Statue to honour co-founder of Vila Lisa restaurant to be erected in Mexilhoeira Grande
3D image showing the statue in front of the restaurant José Vila co-founded

Architect pays tribute to José Lisa

Statue to honour co-founder of Vila Lisa restaurant to be erected in Mexilhoeira Grande

A statue paying tribute to José Vila – local cook, painter and co-founder of Mexilhoeira Grande’s renowned Vila Lisa restaurant – is due to be erected in the small village outside of Portimão.

It is being created by Leonel Moura, an architect, artist and pioneering robotics and AI applied to the arts specialist, who in 2014 scanned José Vila with the goal of offering him a small statue. The idea, which never left the drawing board, has now been revived and reimagined following José Vila’s death on March 29, 2021 at the age of 77.

The plan is to create a life-size statue of José Vila and erect it in his hometown of Mexilhoeira Grande, near the restaurant which he became famous for and which “contributed so much to valuing the Algarve”, the artist told Barlavento newspaper.

“Vila was a unique figure of the Algarve, having not only promoted authentic cuisine but also made several friends around the country through his conviviality and paintings. I have the honour of being one of them,” said Moura, who pitched the idea to the local council.

Statue to honour co-founder of Vila Lisa restaurant to be erected in Mexilhoeira Grande
Digital model of José Vila, which will be used to create the statue

It was welcomed with “great delight”, said Portimão Mayor Isilda Gomes. “Evidently, we were immediately receptive (to the idea), from the start we took on the responsibility of executing every procedure so that the statue can be placed in Mexilhoeira Grande soon.”

Gomes stressed that the project’s costs are being covered by the artist, who will be creating the statue using fibreglass and 3D printing.

As the mayor pointed out, “José Vila was a unique figure in the cultural panorama of the region” and played a role in the “preservation of the gastronomic heritage of Portimão and the Algarve”.

She added that the tribute is “more than appropriate” and that the local council is keen to join the project.

Statue to honour co-founder of Vila Lisa restaurant to be erected in Mexilhoeira Grande
Vila Lisa Restaurant

José Duarte Martins da Silva, known commonly as José Vila or just Vila, was a cook and painter. He opened Vila Lisa in 1981 with his friend José Lisa. The restaurant only gained fame after Portuguese journalist, writer and columnist Miguel Esteves Cardoso gave it its first public praise.

Over time, it became a meeting point for artists, politicians and intellectuals, welcoming big names such as former Portuguese prime minister and president Mário Soares, Fado singer Carlos do Carmo and politician and writer Zita Seabra.

It is also said that movie star Robert De Niro and James Gandolfini – best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano on hit TV show The Sopranos – enjoyed a great feast at the restaurant, and that Gandolfini even asked if he could sleep on one of the tables.

José Vila suffered from diabetes, a disease he lost a leg to in 2015.

He also wrote a book ‘Coisas da Terra e do Mar – Sabores da Cozinha Algarvia’ (Things of the Land and Sea – Flavours of the Algarve Cuisine’, which is currently sold out and is a reminder of his legacy. Vila was also awarded the Medal of Municipal Merit by Portimão Council.

Leonel Moura, the artist creating the statue of José Lisa, also has a long link to the Algarve. He designed the headquarters of Algarve hotel association AHETA in Albufeira and was the creator of two sculptures in Olhão at Praça Patrão Joaquim Lopes and Largo do Carolas.

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.