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"We all play the same game, which is cooking. Isn’t it?"

Young and Portuguese, modest and professional, incredibly kind and always smiling. His passion is cooking and he was the one who firstly intoduced Hungary with a star in the famous red book. Now you have the opportunity to get acquanited with the chef of our first Michelin starred restaurant, with Miguel Rocha Vieira.

How did you decide to be a chef?Basically it’s not like I wanted to be a chef since I was a child. When I finished high school in Portugal I went to London to study tourism at a university, because I thought that I’d always have a job after coming back because Portugal lives off of tourism. In the second year we had cooking classes, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I liked it better, and I was lucky enough to find my vocation. So I didn’t finish the tourism and I did the cooking course. Then in the first year I worked in London in a Michelin star restaurant just next door where I was living. Then I worked in France and in Spain before we opened Costes in 2008. The rest is history as they say…How did you apply for the job at Costes and what did you know about Hungary?I saw it on a French website, that they were looking for a chef.

I sent my CV and some food pictures and then they invited me for a weekend. I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing about Hungary. I thought that I came here for the interview and if I didn’t get the job, I would have a free weekend in Hungary.Are there any similarities between Portugal and Hungary or Budapest and Lisbon? In lifestyle or culture?Not really, no, we have the sun, ten moths of the year. We live close to the ocean. I think the climate makes the people very different. We are more open, more hot, we like partying, we are more expressive. Maybe Budapest and Lisbon have some similarities, the river part, and a bit of the architecture.

And Porto is more similar to Budapest, the old part of the city with its buildings, and the tram, of course.

It took me a while to get used to Hungary and Budapest, at the beginning it was difficult.

After the sun of Spain it was a little shock, the people and everything. Three years now, so I am getting used to it.

I have a couple of Portuguese, English and Hungarian friends. I have days off on Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t have many opportunities to go to big parties that I used to do.How do you spend a day in Budapest when you don’t work?Obviously I try to rest, we try to go a bit around Hungary, if we have time. A good thing about Hungary is that many countries are very close to it. Sometimes on a Monday morning or afternoon we go to Vienna or Slovakia. We try to know the area a bit, and, of course, we visit some restaurants.Which is your favourite restaurant in Budapest?Well, it is a difficult question. There are many places I like to go.

I have a good relationship with Bock Bistro, with the restaurant and with Lajos Bíró himself. He was one of the first people I met when I came here in 2009. Even he doesn’t even speak English, and me in Hungarian we could establish a good connection. I like him very much, he is a very nice guy.

If I have to say one, that I prefer and like better, I would say Bock. However there are a few other nice places in town.What do you think about the gastronomic revolution in Budapest?The gastronomy and its level is growing in the last two or three years.

It is definitely happening. And we are very happy to be a part of it and very proud to be the first who got a Michelin star.Nowadays in Hungary the habit to go to a fancy or a Michelin star restaurant is considered snobbish. What do you think about it?Yes, that’s right. There is not much you can do against them. We’re doing our best. We try to show it somehow that it is not about snobbish things. We try to make good food.

Maybe it happens in Hungary because it is new. For example, in London and in Paris there are pubs with Michelin star. So the tendency is changing. It is new here, and people associate the Michelin star with the words posh, snobbish and expensive.

At the beginning it was a bit difficult, when we opened in 2009.

The guests complained about us cooking the pigeon rare, and giving them only a little sauce. Then one day to the other, you are in a red book with a star. One day you are shit, the next day you are on the top. We cook the same food as two years ago, and we believe in food the same way we have for two years. One day you have 15 for dinner and he next day you have a two months’ waiting list. Three years ago, of course, the guest didn’t know what to expect. Now they are more easy-going and open-minded and they have the experience. One day to the other everything changes in your life. One day nobody knows you, and the next day you are a star.Who is the chef that you admire the most?That’s not an easy one. It wouldn’t be fair towards all the great chefs I’ve worked with in the past 12 years or so. But if I really have to say one I would say Ferran Adriá… I’m aware of how lucky I was to be a member of the El Bulli family. There are not many people who can say that and especially now that the all thing is closed. Sometimes, when I was cooking and he was there just staring at me, I felt like pinching myself to see if it was real. He changed the way people eat nowadays. He’s a genius.

And something I’ve took with me from him is that no matter how contemporary or modern your food is, you should never forget your roots and where you come from.Do you have any special Portuguese spices that you use a lot?Not really. It isn’t easy to get the good Portuguese stuff here but if I can I always use “flor de sal” (the best in the world in my opinion), olive oil, some ham or cheese and sometimes the cod. That’s about it.What about working in a Michelin star restaurant? What does the star means for you?That is what I did all my professional life. I have never worked in places, that didn’t have a Michelin standard. We all play the same game, which is cooking. Isn’t it? But, of course, it is nice to have your work recognized. No matter if it is cooking, art or whatever. If people recognize you it is always good.Would you work in a restaurant that doesn’t have a Michelin star?Yes, sure! Costes didn’t have a Michelin star when it opened.

When I finished the cooking school I wanted to learn, I wanted to have a good CV.

When I was looking for places to work, I checked the Michelin Guide.

That’s how I made my carrier.

Everything was very clear at the beginning. I was 22 when I started and I knew where I wanted to go.What about the inspection in 2009?At the dinner the gentleman introduced himself, and we had a coffee the other morning.

It was an English guy, this part of Europe is inspected by England. We talked for an hour and when he left, I just had a good feeling.

And on the big day, I woke up in the morning and I had fifty missed calls on my telephone, from all over the world: Brasil, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Hunagry… I knew straight away that something big has been done. We broke the ice and I have been the first to get a star in Hunagry.How do you characterise your cuisine? What kind of cuisine?It is contemporary. We try to follow the trends, we try not to get behind. We always get new stuffs. The techniques that we use are the basic ones from the French school, and it always will be like this. The cuisine is seasonal obviously. You won’t see asparagus risotto in December for sure. The secret of a good cuisine is good products. This is the golden rule. We try not to forget that we are in Hungary, in Budapest. This was difficult for me in the beginning, because I did not know anything about Hungary. However, many people helped me to discover the country. For sure, we are not a Hungarian restaurant, and we don’t want to be a Hungarian restaurant, obviously with a Portuguese chef.

Of course, we cook with a Hungarian touch, with Hungarian flavours in an international way. So that is the direction where we are going.What are your dreams for the future?My personal dream is to have a small house with my family at the seaside, with two or three rooms and just one big table, where all the guests share the same table. With the chickens tearing around and waking up with the sounds of the rooster.And your professional dream?I want to make sure that when I leave, I leave something built, that I can be proud of. The goal is to keep enjoying my work, all day when I wake up in the morning till I go to bed.

At home I never cook, I have to switch off a bit, however, I always think about food, it is my passion and I know I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I love.

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