■ A conversation with one of the Kids remaking the Portuguese food scene 

playing the reverse card

This content is a learning journey about how cultural pluralism changes what we know about food, people and shared experiences. We light up stories and insights from projects and people we admire, inside and outside Kitch. 

Learn more at BLEND.
■ id no.

000001

■ nationality

portuguese

■ age

33 years young

■ height

1.73m

■ working at

musa + ordinário + nkotb

first things first

Ten years ago, Tiago de Lima Cruz started as a chef. A natural and unsurprising move for someone who has metamorphosed his love for eating into cooking. Well, "natural and unsurprising" doesn't apply to everything at this beginning: Tiago started out studying Finance. What the hell… right?

(Back from the shock) A regular at his family and friends' kitchens, Tiago decided it was time to up the game. D. Pedro and Assinatura were the first stops. Then, the star shower began with restaurants such as Feitoria (Lisbon, Portugal) or Per Se (New York, U.S.A.), followed by a return to Portugal, this time to break new ground at modern 'tabernas', such as Taberna do Sal Grosso (Lisbon, Portugal).

Now, he's one of the dauntless New Kids on the Block (NKOTB), a Portuguese collective founded in 2020 at the hands of talented chefs from different backgrounds and cultures, willing to break the rules and the status quo. A thought-provoking spirit that Tiago brings with him wherever he cooks.

It's at MUSA da Bica (recognised with the "Best for the Munchies" award from Lisbon Insiders) and ORDINÁRIO that this chef lives, but his inventiveness and creativity are everywhere. Many times with good music around, with invited DJs to cook along. You'll find him around, for sure.

SO, IS THIS OFFICIALLY AN "R.I.P FINE DINING" ?

Most Kids, including Tiago, started out in fine dining restaurants, but the urge for deconstruction was throbbing. With him, he took the rigour, discipline and the ability to elevate everything he does.

Organise to disorganise. Disorganise to organise.

It's not the place that defines or limits what you can do. MUSA, a brewery, once had a steak tartare with grated foie gras and a mille-feuille potato on the menu. "We end up putting together, in simple dishes or in dishes we want to make simpler, all the techniques we've learned in the places we've been." Other example of this reinvention is MUSA's Pudim Stout, inspired by the almost irreplicable recipe of the traditional Pudim Abade de Priscos.

"You have to stop thinking that food has to be done in a certain manner, eaten in certain ways and places"

LOVE EATING IS ALWAYS THE BEST STARTING POINT.

His creative process with Pedro Abril, his partner in crime at MUSA da Bica - always starts with what they like to eat, whether it's things you can easily find in a restaurant (with a classic repertoire) or things that make most people take a look of disgust, like oxtail, beef tongue… ok, you get it.

Then, when it's time to cook, they just play the reverse card, the one that proves that less noble parts also have a place on the plate; that cooking stereotypes are ready to die, like any others in life. Even if those parts are the most challenging to cook or convince someone to eat. Let's face it: isn't that part of the fun?

 "You have to stop thinking that food has to be done in a certain manner, eaten in certain ways and places", said Tiago. For instance, “we have a deep-fried lasagna, and when I serve it to Italians they look at me ‘like, man…’ but in the end, they really get it.”

"I sold more vegetarian Cachupa at an event than the traditional one. It was a shock to me."

AND WHAT ABOUT MIXING CULTURES?

If you haven't noticed yet, [re]mixing is a principle for this chef. And that applies to the way Tiago looks at "cuisines". He doesn't have a favourite cuisine, only ingredients and elements. And playing with them is Tiago's playground. "Here at MUSA, we have a quesadilla with an Indian chickpea curry filling, mixed with a sauce, a yoghurt mayonnaise with macho parsley and cilantro, and you're mixing India and Mexico into the same thing." Yup, we're salivating, Tiago.

For him, it's good to see people embracing and being open about new flavours. After all, not too many years ago, people were still obsessed with pizzas and hamburgers." I sold more vegetarian Cachupa at an event than the traditional one. It was a shock to me", and it's not just because there are more vegetarians, but there are also those who want the flavour in a lighter version, without the meat, without the sausages.

"What I really asked my relatives for was cans of tuna. (...) if I use Portuguese tuna, you can tell the difference. There, tuna tastes like shrimp."

And it has become easier and cheaper to buy foreign ingredients in Lisbon in recent years. "Here we have Pérola do Arsenal, which has been selling codfish and all kinds of pulses for years, and that's where I can find things that usually I had to ask my grandmother or uncles to send me from Cabo Verde or other places" he reveals. 

Martim Moniz is also a stopping point. "You spend 10 minutes of your time talking with the shop owner, and he'll explain the whole shop to you", he adds. "But if your goal is to find Sumak, this spice only exists in Lisbon at Mercado de Arroios. "You can run all other stores, and you won't find it." Now we know [wink].  

Even though different cultures are crossing Lisbon's grocery shops and markets, there is something for this Kid that is possible to recreate but difficult to compare: canned tuna from Cabo Verde. "What I really asked my uncles and grandparents for was cans of tuna. For example, I make a dish from Cabo Verde, which is called Pastel de Milho (sweet potato, cornflour, and a chilli and tuna filling). (...) If I use Portuguese tuna, it's not the same. There, tuna tastes like shrimp."

Tiago was born and raised in Lisbon, but his Cabo Verdean roots always pop up a little "here and there" whenever he cooks. Although it is difficult to reproduce sea dishes with seafood (much cheaper there), there is always room to inspire and recreate. Therefore, the book Cozinha de Cabo Verde, by Maria de Lourdes Chantre, is always in his backpack.

IN tiago's KITCHEN, WE CAN ALWAYS FIND…

Butter. There's no doubt. In his own words, he and Pedro have a serious problem with butter. "I noticed that (...) because when I was making some scrambled eggs and took three spoonfuls of butter to make four eggs, my girlfriend looked at me like I was crazy. (...) Butter is cool", he says with a smile.

AND this is "the" DISH THAT LIVEs in his memories...

"I have a 'Brás de Pato com mandioca". Like "Bacalhau à Brás" but with duck instead of cod and cassava instead of potato. Cassava because it comes from Africa and duck because it's one of my favourite things to eat. It's a guilty pleasure", shared Tiago. "I fry the cassava as if it were potato sticks. The cassava gets much crispier than potato, it never gets mushy, and you always have all the textures in that dish."

Damn, we want to taste it now.

BEFORE WE GO: TO BRING NEW FLAVOURS TO PORTUGAL, "WE MUST…"


In Tiago's opinion, we are now experiencing a process of cultural decentralisation in Lisbon. People from all over the world are coming here to our kitchens, and "they'll always be going to share with you their experiences and bring what they eat in their countries, in their homes. We're always learning from them, gaining more knowledge, understanding what you want to do", he explains. "For example, I will never forget when a kitchen porter taught me to peel cassava correctly."

However, when we look at food with African roots, we still find some barriers. "There are still more African chefs than African restaurants", he underlines and explain that many people associate African food-based only with specific dishes, such as Cachupa and Muamba, and there are thousands of dishes from each African country - prospecting is essential.


To sum up, Tiago underlines the importance of "having several people from completely different cultures, backgrounds that contrast with what we're used to. And if you thought you were just going to cook or think in the way you're used to, you can't. We should take advantage of this multicultural boom, you have so many people of different nationalities (...). And this is only the beginning. Let's see what happens next."

Thank you, Tiago. See you mastering around.