International Gourmet Festival inaugurated at Conrad Algarve

The 7th annual edition of the International Gourmet Festival, officially held at the Vila Joya resort and its two-star Michelin restaurant in Galé, kicked off on Tuesday evening with a kitchen party at the Conrad Algarve’s Gusto Restaurant in Quinta do Lago.

The event was hosted by Gusto’s signature chef Heinz Beck, who holds three Michelin stars at his La Pergola restaurant in Rome.

The kitchen party concept, first seen here in the Algarve when Vila Vita Parc held a similar event earlier this year, sees various chefs working at live cooking stations and interacting directly with guests.

Some of Portugal’s Michelin-starred chefs joined in along with Heinz Beck and his team to produce a total of 13 dishes for around 100 guests.

My first course was a beautifully executed dish of carabineiro (scarlet prawn) poached “a la minute” by Chef Leonel Pereira of São Gabriel restaurant, and served on gazpacho of cucumber and avocado; a dish of clean and clearly defined flavours that typified Chef Leonel’s style and was one of my favourites of the night.

Another winner amongst the lighter fish and seafood-based courses was an immaculately presented carpaccio of Toro tuna topped with yuzu jelly, jellied oyster and caviar – an exemplary balance of acidity and texture from Chef Vincent Farges of the Fortaleza do Guincho restaurant in Cascais.

Amongst the hot dishes served from the kitchen, Chef Koschina from Vila Joya vied for first place on the ‘favourite dish of the night’ list amongst most guests I spoke to with Heinz Beck’s legendary Fagotelli Carbonara. Koschina’s dish was a combination of crispy suckling pig belly with mouth-wateringly tender braised suckling pig cheek in a sauce of radish and mustard – pure comfort food, albeit presented as one would expect from a two-star Michelin chef, and a dish that was repeated by many a guest including myself!

The same can be said for Chef Beck’s Fagotelli Carbonara, a delicacy that has become one of the signature dishes of this three-star chef; unlike normal carbonara pasta dishes, the melted ricotta here is inside the fagotelli parcels, made from the finest silky pasta that bursts in the mouth in a delicious explosion of flavour.

It is worth a visit to Gusto at the Conrad for no other reason than to sample this dish, which, I should add, is always on the menu and executed to perfection by the restaurant’s head chef in the great man’s absence. A well-known UK food critic, who recently tried this dish when Beck was guest chef at a London restaurant, classed it as the best pasta dish he had ever eaten – he is not alone.

The desserts were all at the hands of Chef Beck and his team, amongst them a sphere of red fruits and green tea served on a base of dark chocolate and, most popular of all, an iced coffee concoction marrying white chocolate with coffee and chocolate iced mousses.

The relaxed ambience with guests milling around, sampling different dishes and wines, made for a fun evening and a fitting start to the 11 days of gastronomic extravaganza to follow from Thursday, November 7 at Vila Joya, with other events back at the Conrad and up in the Alentejo at Herdade da Malhadinha.

By PATRICK STUART [email protected]