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"We will continue to work and chart our course"



Santiago Anolles is the Chef at the Horta restaurant. He has seen his restaurant recognised by the Michelin Guide less than a year after opening. Chef Santiago is self-taught in the kitchen. The Horta restaurant is the first project he is in charge of, and he has made it a success.
Find out more about Chef Santiago in this interview.


How did your passion for cooking come about?
I’ve always been passionate about cooking, since I was little! We always cooked a lot in my house; we always made food at home. Both my father and mother cook very well and I’ve always helped them cook since I was a child. Besides, when I discovered I had coeliac disease there was no food that was gluten-free. Very little was known about it, especially in Uruguay, so all the food was made at home. My parents ended up adapting the coeliac diet for everyone, not just me. In our house everyone ate the same, so we cooked a lot at home, there was nothing that you could buy.

Do you think being coeliac is an obstacle for you as a chef?
Yes, there are some limitations, but the positive aspect is that I was diagnosed at 4 years old. I didn't have a transition process of having spent my whole life eating something and then no longer being able to eat it. I've always been used to this; but I also end up being lucky enough to have some tolerance. I can taste some things. I avoid eating, I'm careful, but I’ll taste them with you!
This is also why the Horta's menu has very few dishes with gluten. I try to make more gluten-free dishes, especially as, at the moment, there is little on offer.
On the menu, for example, we only have one dessert with gluten. In the main dishes only one has gluten, all the others are gluten-free.

Tell us a little about your professional career.
I left Uruguay when I was 19 and went to live in Brazil, but I didn't work as a cook. I didn't study cooking, so I only started in the kitchen in 2018 when I moved to Spain. I always liked cooking, but as I hadn't studied, I didn't start in this area right away. It was on a day-to-day basis, in the daily struggle that I acquired my knowledge and skills.
I started my career in a restaurant in Spain. I was there for a year and a half and I was very lucky! The chef was very good, the whole team was very good and they all helped me. Then I took a bigger step in my career and moved to another restaurant, which had already won a Bib Gourmand, thanks to a contact I made at the previous restaurant who ended up recommending me and leading me to this new challenge.
After almost three years, I embarked on a new project and joined the team at El Invernadero with a Michelin star. It was only after this that I arrived at the Horta.

You joined the PortoBay team to open Horta. How did this come about?
It was really good and a lot of fun! I came to the Horta because of Chef Benoît, who met me when he came to have lunch at the restaurant where I was working.
The process of opening the restaurant itself was really good with Afonso and Manu (who is no longer on the team). Creating the menu, the choice of crockery, the whole aspect of equipping the kitchen, which was all new to me, was really great and interesting.

What is the day-to-day life of a chef like?
Our day-to-day life involves a lot of bureaucracy, which was something I wasn't used to either. In addition to all the requests, something I always try to do is ensure that the team is feeling good emotionally, that they are motivated and feel comfortable at work. This for me is very important.
Creating new dishes, thinking about new dishes, there is a lot behind it. Finding new suppliers to get new and different products. It's not just cooking, I actually cook less than I would like.

What is the best part of your job?
The freedom is very good! At Horta I have a lot of freedom to taste dishes, make suggestions and this is something that I also give to my team and that I think is important – having the freedom to make different dishes and experiment.

How has your career been at the Horta? How do you see the future of the restaurant?
We started off very well, in my opinion. I felt it was a success right from the start, and we will continue to work in the same way from now on. It was thanks to this that we also got recognition from the Michelin Guide.
The recognition from the Michelin Guide was really great, especially in such a short time. In just 6, 7 months of opening the restaurant - and now we have to keep it up. Continue in the same vein as we have been doing so far and innovate. Doing different things and continuing to evolve.

Receiving the distinction of being one of the restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide less than a year after opening is certainly a great source of pride. What did it mean to you?
This recognition is for the team, it's not just for me, it's for everyone. If it weren't for the team, the restaurant wouldn't work. It's a really positive recognition. It was something I didn't expect, especially in such a short time, to be recommended in the Michelin Guide. It far exceeded our expectations.

After this recognition, what are the next goals and ambitions?
We will continue to work and chart our course as we have done so far. If we achieve this recognition in 6 months, maintaining our commitment and good work, we will certainly continue to reap rewards.
We want the restaurant to continue to function well, and to function even better! We also want to play a little more with different flavours, something that I think there is little of here in Madeira. It’s something that is also difficult to spread in the local market. We’ll try to do things a little differently within what we believe our customers will like.

Over the seven years working there, was there a moment that particularly stands out with a customer?
I've always been lucky and had a lot of freedom in the different jobs I've had, which has allowed me to do different things. Making dishes that later made it onto the menu, despite not being a chef, or sous chef, or anything like that. That's a very good feeling. What gave me the most freedom for this was that the restaurant where I was had the Bib Gourmand. The three owners were cooks and worked directly in the service and it was great to work with them. Working directly with the restaurant owners and sharing ideas and suggestions with them meant that they gave me a lot of freedom. It was the first time I really felt like I could build a future in the kitchen, that I could create dishes. Before, I was just a cook, following recipes. It was at that moment that I realised I could be more than that. I really appreciate that.
It’s also thanks to this that I try to do the same with my team. I understand them because I've been on the other side too, and it's great when a first or second-class cook makes a dish that then ends up on the menu or is sold as a suggestion of the day. It's, personally, a really good feeling.

Do you have any advice you can share with your professional colleagues?
Above all, you need to have passion for what you do. The work is difficult, it involves long hours on your feet and stress, but if you have passion and enjoy what you do, then you’ve got everything you need to succeed. In my opinion, you also need to have a strong desire to learn and be focused on what you are doing.

What is your favourite dish (to eat)?
One thing I really like is the assado that is eaten in my country, in Uruguay, which is grilled meat. As I'm far from home, whenever I go back there I spend two weeks eating meat every day. Above all, it’s because this food is linked to meeting up, to bringing the family together. You always make it when family and friends get together. It's not just the meat, it's the nostalgia. More than for the meat itself, it’s about the moment.

And what dish do you like to make the most?
I really like cooking (and eating) Thai food. I'm a big fan of trying out new places and tasting new dishes. It's very difficult for me to always go to the same place. The more dishes and flavours you can taste, the better. For example, in Spain where there was a lot of variety of food, I went much more in search of Asian flavours.

What is your favourite vegetable (to eat)?
Apart from the basics like onions, etc., I really like beets. You can make many different things from them.

And for cooking, what is the essential vegetable?
I really like peppers, they have a lot of variety. There are countless ways to prepare them, different ways to cook them. But this also includes basic vegetables, so I would also say beetroot. Beetroot, if prepared well, is very good.

Many people think they don't like vegetables, but in reality they just don't know how to prepare them. Give us some tips and recommendations to make vegetables tastier on a daily basis.
Most people just boil vegetables, add salt and oil and that's it. There is so much you can do with vegetables!
Here at the restaurant we use a technique that you can do at home; for example, we cook beets, turnips and potatoes in salt. We roast them in the oven, but completely covered in salt. That way the steam can't escape and everything is contained inside the vegetable and it's really good! Vegetables are very different, the texture, the flavour, they just absorb the salt they need, so they don't taste salty and the inside is really good.
For seasonings we use a lot of Asian flavours and Japanese sauces based on sake, mirin, soy and sesame oil, which combine very well with the blandest vegetables. Without going overboard, of course, otherwise they just taste like anything else. But used in the right measure, they greatly enhance the flavour of vegetables. This is in addition to the traditional salt, pepper and aromatic herbs, like thyme and rosemary.

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