Paulo Amado and the Congresso dos Cozinheiros - Culinary Backstreets | Culinary Backstreets
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The annual Congresso dos Cozinheiros (the Congress of Cooks) returns to Lisbon this 25th and 26th of September, with two days of events, workshops and conferences. It’s one of the highlights of the year for professional chefs, but also an event open to all food and restaurant lovers. The theme of this year’s Congress is a particularly rich one: Conexão Africana – the African Connection.

The gathering is organized, as always, by Paulo Amado, a man who has battled and worked endlessly for chefs and restaurants in Portugal. Paulo is a jack of all trades; an author, musician and songwriter. He is perhaps most widely known for Edições do Gosto, his multidisciplinary company dedicated to Portuguese gastronomy. Edições do Gosto is responsible for many food-related projects, including Inter magazine and events such as the Congress.

Paulo’s work has been invaluable in supporting the restaurants, producers and professional activity in Portugal’s food scene – among chefs, restauranteurs and journalists in the industry, he is considered the “ambassador” or the “father” of Portuguese chefs.

Paulo typically keeps a low profile, but we were able to catch up with him ahead of the 2022 Congress, to learn more about his journey and this year’s Congresso dos Cozinheiros.

Paulo, 50, was born in Olhão (in the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region), moving to Lisbon to study law when he was nineteen. “I wanted to study literature, but my father said lawyers also write books,” he tells us. While in university, his activities outside of class brought him into contact with the then editor in chief of Inter magazine, a publication for professionals in the food scene, which has been instrumental in promoting Portuguese gastronomy.  Paulo started to work for Inter as a trainee journalist, eventually adding studies in journalism at Cenjor, a Lisbon journalism school, to his resumé.

Paulo eventually took over Inter in January 2002, and was faced with the perspective of publishing a magazine with very few resources and no investors. As a solution, Paulo rolled up his sleeves and started organizing professional events centered around Portuguese gastronomy. In 2004, he started a forum on Innovation in Cooking and Pastry, and in the following year, the Congress of Cooks. “I was already traveling a lot around the country and thought would be good to gather cooks from all over the country in Lisbon,” he said. His idea was to bring professionals of all Portugal to the capital, to foster discussion and to share experiences at a national level. In the difficult year of 2020 the Congress’s theme was “We, the People,” with a huge focus on mental health. In that same year, the Congresso dos Cozinheiros announced a collaboration with the Oficina de Psicologia, to bring psychological help and wellbeing to the professionals in the industry.  Other previous themes have included “People, Nature and Gastronomy,” “Tradition/Innovation” and the connection between  Portugal and France, to name a few.

These themes reflect Paulo’s professional efforts, which, throughout the years, have expanded to include a number of different initiatives and projects across sectors. “I started to adopt different causes, [with a focus on] gender and diversity,” he says. “Thinking about the whole country, and not just in Lisbon – gastronomy is an engine to drive change.”

We met Paulo in the Marvila (East Lisbon) location of Manja, a kitchen and creative space that Paulo opened at the start of 2022 as a place to fuel discussions, ideas and cooking. “Manja was the result of problems faced during Covid: we had to change offices, and I had this bold idea to transform our new space in a kitchen, studio and cooking school, to share knowledge but also to support the causes I defend regarding gender, race and age equality,” he said.

Sitting in Manja’s beautiful kitchen, which is housed in an old factory, he says: “This space has a good energy.” It was in this space that Paulo started Curso Livre de Cozinha, a monthly series of discussions surrounding cultural diversity in food. For these events, he has been joined by chefs such as João Sá (Sala), Vitor Adão (Plano) and André Magalhães (Taberna da Rua das Flores), as well as Margo Gabriel (writer and CB contributor) or Kika Santos, a singer. The idea is to challenge perspectives and talk about representation in gastronomy. Since the beginning of 2022, once a month lisboetas have gathered at Manja, interested in learning and tasting more.

African food has been a special focus of the events at Manja, and it’s a theme that carries into this year’s Congresso dos Cozinheiros, where Paulo hopes to present these ideas to an even wider audience. Paulo talks about how the important culture and cuisine of the former colonies has not been properly recognized, referring to Portugal’s historical connections with countries like Cape Verde, Guiné-Bissau, Angola, São Tomé and Mozambique. “We want to hear more from people that have African heritage and are working in Lisbon,” he says. “The stereotype of the young white male [historically] occupied all discussions, and we need to remember that gastronomy is a subject beyond young and white men. We need to reinforce the African connection and the culture from Africa, and not just from the Portuguese speaking countries. There’s such a huge influence here.”

Topics on racism, gender discrimination and mental health will also be discussed at the 2022 Congresso dos Cozinheiros, which takes place in Nirvana studios in Oeiras this September 25-26, 2022. The event features talks, workshops and entertainment, including incredible music from Cape Verde by Orchestra Batukadeiras.

Featured speakers include João Carlos Silva, a chef from São Tomé (know for his RTP television show “Na Roça Com os Tachos”); Marlene Vieira from Marlene and Zunzum restaurants; Jeny Sulemange, originally from Mozambique, the chef at Cantinho do Aziz; Fatmata Binta, a chef from Sierra Leone and ambassador of Fulani cuisine; and Sheree Williams, founder of the Global Food and Drink Initiative and editor of the magazine Cuisine Noir.

Tickets for conferences and presentations can be bought on the website and include tastings and the competition for the best pastel de nata (custard tart), another important event within the congress, which takes place on the 26th at 2.30 p.m.

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