Chef Nelson grew up in a Portuguese family who loves to cook. Inspired by his older brother who is a renowned chef in Portugal, he decided to attend the prestigious ‘Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo de Lamego’ where he learnt Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisines along with international and Nouvelle cuisine.
During the second year in culinary school, he went to Budapest for a short training at Hotel NH. He was one of the crème de la crème students who was chosen to train outside the country. His career started at Hotel Pestana Porto Santo Beach Resort & Spa in the beautiful island of Madeira, Portugal. His passion in culinary and his eagerness to learn led him to Asia for the first time as Head Chef at two Portuguese restaurants; Restaurante Ou Mun Café in Macau and Casa Lisboa Portuguese Restaurant & Bar in Hong Kong respectively.
To pursue a fine dining experience and learn Italian gastronomy from the very best, he decided to work for Chef Umberto Bombana of Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, first in Hong Kong (the first and only 3-Michelin star Italian restaurant outside Italy) and later in Macau (1-Michelin star).
Recently leaving Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, he began his new chapter with il Fumo. His cooking philosophy is in sync with the concept of the restaurant, which believes that “Great ingredients speak for themselves and the chef’s job is to ultimately respect their flavours”. His responsibility is to raise standards to greater heights and to please discerning guests with the best “Wood charcoal grill contemporary Italian cuisine” they have ever experienced in Bangkok.
“I will slowly implement my new creations with a touch of creativity and my personality. Every time you come to dine with us, you will find your best loved dishes as well as special menu based on seasonal ingredients from artisanal producers. Of course, we centre on wood charcoal grill which allows us to get the purest flavours from the produce,” said Chef Nelson. Some of Nelson’s new creations in our menu include ‘When Gnocchi go to the sea’ and Suckling pig & Sicilian Bronte pistachio.
1. What is your philosophy when it comes to food?
Our philosophy is simple, make the product shine! At il Fumo we are always looking for the best products, treat them with respect and let them be the star. I’m a minimalist type of Chef, I like to keep it simple, but in the same time complex on the flavours. On top of that, they must be in line with the cooking traditions of Portugal (my home country) and Italy (my culinary background) – respect their traditions but also looking forward into the future of what can be done more.
2. Name your most Favorite dish on the menu? And why?
My favourite dish on the menu is definitely the ‘Kokotxa of Bacalhau’ (cod fish tongues) & Carbonara. This dish was by far the hardest one to achieve. I have that idea to make cod fish (a Portuguese delicacy) with a Carbonara sauce (an Italian classic). I have tried with all types of cod fish, fresh, salted, dried, salted and dried, but none of them was good enough or somehow it didn’t match with the sauce. And at last, when I try with fresh Cod fish tongues, it was exactly what I was looking for. The tongues are grilled, soft with a lot of collagen with a rich slow cooked egg yolk with black pepper, crispy Guanciale and pecorino foam.
3. Main considerations when it comes to choosing your ingredients?
The producer! We always want to know from where we are getting our products. We always look for smaller producers all around the world especially in Europe, where they pay a lot of respect for their product. You can feel the quality and the history when you taste their ingredients!
4. How do you see the growing demands for sustainable produce affecting the food world?
I’m happy that sustainable produce is getting more popular nowadays. There is always advantage on that, the product tastes better and on top of that it is cheaper because is on season. Another big advantage is if you can use all parts of your product, you reduce the waste, plus using not so well-known cuts, you can discover so many different flavours.
5. If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
Before I decide to work in the kitchens, I always want to have a military career. I like discipline and respect. However, right after I went to the culinary school, it was too late to go back.
6. Do you have a memorable food experience that impacted you as a child or young chef?
Yes, the person responsible for me to go to the culinary school was my older brother – he is also a Chef. When I was young I enjoy staying with him in the kitchen while he was making a cake for Sunday meal. I was very curious, and in fact, I really feel good being there and help him. The best part was of course, have the chance to taste it before serving.
7. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I am a hands-on Chef, so that means what I really like is cooking. In a busy night when you are working already for 12+ hours and you are exhausted, it is very grateful to listen the appreciation of your guests.
8. Other than creating good food, what are the most important qualities that make a successful chef?
Spirit of Sacrifice. Being a chef is not only make fancy plating and be on food magazines. You must be willing to sacrifice yourself when it needs extra efforts. As the Chef, I am the face of the team behind, also must be the first in line to be an example for them.
9. If you had a choice of anything for your last meal, what would you choose to have?
The Sunday meal at my parent’s home. Roasted Chicken with potatoes and rice on the wood oven. This has been the Sunday lunch at my parent’s home since I remember, and it is the most memorable meal that I have got. It tastes good, but what makes it more memorable is that all my brothers come to my parent’s house to have this dish.
10. Do you have any tips for budding chefs or restaurateurs?
Work hard and don’t try to climb too fast. I believe that if you care and put the efforts, sooner or later you will get rewarded for that.