Chef Diogo Pereira shares the Algarve’s diverse culinary culture through an ever-evolving menu at the Cascade Resort’s Senses restaurant
The kitchen table is a meaningful place. It is where we share homemade dishes, great ideas and heartfelt feelings. For Diogo Pereira, executive chef of the Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort, everything is resolved at the table, “whether it is something to solve in the family or to celebrate. It is all resolved at the table”. And it was at his grandmother’s kitchen table that he discovered his passion for cooking, a place “where the family gathered, eating different types of food”, which he soon learned to make with the matriarch.
This family environment was the catalyst for a wealth of culinary experiences. As an aspiring chef, Diogo Pereira decided to study Hotel Management in his hometown of Faro, followed by a training course for instructors to teach at the Algarve School of Hospitality and Tourism. In parallel, he did various internships in some of the region’s leading resorts, Vila Vita Parc and the Quinta do Lago Hotel, and later worked abroad, in Spain, Italy and Venezuela.
He returned to the Algarve in 2013 as executive sub-chef of the Pine Cliffs Resort before being invited to lead the kitchen of the Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort in 2016; a project to which he would be able to add his personal touch. “The Cascade resort had a different component; it had football, sport,” recalls the chef. Something he was familiar with, having accompanied the under-21 national team to the European Championship in the Netherlands in 2007. During that trip, the chef learned to work with high-competition athletes. “People think athletes only think about nutrients, but they also enjoy good flavourful products.” It was a challenge he embraced wholeheartedly and looks back on with great fondness.
On the cliffs above the Praia do Canavial in Lagos, the Cascade is set in a privileged location, with a 180º view of the Algarve coast. A view that can be enjoyed from Senses, the resort’s contemporary fine-dining restaurant serving local flavours allied with new trends and techniques. Inside, the décor is sober and welcoming, with shades of blue and teal, natural materials and floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto a panoramic terrace. The service is minimalistic yet warm, with Vista Alegre crockery beautiful designed to highlight each dish and offer an exquisite experience. On the plates, different flavours, textures and visual combinations are a feast for the senses.
The chef and his team make a point of working with regional producers and seasonal local products. Closely tied to his roots, Diogo Pereira admits that cooking fish and seafood is what gives him most pleasure, such as an improbable turbot dish he has included in the new menu. “It’s fish with pig’s trotters and coriander. It’s an unusual dish,” he admits. “It combines something that has a lot of collagen and flavour with the earthiness of the coriander. It makes for a fascinating combination.”
The Senses menu is recreated daily, adapting to the local market’s offer. “If we can’t get turbot, we’ll add another fatty fish. Today, for example, there was no red mullet, so we had to adapt and use John Dory. This guarantees fresh produce and a better customer experience”.
The menu comprises seven to 12 moments, depending on the client’s choice. It always starts with several amuses-bouche to “warm up the taste buds”, such as a crispy tapioca chip with nori seaweed, topped with brazed mackerel in teriyaki sauce and an oyster from the Ria de Alvor with Rubia Gallega tartar and oyster water foam. It is a crescendo of flavours, textures and intensity, starting with freshness, slowly moving on to fattier ingredients, then bread, starches and finishing with fresher flavours for dessert.
The starters include a scallop with fresh Monchique beans and sausage, a seafood duo presented in a double dish: on the top plate sits a sourdough starter toast topped with an anchovy fillet with homemade cucumber pickles and tomatada. The top plate is removed to reveal xerém (corn purée) with clams and mussels, bacon, and a velvety coriander sauce with croutons.
Bread comes after the starters. Salted puff pastry served with homemade butters – scarlet prawn, aromatic herbs, pear and Port wine – and Monterosa olive oil.
The main courses include a lobster açorda (bread stew) with lobster sauce, foam and a confit egg yolk. These must be traditionally mixed on the plate to combine the flavours. The turbot is served with salsify purée, and, depending on availability at the market, the second fish dish will include red mullet or John Dory with a caldeirada and sweet potato. The last main course is meat, veal with potatoes, jus, Foyot sauce and tubers.
The first dessert is a raspberry mousse with ice cream, white chocolate and yoghurt foam, fresh and creamy with great acidity. Then a classic Portuguese pastry, reinterpreted by the chef, a Pastel de Tentúgal in the shape of a light and crispy pastry tube filled with creamy egg custard. All this “always maintaining a Portuguese tradition. You will always find carob, almond, orange”, says the chef, proud of his heritage.
The wine pairing is done by Romanian sommelier Paul, who has included many Algarve references to give his customers a taste of the region. “If we want to sell sustainability, we must sell what we have here; the local experience,” he affirms.
Working with such dedication and passion, Diogo Pereira admits that a Michelin star would obviously be most welcome. “It can become a goal.” He currently has a team of seven professionals in the kitchen. Having been a teacher for many years, he knows how to deal with people and really enjoys it. “I’m very fond of people. They bring different concepts, flavours and techniques, and I learn from them.”
For his ever-evolving menu, the chef relies on the region’s diverse heritage, including the Arab culture, which is still very present in the Algarve. “In Faro, gastronomy revolves a lot around fish and seafood. Whereas, in the Barlavento, dishes such as stuffed squid also include flavours from the country and the mountain,” he reflects. “The different climate at each end of the region, how the products evolve in each place and how they are transformed… This diversity we have in the Algarve is fascinating”. And it all results in a culinary experience that will challenge your Senses.
Senses restaurant is located at Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort in Lagos – 282 771 500
By ALEXANDRA STILWELL