For the penultimate challenge of the crazy, intense battle that is MasterChef: The Professionals, the chef finalists will leave the UK and head abroad for the first time on the show. The task will see them flying to beautiful Portugal to learn under the supervision of one of Portugal’s biggest names in the food industry, Jose Avillez.
Avillez will teach the surviving contestants, imparting his impressive knowledge of Portuguese cuisine. Avillez is definitely the best man for the job, having brought Portuguese food to the forefront of popularity, with his two Michelin-star restaurant Belcanto, and growing his enormous empire of just under 20 restaurants. After the inspiring masterclass, the chefs will then curate a menu to cook for Avillez, his staff, and the fearsome judges, proving their worth during service at the first ever two Michelin-starred restaurant in Portugal. A difficult feat, to say the least.
Belcanto is making Portuguese food trendy with its innovative methods, by turning traditions upside-down, and unleashing the power of storytelling through food. The restaurant is located in the historical centre of Lisbon, and is a marker in Portuguese food history, with the food cooked by Avillez and his team often referenced as a turning point in the country’s reputation for fine dining experiences. The progression of internationally renowned Avillez from an untrained chef to acclaimed restauranteur who champions his country’s finest foods, is a fascinating peek into the inner workings of the food industry.
Below, we answer some of your burning questions about the Michelin star restaurant, which has brought great fame and success to Avillez. We detail everything from the history of Belcanto as a legendary eatery, to how to get a table at this fine dining hot-spot. The MasterChef: The Professionals contestants are in for a tough time, but you are in for a treat as you learn all about Belcanto.
Who is Jose Avillez?
Jose Avillez is known as 'The Boss' of Portugal with his large restaurant empire, all of which he has built by the age of 40. He is a chef and restauranteur who owns an incredible portfolio encompassing 18 locations, and employs over 600 people. He survived the economic crisis in Portugal, using the uncertainty to his advantage by buying up restaurants as people sold them – it was a risky manoeuvre that has paid off many times over.
From starting out studying architecture, to switching to a business degree, completing it, then deciding at the age of 20, without any experience, to become a professional chef, Jose has come a long way. He even got abs for a Men’s Health magazine cover shoot, just for the fun of the challenge. He hosts TV shows, has written numerous cookbooks, and has a brand of signature wines.
The proud winner of two Michelin stars, Jose Avillez is not a classically trained chef. He never went to culinary school, but somehow managed to get an internship at the competitive El Bulli by Ferran Adria. From there, he took on the role of executive chef at Tavares in Lisbon, soon bringing it to Michelin status. Avillez went on to open Belcanto in 2012, earning it a Michelin-star within eight months of opening. He received a second star along with the prestige of being listed as among the top 50 restaurants in the world. Belcanto has since grown from a staff of 12 to 320, with a ratio of 25 cooks per 30 patrons.
Jose is passionate about modernizing Portuguese cuisine and making the country a top gastronomical destination. Although each of his restaurants boasts a different concept, his hometown of Cascais still remains his primary source of inspiration.
Which restaurants does Jose Avillez own?
Since opening Belcanto in 2011, Jose has grown his empire to 18 restaurants across Porto, Lisbon, and Dubai, each one boasting a different concept. His restaurants range from Pizzaria Lisboa to Cantina Peruana to Rei da China, among many others. Tasca was Avillez’s first international venture, bringing bold Portuguese flavours to the Middle East. His portfolio includes Bairro do Avillez, a food hall encompassing four eateries, and as a wine connoisseur, he has developed three vintage wines with Quinta do Monte D’Oiro winery. From employing a mere 12 with Belcanto in the beginning, to an impressive current total of 620, Jose has certainly made his mark. Avillez stands out as one of Portugal’s trailblazing chefs with his entrepreneurial drive and passion. He is all about evolution, but he is humbly proud of how he and his staff have strengthened and grown so far.
What is Belcanto?
Although he owns many restaurants, Belcanto is Jose Avillez’s real passion. The restaurant originally opened in 1958, and was reopened by Jose in 2012 as a completely refurbished, new Belcanto. It is currently ranked 42 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and was the first Portuguese restaurant to be awarded two Michelin stars. Belcanto is well-known for being a legendary Lisbon establishment, promoting the best of Portuguese produce, from the land to its stunning coastline. It is an intimate and elegant salon, set within a historical gentlemen’s club. They serve high-end modern Portuguese cuisine, influenced by Jose’s travels, past, and creativity, dishing up around 45,000 meals per month.
Where is Jose Avillez's restaurant?
Belcanto is located on Rua Serpa Pinto, in the Chiado district of Lisbon, at the heart of the city’s historic centre. Having moved earlier this year to a new space next to its previous address, the kitchen and dining room are now closer, to enhance the experience for patrons. The restaurant is situated in a traditional men’s club, converted into the upscale restaurant it is today; expect an intimate vibe typified by blush pinks and vaulted ceilings.
When did Jose Avillez appear on MasterChef: The Professionals?
Jose Avillez appears on the penultimate episode of MasterChef: The Professionals. The 20th episode, airing on 18 December, sees the remaining three finalists travel to Lisbon to learn from “The Boss”, with his wealth of Portuguese cuisine knowledge as a culinary genius. Once the chefs have taken a masterclass on Jose Avillez’s technique and artistry, they'l take a trip to the food market to choose ingredients that will help form a dish for Avillez to taste, showcasing their understanding of his food philosophy regarding Portuguese cuisine. The final challenge sees the three chefs join the two Michelin star Belcanto kitchen to create two dishes each in a six-course menu that will be served during the lunch service for a room full of friends and colleagues of Avillez’s restaurant empire.
What's on the menu at Belcanto?
The food at Belcanto is globally influenced Portuguese fine dining, offering some of the best of the countries flavours in ways that reinvent and take traditions to another level. The motivation of the menu is to take patrons on a journey, to tell the story of Portuguese food and celebrate it. Chef David Jesus leads the kitchen team to take elements of the country’s culture and identity and impart this message with local ingredients. Signature dishes include “the garden of the goose that laid the golden eggs”, which is an edible gold leaf hiding a slow cooked egg, and “sip into the sea” featuring sea bass, seaweed, shellfish. Patrons can choose from two tasting menus or dine à la carte, while the wine list is nothing short of remarkable.
How much is Belcanto?
The menu at Belcanto is at the higher end of the spectrum pricewise, but steep bills are expected of such fine dining. There are two tasting menus at Belcanto, the Classics (£140) with ten dishes, and the Evolution (£160), where the number of dishes is a surprise. There is also the option to add paired wines to your meal – the restaurant has over 300 wines on offer, 80% of which are Portuguese. The à la carte dishes are slightly more affordable, clocking in at around £40 per main course. For a real experience, book the chef’s table for ringside culinary action, although these seats are in high demand.
How can you get a table at Belcanto?
We hate to break it to you, but nabbing at table at Portugal's most celebrated restaurant is no easy feat. To try and book a table, yo can call Belcanto or use the website to reserve with a credit card. Be warned though, Belcanto has a long waiting list, so make sure to book at least two months in advance to avoid dissapointment.
When will Belcanto be featured on MasterChef: The Professionals?
After the chefs head to Michelin starred restaurants - Ynyshir in Wales, and London’s Hide, for their first full service challenges, the penultimate task takes the three finalists to Portugal where they will spend two days with Chef Jose learning about Portuguese cuisine. Their challenge is to produce two Michelin star-level dishes to guests of Jose’s restaurant empire, before going on to find out who will be crowned the winner of the twelfth series in the finale.
Who is on MasterChef this year?
There are 48 chefs competing on the show, alongside the judges Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace, and Monica Galetti. The chefs are from all backgrounds and levels, from pub kitchens to Michelin-starred restaurants, all competing to prove their worth.
Keen to stay in the loop? Check out our MasterChef: The Professionals guide.