Father Manuel Bernardes (1644-1710) was a very bad friend of the kitchen and the chefs. This illustrious Church man, and opinion leader at the time, wrote that “the demon is a cook; if he realizes that we do not like the sin stewed in a certain way, he will add so many different seasonings until he makes us want it, and if we don´t take it all, he will be happy if we try some of it.” He further states that “to eat the delicacies and relish in enjoying the delicacies is not human, but rather the act of dirty animals that grunt while they eat hurriedly and purposefully, rooting, and buried in mud.” He even goes further to say that the innkeeper baptizes his wine (adds water) and will be pardoned for his sins. Of course, today, whoever adds water to the wine will be arrested, and rightly so.

Gone are the days where some pleasures were associated with sin, and the enticing tricks of those Arts were the main ones to blame. Today, it makes me feel like saying, Blessed cooks, or Blessed provokers of the sin of Gluttony!

The above statements were due to life in the Eighteenth century, when there was only one recipe book published and that belonged to the chef of the royal Court. There were no restaurants in Portugal, with the characteristics they have today.

We have curious reports of foreigners visiting Portugal at the end of the Eighteenth century and the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. After visiting other countries they report on the kind of food and the well-known places open to the public, such as the hostels.

J.B.F. Carrère wrote the following in 1796: At meal times: there is a tablecloth which has been in use for over eight days, a rusty and greasy fork, cracked or ugly looking plates, watery soup, stew which stinks of smoke and with sauce that has only salt as seasoning, and a tough roast, dry and burnt, all these are set on the table that is as dirty as is the floor below it.

In Lisbon there are many hostels, but none are good. In some, the meals are served at a round table with a fixed price: at others you eat what you order, paying according to the dish that is ordered.

...The Portuguese hostels are the worst. The best ones are run by foreigners.”

Other travellers wrote about Portugal at that time such as Dabrymple, Costigan, Murphy, Gorani and specially William Beckford who left us his memoirs in a book about the two periods that he lived amongst us.

We are now going into the Nineteenth Century where the culinary references, the appearance of the first restaurants, the publication of several recipe books, the reference to gastronomy in the Portuguese literature, all served to change the mentality at the time.

The main news and fashion continued to come from France, where gastronomic critics started publishing their views. Take for example Grimod de la Reynière, with his almanacs, and who still publishes the Manual of the Hosts in 1808, where he refers to the important role the Kitchen Chefs have. He warns, however, that if a great Chef is at the service of a great master, however, if he does not speak his language, and if there is not a constant demand on him, soon even the great Chef will go into decadence. This is the concept of a great Chef who is able to fulfil and put into practice the longing of others, of his lord, his master or his boss. Of course, Carème deviated from this group, by creating his own personal style. But, let us go back to Portugal in the Twentieth Century.

Carlos Bento da Maia published his Tratado Completo de Cozinha in 1904 where he complains of the professional education compared with France “where the students sitting on their benches, attended the cook´s lecture, who, at the stove behind him describes the way to cook while cooking at the same time, the delicacies set to be prepared in that lesson. The names of these delicacies are written on a display board for the class.”

On the other hand he complains that “In our country, unfortunately, the professional education lags behind and the majority of the institutional directors have the bad sense of having underlings as students; so that instead of training girls that are capable of earning an honest living, they train pseudo- snobbish ladies who have contempt for manual work and are faced with a miserable or vagabond future”.

Already at that time they acknowledged that the quality of the training depended on the quality of the teacher!

Even the Diário de Notícias newspaper, at the time, upheld this concept that they developed in their editorial of October the 4th 1903. Unfortunately we no longer have the page of Boa Vida (Good Life) in the current Diário de Notícias newspaper, we were so used to this page....and so many chefs were able to get recognition! Today of all times, that so much is published about culinary and other subjects associated to food and that gave us a daily reference. Another field where football has won...!

To eat out has become a necessity and compulsory, as well as a pleasure. Therefore, there is the need for more information.

©Virgílio Gomes

Photo © Adriana Freire