Chef Nuno Mendes’ passion for food has been a driving force in his life, from working on the family farm in Portugal as a boy to training at the California Culinary Academy, working at Jean Georges in New York and opening his own restaurant, Viajante, and the private supper club, The Loft, in London. Through it all, innovative and inspirational cuisine has been his trademark — with many dubbing him the wild child of the culinary world. Hg2 was able to tear him away from the kitchen long enough to chat about food, life and the city we call home.
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How would you describe your signature style, and how has it evolved over the years? Viajante is inspired by travelling and food experiences. It is also inspired by my own food memories. It has evolved throughout the years, accompanying my personal growth as a chef.
What is the first feature you notice when you walk into a restaurant? The feel of the room, the furniture and ambience. Also, the way you are greeted from the first person you meet at the restaurant.
How would you describe London’s current culinary scene? Incredibly exciting. Everyday we have many more exciting projects popping up, and the East is developing beautifully, all with its original quirkiness being maintained.
With regard to the translation of your newest restaurant ‘Viajante’ as ‘traveller’ in Portuguese, is the concept of transporting oneself to new and exciting places through food a central aspect of your culinary vision? Yes.
What is the most experimental and outlandish dish you have ever created? Did it turn out the way you envisioned? Smoked salmon and Guinness ice-cream. As for the way I envisioned it to be, it was definitely an abstract idea!
Where did you have your most hedonistic culinary experience? Around South-East Asia and Japan.
What has been one of the most influential experiences of your career, and why? Opening the Loft Project was my most influential experience to date. It was a concept that hadn’t been touched upon, it was against norms and not formulated. It was very exciting, and happened at the right time at the right place.
In London, what is your favourite…
Restaurant (aside from your own)? Rochelle Canteen/St. John Bread & Wine.
Bar? Lounge Bohemia.
Cultural must-see? The array of galleries East London has to offer.
What is your favourite course: appetiser, main or dessert? Definitely appetisers. They get the palate started and tend to be very delicate. They also remind me of tasting menus.
If you could host the perfect dinner party at The Loft with six people from any time or place, who would you choose? Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Anthony Bourdain and Joan Jett.