Michelin stars en route to the Algarve

By PAUL BERNHARDT [email protected]

Portugal’s most prestigious gourmet festival will be hosted twice in the region this year, at the Ocean Restaurant in Vila Vita Parc and at Vila Joya.

The highly anticipated gastronomic celebration, now in its fourth year, brings together some of Europe’s most innovative and creative Michelin-starred chefs in the same kitchen, and under one roof.

Between now and mid-November a series of unique culinary evenings, workshops and get-togethers will be held across Portugal in luxury hotel restaurants that have garnered a prized Michelin accolade.

This year’s inaugural Stars Route event took place from February 20-26 at Il Gallo d’Oro restaurant in The Cliff Bay Hotel in Funchal, Madeira.

Il Gallo d’Oro’s Benoît Sinthon welcomed 12 chefs, all of whom have been awarded 1 or 2 Michelin stars.  

Sinthon, who won his star in 2009, presided over the design of five outstanding dinners served on five consecutive nights – tasting menus that showcased the individual and collective talents of culinary luminaries Kei Matsushima from Keisuke Matsushima restaurant in France, Serge Goulomès from Le Mas Candille also in France, Fernando Agrasar from As Garzas in Spain and Hans Välimäki from Chez Dominique in Finland.

Also invited to cook were French chefs David Faure from Aphrodite and Olivier Barbarin from Châteux d’Audrieu. Portuguese chefs Ricardo Costa from the Yeatman, José Cordeiro from Feitoria and Vitor Matos from Largo do Paço represented the finest national talent. Pastry chef Christophe Renou, from the renowned Valrhona School in France, made a special guest appearance.  

The reigning two-star chefs in Portugal, Hans Neuner and Dieter Koschina, who are both based in the Algarve, completed the illustrious line-up.  

Austrian-born Koschina, who directs the kitchen at Vila Joya, served Cliff Bay guests with Algarve blue lobster with bergamot, orange and fennel. Fellow countryman Neuner, who holds court at Vila Vita, was equally inspired. He regaled diners with veal head and tartare, langoustine and black truffle. Both contributed to dishes created by the entire team – a hallmark of the Stars Route concept.

“The great thing about a festival like this is that guests have an opportunity to experience [different cooking] flavours and techniques from across Europe,” commented Sinthon.

“Each chef thinks carefully about the gastronomy he will present and dresses the plate accordingly.”

The Stars Route reaches the mainland in April and follows a deliciously tempting culinary trail from north to south, with a veritable cookbook of European master chefs joining their Portuguese counterparts for a Michelin star turn.

First stop is the Yeatman in Oporto from April 18-20. The gourmet road show then calls at Vila Vita in the Algarve from May 10-12. Next it’s Lisbon’s turn to shine, first at Fortaleza do Guincho near Cascais, from June 21-22, and then from September 13-14 at Feitoria in the Altis Belém Hotel.

The stars point south again on November 8 when Vila Joya is the host venue. The final event will take place from November 28-30 at Largo do Paço, housed in Casa da Calçada, Amarante, in Portugal’s northern Douro region.

“The Stars Route is about promoting Michelin-starred restaurants in Portugal and the country as a nation of gastronomy,” underlined Sinthon. “It also works at a [provincial] level – highlighting regional produce and local flavour.”

As well as savouring beautifully presented cuisine of exceptional textures and flavours, Stars Route guests will also be treated to a classic range of wines and champagnes. There’s also the option of taking part in special themed lunches and parties arranged by the organisers and a variety of partners and sponsors.

Advance reservations are recommended. Dates may change.