He was born in Santarém into a large family, where there were always celebrations. The aromas coming from the kitchen awakened in chef David Costa the desire to bring these flavors to his kitchen. After the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo de Lisboa, he went through the best kitchens in the capital, starting at the Hotel Ritz, then Eleven alongside Joachim Koerper and at Assinatura with Henrique Mouro. He received an invitation to California, packed his bags and ten months after opening Adega, he received the Michelin Star.
How did it happen to open a restaurant in California?
It was an invitation, I was working in Portugal, and the owners of Adega challenged me to open a restaurant, which happened to be in California by everyone’s decision. I accepted the proposal and reformulated the concept. It is also important to point out that here in São José is the second largest Portuguese community in the USA, so it made perfect sense to take a risk and bet on a cuisine with traditional flavors from our land.
And shortly after opening it receives the Michelin Star.
When we opened Adega, the goal was to have a good Portuguese restaurant in California. We wanted to work our products well and after ten months of being open, in December 2015, we received Estrela for the first time. It was a little surprising and it was a joy. Although it was not a goal at that time, in the future he would consider working for Estrela.
Was and is it easy to find products used in Portuguese gastronomy?
As there is a large Portuguese community here, there were already many products and there are some companies that bring a lot of what is ours, in a way it was simple, except for wine, that was more difficult. We work with eight companies and some only have two wines, we only have Portuguese wines, we work with around five hundred different wines. Here we also have good olive oils, olives, and other condiments that we use. We managed to have good tuna and sardines, octopus, and sometimes other fish and also shellfish. In the case of vegetables, we only use organic products, and we have our suppliers, over time we discovered what was nearby and we always tried to have the best product possible.
How did you experience the moment after the first Michelin Star?
That was the most complicated part, because from that moment on there is extra pressure, firstly because the workload increases considerably, before we used to give forty to fifty dinners and we moved on to a hundred, sometimes a little more, this every day. We had to increase the team and in a short period of time we created solutions so that the level of quality would not be pinched. We worked many times during the night until everything was fine-tuned and ensured quality when opening the doors.
Is that pressure still there?
The post-star period is a bit stressful, not in the sense of work, we are aware of what we do and how far we can go, it’s more of an extra pressure in the sense of having more responsibility to maintain it. I have always tried to face this fact in a calm way. I trust the people who work with me, I trust my work and I try to put that pressure aside and work in a relaxed manner, ensuring that every customer who comes to Adega has excellent service and excellent food every day.
Right now, what is the Adega menu?
Everything is typical of Portugal, we have stone soup, the meat goes in a terrine, I work with the broth and the beans, and everything goes to the table individually, not destroying the original flavor because this is also one of my goals, to keep that flavor of comfort even if the dish looks different. We also serve Portuguese steak with yam, like potato chips, reminiscent of the Azores, we also make a yam croissant, the meat is Angus from Japan and has fried quail eggs. On the menu there is also prawns with abalone — there is a biological farm here that produces them in sea water, sometimes I have abalone that comes from the Azores. Dessert at this time is Abade de Priscos pudding. In short, the menu consists of seven dishes that turns into thirteen, because we make complements and one of them is sardines in three ways and the plating is a sardine by Bordallo Pinheiro.
You have worked with great chefs like Joachim Koerper and Henrique Mouro, what did you learn in those days?
Yes, I worked for almost four years at Eleven, with chef Joachim Koerper, from whom I learned many older and more modern techniques, many international and others more Portuguese; there were always different products and techniques than usual. With Henrique it was more the aspect of transforming Portuguese dishes into fine dining. That was, in fact, one of the reasons that led me to work with him; for me it’s the best way to do it. One chef does it one way, and another does it another; my goal was to get as much information as possible from everyone I worked with. Regardless of being chefs or just professional colleagues, and with that I ended up creating my identity and my own cuisine.
How did you receive the appealing for the kitchen?
At home we always cook with my mother and grandmother. There was always good food at the table. The house was always filled with family and friends. We are four brothers, and we have a huge family, there were always many parties at our house or at one of our relatives. My older brother also studied Cooking and when he started working, he piqued my interest even more, and I ended up going to the School of Hospitality and Tourism in Lisbon. I never regretted it.
What do you most like to eat, what are your secret flavors?
I like everything. When I cook for myself, it’s all very simple, if I’m alone I get cereal and that’s it, but the truth is that I really like our food, I love the Sopa da Pedra that my grandmother used to make and my mother also makes, despite make and have on the menu seems like the taste is not the same. I relate the meal a lot with family and home and maybe that’s why sometimes it seems that the flavor doesn’t stay the same, the seasoning lacks the warmth and love of the family. There is a dessert that I haven’t eaten since my grandmother passed away three years ago, it’s vermicelli, I haven’t even tried to make it and I don’t even want to eat it just so I don’t spoil my grandmother’s taste, which I keep in my memory. It’s so simple, but I’m afraid I won’t get that flavor. But one day I’ll have to eat again, and I don’t know what will happen. The food we make should take us back to childhood, create the feeling of returning to good memories, our sensations are very much in the flavours.
Have you ever had the feeling that a customer was stepping back into their childhood?
It has already happened to make Alentejo pork meat, and a customer said that when tasting it he felt that he was at his grandmother’s house, the taste and smell took him back to his childhood, this was gratifying for us. For me it was one of the greatest compliments I’ve had, the concern was not knowing if it was good or not, it wasn’t what was at stake, what commanded was being taken to childhood, home.
You also opened another concept also very much to the Portuguese taste.
Yes, we have Petiscos, we opened two years ago and here we work a lot with fresh sardines, they don’t come to us from Portugal, they are Japanese. But as it is such a product of ours, we ended up creating traditional dishes presented in a slightly different way. We also have the San José pastry shop, all in California.