes that have already appeared on the menu, receiving very positive reviews.
In addition to nature, João also respects proximity, seeking out small producers to supply him, including in his search for native products. He wants to be able to buy products from “within a 30-kilometre radius” within the next five years at most, closing the loop even further. But that’s not all. He also applies a “zero waste” culture in his kitchen. “All meat and fish scraps are used in soup of for staff meals”, while vegetables are pickled or salted.
The wines, mostly “sustainable and with few changes”, share the drinks menu with craft beers, ciders, homemade kombucha, natural juices and kefir-fermented juices. “We don’t have any soft drinks.”
“Sustainability is in SEM’s DNA”, says Lara Espírito Santo, the Brazilian co-owner of this space in Lisbon. Born with a mission to “make a positive impact”, it produces no food waste and does not countenance single-use plastic. The tables are made of recycled plastic, the bar of acacia and the producers practice regenerative agriculture. “We work with a group of producers who all follow the holistic philosophy of regenerating the land,” she explains.
But for Lara and New Zealander George, the mode of production is more important than proximity. For example, the cream used to make butter, cheeses and ice cream is imported from a cooperative of small producers because they cannot “buy cream from regenerative production in Portugal”. This ensures that they control by-products, such as buttermilk and whey, and prevent them from being discarded.
These are also used in restaurant recipes, as are the peels, seeds, stalks and leaves of other foods. The tasting menu changes each day, depending on the products available in any given week. “We reverse the creation process. It’s about learning to work with nature, rather than forcing nature to work for us.” The only recurring dish at the restaurant, on the menu since day one, is the bread with bread butter: a sourdough bread served with a butter made using bread miso, one of the fermentation techniques used to preserve and transform food.
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