Head Chef of CEIA, a restaurant located inside of a small boutique hotel

Visionary and hands-on: Meet the smart and super-sweet Head Chef Pedro Pena Bastos of ”CEIA” – a new kind of restaurant at Santa Clara house in Lisbon. Although he is very busy these days with his new food venture, Bastos is surprisingly relaxed.  Before he joined forces with hospitality mastermind João Rodrigues, he studied at the Superior School of Hospitality and Tourism in Estoril and was employed at restaurants such as Feitoria, Belcanto, The Ledbury, to name a few.

The Niche Traveller: Tell us about where are you from?
Pedro Pena Bastos: I’m from Porto, with roots in a region called Ribatejo, where my mom side is from. The Ribatejo is 1 hour North of Lisbon and famous for its handcrafted design.

TNT: How you became passionate with cooking?
PPB: I grew up watching my grandma cooking everyday at our home. She was a very stiff ”home chef” with her own rules and tricks on the sleeve, so her cooking was kind of a magic thing for me when I was really young. I only valued that much later. When I was 6 years old, it was the first time I realised I can make something happen in the kitchen. I did a mayonnaise on my own, while the other kids prepared cookies and cakes with their moms and grandmas. Much later I realised that it was a natural thing running through my blood. When I was 16 I wanted to be a doctor or something between a microbiologist and a guy who wants to find an answer for everything. So I followed my passion and reshaped my dreams I went to cooking school and started to work in a very busy restaurant in Porto, called Cafeína. Since then, I didn’t stop cooking.

TNT: Please describe your style of cooking in a few words?
PPB: Instinctive, tasty, simple, detailed, organic, seasonal and memory shaped.

TNT: You are well known in the Portuguese gastronomy, why did you decide to become Chef at Santa Clara?
PPB: Well… it was a very hard decision, but at the same time, it was love at first sight. The whole project is amazing and beautifully shaped, which made me think and asking myself: do I really see my restaurant here? Is it going to be known? And then João and I discussed the options… and we’re actually going to open my restaurant in Santa Clara house. Its going to be called: CEIA, a 14 seat, common table restaurant, providing a unique meal and experience to our guests. At the beginning it will be open 4 nights a week to everyone, of course. The main idea it to give our guests another perspective of hospitality and familiarity, exactly the same pillars where me and João (the owner of Santa Clara) converge and deeply believe that makes the difference in a guest experience perspective.

TNT: What connects you with Santa Clara?
PPB: The light, the shapes, the materials, the complexity behind that simplicity. The way the place observes you, and gives you a different perspective of what a home should be in a lot of different ways. I would live there if I could. The silence is amazing there.

TNT: Your five golden rules for the art of cooking?
PPB: Don’t cook to survive, cook to serve and make others happier. Follow your mind and heart when you want to achieve a flavour or a texture. Try to put yourself in the mouth of the guest. Fight for the creativity. Trust the freshness of a product. Acidity and saltiness are biggest friends. Don’t be convinced about perfect dishes. They don´t exist. Simple is best.

TNT: Your recipe for success?
PPB: Perfectly cooked, crispy broccoli chunks, lemon zest, lemon juice, fresh olive oil, salt flakes and crushed garlic…. its not that hard!

TNT: Portugal`s three best restaurants?
PPB: It is unfair to leave some of them behind, but recently I loved to eat at Tasca do Joel, Prado and Belcanto (editor´s note: Tasca do Joel is in Peniche, Prado and Belcanto in Lisbon).

TNT: Where in Lisbon do you like to eat and drink?
PPB: For food got to Ramiro, the seafood is amazing, Taberna Sal Grosso or Prado. For drinks: go to O Bom O Mau e O Vilão, which is a cosy bar with live jazz once a week.

TNT: Best place to shop food and tableware?
PPB: Food: Mercado 31 de Janeiro. Tableware: César Castro.

TNT: Favourite neighbourhood?
Belem, it is peaceful, wide-open and sunny. First home in Lisbon.

TNT: Any sightseeing tips?
Spend the morning in Belém, grab a Pastel de Nata or two, there are lovely monuments around, have early lunch at Taberna Sal Grosso, climb the hill to Graça, watch the sunset from the Castle and have dinner at Prado. Go for a beer at Kiosk Adamastor at Miradouro de Santa Catarina (editor´s note: Miradouro de Santa Catarina is a popular viewpoint overlooking the Tagus river).

TNT: Short break out of town?
PPB: Portinho da Arrábida, south bank, 40 minutes south of Lisbon.

INTERVIEW: Kerstin Bognár
PHOTOS: Mia Takahara