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Posted by portugalpress on August 23, 2018
Chef Bruno Rocha – Photo: FILIPE FARINHA/STILLS

Daring, regional and with an Asian touch – this is the work of Tivoli Carvoeiro’s new executive chef

Born in Lisbon but adopted by São Brás de Alportel, 40-year-old Bruno Rocha is now back in the south after some time in the Portuguese capital, where he worked as the executive chef of the Bairro Alto Hotel. He returned because he missed the Algarve, but mostly because of the challenge of creating something new and unique from scratch at the newly-renovated Tivoli Carvoeiro hotel, where he took on the position of executive chef. He was officially hired in March but began working on the concepts in January, on the invitation of general manager Mário Custódio, with whom Bruno Rocha had already worked at Tivoli Victoria, in Vilamoura, from 2011 to 2016.

“I started preparing the team and instilling my philosophy of group spirit, unity, loyalty and respect. It was important to set a different work pace, a more demanding one for this type of market,” he explains. “My mission is to develop every concept of food and beverage, so I am more like a culinary director and not just a kitchen chef.”

This means he will have a hand in everything served in any of the hotel’s outlets, although the crown jewel is The One Wine Boutique restaurant. The chef explains why: “I was given carte blanche; total freedom to do whatever I wanted. It is an amazing challenge. I do not want the kitchen to be aggressive, overly expensive, technical or evolutionary, but it also shouldn’t be too personal, where the chef leaves too much of a stamp.”

The ocean-front and the magnificent cliff-top views are, therefore, dominant at the table. “I designed a menu highly focused on the sea and also inland Algarve,” says the chef. This is also visible in the wine list, with a cellar where 90% of the wines are regional, a request from Bruno Rocha himself. “These days, the Algarve produces excellent sparkling wines, late harvests and reds,” he assures, adding that they deserve to be broadcast.

As for the dishes, they are regional with a twist: “We have an appetiser of tomato with avocado, raspberry, cucumber and an Asian vinaigrette along with it. We use nine varieties of tomato produced in the Moncarapacho area. They have different acidity levels, which vary with sun exposure, and we use over 60 types of avocado produced in the Algarve, with incredible ripeness. This is a vegetarian dish in a seaside restaurant that serves as a gateway to discover local wines.”

The use of an Asian vinaigrette is also an indicator of the continent’s influence on this chef’s cuisine. It may not be the most obvious combination, but considering that the Far East has been no secret to the Portuguese ever since the Discoveries, it isn’t surprising that this exotic touch fits in perfectly with the nation’s cuisine. Bruno Rocha exemplifies that well in his bacalhau (codfish) tartar, a dish that, according to the chef, reclaims everything the Portuguese love most. “I do all the curing with a technique of sugar, salt and kombu seaweed. After soaking, I adjust the salt.”

Master of all components of his menu, Bruno Rocha doesn’t shy away from desserts either: “I like pâtisserie that is not too sweet and to marry it with other kitchen elements. I like being provocative, and desserts allow you to play with colours and textures. I have been refining recipes with less sugar and with contrasting, sour elements. An example of that is the dessert of lime/lemon and gin granita, which is used to soak the Algarvean olive oil cake. It’s authentic, just like the drink,” he illustrates.

“At Tivoli there are no barriers. That is great, because a lot of hotel groups are conservative. They lack audacity, opinion, but mostly they lack Portuguese essence,” says Bruno Rocha. “Why must every hotel have a Caesar or Niçoise salad and a club sandwich? That needs to gradually disappear from our menus. People need to taste what we are. At the pool restaurant we have a “bifana em bolo do caco” (a pork sandwich typically made with a simple bread roll, but here they use traditional bread from Madeira). It is very popular. We make our own red bell pepper paste to marinate the meat and the chouriço butter to cook it. If I tell a tourist how I make this dish, they will want to try it.” To convey something so simple and so Portuguese is something that Bruno Rocha considers “an important task, not just for a chef but also for the whole region and country”.

The new chef at Tivoli Carvoeiro received a degree in Cooking and Pastry from the Faro Catering College in 2000 and has worked at high-end hotels ever since. Between 2012 and 2015, he was awarded four Golden Forks by the Boa Cama/Boa Mesa culinary guide, published by the Expresso newspaper.

As for the future, Bruno Rocha says: “I won’t stop here. My mission in the company is to shape projects and to keep developing the Tivoli brand.”