EyeSwoon

I have always been inspired by observing people in their element.  Quiet moments lost in the creative process of doing what they love.  Observing when someone doesn’t even know they are being observed… absorbing the tiny movements and details that result from passion and precision that have become ordinary to them.  I find these moments to be extraordinary: they excite me, they fuel me, they inspire me.

A few months ago I had a very fortunate, chance meeting with Michelin-starred Chef George Mendes.  He was cooking at the Bon Appétit test kitchen, preparing a boldly flavored, classic and very rustic dish he had created for Lupulo.  It was shrimp and bread porridge, the very same peasant-style dish he grew up eating with his Portuguese family.  Upon tasting it, the dish was transportive—so simple yet complex in flavor.  In the midst of this creation, we had a quick chat and I very boldly asked if we could cook together for EyeSwoon.  To my pleasant surprise, we scheduled a date to cook in the Lupulo kitchen!

About a week later, yet another chance encounter: my husband Victor and I were sat across from Chef George at a dinner party!  We discussed our upcoming cooking date and so much more: food, flavors, music, dancing, fly-fishing, relationships, travel, adventure…  Discovering that George likes house music, and that we likely shared a Victor Calderone dance floor years ago, was another fateful, swoony twist.  And then the food began to arrive, prepared by another great chef, Justin Smillie.

Here is when observation came into play.  I watched Chef George plate the food for us from the family sized portions.  I was keenly aware, entranced even, of how he delicately held the fork with both elegance and grace, how he plated the food ever-so-artfully, and even how he tasted the food—ceremoniously putting fork to mouth.  Each action was precise and deeply rooted, but also quiet.  In these simple acts there was passion, purity and honesty.  Like the bolt of a flashback memory, I recalled the first time I saw my husband in his element at the recording studio.  How he touched his equipment so gently, even how delicately he stroked the vinyl record, back and forth, with the touch of his finger to find just the right spot on the track.  There was an art to these very minute actions, these aligned moments and I shared my recollection with George and Victor.

These moments are often overlooked, yet they are so special.  In my humble opinion, they are pure magic—they are the moments that make us, us.  They capture who we are at our core and what brings each of us to our respective crafts. Just as I saw George in the passionate, simple act of plating food, George also saw me.  He noticed things too: he commented on my astute palette and my keen awareness of flavors.  You really do get to know someone when you share a meal together—it is an act of vulnerability, really.  I could not have dreamed of a better precursor to cooking in the kitchen at Lupulo, for after that dinner I felt like I knew Chef George so intimately.

At Lupulo, we recreated that shrimp porridge dish together (only slightly refined from his childhood days), as well as open-fire wood-roasted piri piri chicken.  Cooking on an open flame is the oldest form of cooking and Chef George firmly believes it brings out stronger flavors from any given ingredient.  And finally, we made a salad of bright vibrant cucumber and razor clams.  Something that Chef George shared with me is forever burned in my memory, he said: “I want each ingredient to taste more like itself”; for the “cucumber to taste more like cucumber, revealing its purity.”  And he swears by using the entire ingredient.  So, we charred a cucumber’s skin to dust on the salad and also used the meat of that charred interior, we pickled the cucumber, and we simply sliced raw cucumber 2 ways, all offering varying textures and flavors from the same ingredient.   What an incredible, swoon-worthy philosophy!  At its core, the food represented at Lupulo is free-spirited and authentic, expressing bold, unforgettable flavors.  I am honored to have gotten to know Chef George Mendes in those very quite moments of sharing a meal together, and even more so to have been invited into his kitchen.  Next, to the dance floor, Chef!

Chef George shares his swoony Shrimp Porridge recipe below and a video here on Bon Appétit

LUPULO

Chef George Mendes

  • Q+A

    • HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FOOD YOU CREATE AT LUPULO?  WHAT IS THE CORE VALUE REPRESENTED IN THE FOOD?
      The food is rustic Portuguese-based, but with a free spirit to create seasonal dishes. The core value is authenticity.

      WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO YOU BECOME A CHEF AND WHAT WAS THE GENESIS TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
      What inspired me was my upbringing, being surrounded by great cooking by my mom and aunts. The genesis is pure passion, desire and love of the craft.

      HOW HAS THE RUSTIC STYLE PORTUGUESE FOOD YOU GREW UP EATING WITH YOUR FAMILY INFORMED THE CUISINE AT LUPULO?
      The rustic style has acted as a reference point for the bold, real and strong flavors.

      YOU SHARED THAT YOU WANT EACH INGREDIENT TO TASTE MORE LIKE ITSELF, THE BEST VERSION OF ITSELF, CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT THIS PHILOSOPHY?
      We would like to prepare each ingredient in different textures – perhaps raw, cooked, juiced, etc.

      I LOVE THE SIMPLICITY IN THE CUCUMBER AND RAZOR CLAM SALAD WE CREATED TOGETHER AND HOW YOU USED THE CUCUMBER IN 3 VERY DIFFERENT EXECUTIONS – CAN YOU SPEAK TO THIS DISH?
      Prime example of what I described above.

      YOUR FAMILY MADE THIS BREAD PORRIDGE GROWING UP, HOW SIMILAR IS THE FLAVOR PROFILE OF YOUR CHILDHOOD TO THE RECIPE YOU MAKE TODAY?  WHAT DOES YOUR MOM THINK OF IT?
      The flavors are there. Pure and honest. It’s just a refined version.

      TELL ME ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT COOKING OVER AN OPEN FIRE IS TO YOU AND YOUR CUISINE HERE AT LUPULO?  ANY TRICKS TO SHARE ABOUT GRILLING OVER A FLAME?
      It’s very important and there was a learning curve. The oldest form of cooking is live fire. I strongly believe it brings out stronger flavor on the given ingredients.

      MOST IMPORTANT FLAVOR-BUILDING INGREDIENT OR COMBO?
      Olive oil, onion, garlic and smoked paprika.

      YOUR FAVORITE DISH HERE AT LUPULO? MOST POPULAR?
      Favorite dish at Lupulo is the squid rice. Most popular dish is the Chicken Piri-Piri

      ANY KITCHEN TRICK FOR HOME CHEFS THAT GUARANTEED TO PACK FLAVOR INTO THEIR DISHES?
      Using fresh lemon or lime juice as a seasoning to add acidy and brightness opens up flavors.

      DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO COOKING AT HOME THAN AT WORK?
      I don’t cook much at home 

      FIVE INGREDIENTS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
      Olive oil, smoked paprika, thyme, parsley, lemons

      LATE NIGHT INDULGENCE AFTER A NIGHT IN THE KITCHEN? (WINE? CHOCOLATE? NIBBLES?)
      Pizza or a burger.

      LAST LIFE-CHANGING, SWOON-WORTHY FOOD EXPERIENCE? (AT A RESTAURANT, SOMEONE’S KITCHEN, IN THE WOODS? ETC.)
      I love camping. So any meal cooked over a campfire like a dry-aged steak always wins me over.

      ANY CHILDHOOD OR COLLEGE DAY’S SNACK YOU’RE MILDLY EMBARRASSED YOU STILL LOVE?
      Kit Kat Bars

      WHAT’S ALWAYS IN YOUR FRIDGE?
      Half & half for coffee, water, and coconut water.

      THE 3 LOCAL GO-TO RESTAURANTS OR CAFES YOU FREQUENT IN NYC?
      Motorino Pizza, the Commons, and Num Pang.

      FAVORITE CITY FOR FOOD OUTSIDE OF NYC?
      San Francisco

      WHEN ESCAPE THE KITCHEN, WHAT DO YOU DO TO DECOMPRESS?
      Run, flyfishing and basketball.

Shrimp Porridge

Chef George Mendes

  • Ingredients

    • Serves 4

      • 3 1/2 cups whole-wheat country bread, cubed
      • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
      • 1 small white onion, finely diced
      • 3 garlic cloves, minced
      • kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
      • 8 fresh shrimp
      • 1 fresh bay leaf, torn
      • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
      • 1 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds, toasted & ground
      • 1 teaspoon pimenton (smoked sweet paprika), plus more to taste
      • 1 pinch crushed red chile flakes
      • 2 cups shrimp stock
      • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
      • 2 large eggs, beaten
      • 1/4 teaspoon lime zest, freshly grated
      • Maldon sea salt to taste

       

  • The Prep

      1. Preheat the oven to 300.
      2. Spread the bread in a single layer on a half sheet pan and bake until toasted, dry and crunchy. Let cool.
      3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium cast-iron casserole over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and a big pinch of kosher salt, then stir in the bay leaf. Cook about 7 minutes until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.
      4. Add the tomato paste and another tablespoon of oil and cook for about 3 min, stirring occasionally. Add coriander, pimento, chile flakes and a big pinch of kosher salt.
      5. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture is thick and the flavors are really concentrated, about 10 min.
      6. Gently fold in the bread, let it soak up the juices and drizzle with more oil. Add 1 cup of the shrimp stock and fold in gently. You don’t want the bread to shred. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, folding gently after each addition. The mixture will be wet and the bread will break down a little, but you want the cubes to hold their shape. The more you work it now, the gummier the mixture will become. Discard the bay leaf.
      7. Gently fold in the cilantro and eggs until the eggs are heated through. You don’t want to actually scramble the eggs, you just want them to enrich the mixture.
      8. Garnish with with oil, lime zest, pimenton and Maldon salt.
      9. For the shrimp: sauté fresh shrimp in olive oil, salt and pepper in a separate pan and place on top of porridge.

ShopSwoon

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using this link.

More swoon