Chef Florita Alves about Macanese food
Chef Florita Alves is one of the most established chefs of Macanese food – the blend of Portuguese cooking techniques with the spices of Africa, India and the Spice Islands, plus local ingredients, as found on the now-Chinese island of Macau.
Chef Florita is now Consultant for La Famiglia, her son’s restaurant. We chat to her about the unique cuisine of this region and the Brotherhood now working hard to preserve it.
So Chef Florita, you’re an expert of Macanese food – please tell us what this cuisine is all about.
Macanese cuisine is often considered the first fusion cuisine in the world. When the Portuguese seafarers started to explore the world in the 15th Century, they brought with them spices and herbs from Africa, India, the Spice Islands, and other places, and started to mix and incorporate them with the local ingredients available using Portuguese cooking methods.
Remember that in those days the ships were tiny and could not carry a lot of cargo and what they could carry were for trade and not for the crew’s meals. They did not really expect to return home even if they survived the trip, so they had to make do with whatever they could find and that is how it all started.
You’re now chef consultant at La Famiglia restaurant – please tell us about the restaurant and its menu.
La Famiglia was started by one of my sons and his friends. They wanted to start a business so they got together and decided to open the restaurant even though they did not have any experience in this field. The initial concept of the restaurant was Portuguese–Italian (hence the name) but that did not go too well and they asked for my help.
I suggested that they should change the concept of the restaurant to Macanese–Portuguese because it made more sense and I could help them with it. That is how I ended being a chef consultant.
We currently have on our menu some very popular Macanese traditional dishes such as minchi, capela, and porco bafassá, as well as Portuguese dishes. We also have some pizza and pasta dishes because they are very popular with our younger clientele.
Do you use any unusual ingredients?
There is a dish called caranguejo fula papaia (crab with papaya flower) whose main ingredient is the flower from the papaya tree, but it has to be the male flower specifically. It does not work with the female flower.
What are the suppliers in Macau like – are you able to find everything you might need and how efficient are they?
With the opening of the new casinos in the last decade, it has become much easier to source for ingredients. Many new suppliers have set up shop here in Macau offering almost anything one could need for the kitchen – ingredients and equipment
As with any kind of business some suppliers are more helpful than others. The majority will try to find whatever you need, otherwise you have to shop around to find what you require.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I consider my cooking style to traditional and home-cooked. To me, Macanese food was never restaurant food but food you eat at home with family and friends that takes time to cook. Every family has its own spin on the same Macanese dish.
Do you get to spend much time in the kitchen these days or are you more in a supervisory capacity?
I still help out in the kitchen and cook when the restaurant is busy – we are a small business after all.
Please tell us a little about your culinary background.
I did not receive any formal training; all my knowledge is self-taught from working in the kitchen from an early age at home with my grandmother and other people.
I also took some short courses at the Institute of Tourism Studies here in Macau, and, before joining La Famiglia, I did Macanese food catering from my home.
I have taken up masterclasses for local chefs at the Institute for Tourism Studies, Oxford Brookes University in England, and at the School of Wok in London. I have also worked for various food festivals and promotions at Four Seasons Hotel, A. Wong restaurant in London, and many more local hotels.
You are also involved in the Macanese Gastronomy Brotherhood. Please tell us about this organisation and your role in it.
Yes, I am a member of the Macanese Gastronomy Brotherhood. We are a non-profit organisation and our aim is to promote traditional Macanese cuisine to the younger generation as well as other people who are interested in our food. We have worked with the Macau government as well as private organisations to this end. Together with other members of the Brotherhood, we do a lot of promotions and classes in Macau as well as abroad to promote Macanese cuisine.
Macau has changed drastically in the last decade – how have the changes affected you? What’s the dining scene there like these day.
Indeed, Macau has changed a lot. The restaurant scene is vibrant with new restaurants opening all the time. These days, we have many fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants that we did not have a few years back.
Thank you, Chef Florita, and continuing success with La Famiglia and promoting Macanese food. If you want to see more check out her new recipe.
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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