Chef Nuno Mendes grew up working on his family's Portuguese dairy farm. So when I ask him for his earliest food memory, I expect to hear about an ingredient that deeply reflects the Portuguese countrysideor, at the very least, an earthy Portuguese dish like caldo verde, the classic kale-and-sausage stew. Instead, "I'd have to say raw squid," the 36-year-old chef tells me. "There was only one Japanese restaurant in Lisbon at the time, but my dad took me there when I was six. And I just loved the raw squid."
These days, many chefs strive to convey a singular sense of place in their cooking: René Redzepi and his Nordic countries, Daniel Patterson and his northern California. But what happens if you're a chef like Mendes, who doesn't feel like he represents any one place? In that case, you might open a restaurant like Viajante (Portuguese for traveler), his new spot in London's East End. He also created a space called the Loft Project, a kitchen where his peripatetic chef friends can come to cook and experiment.
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"I get restless," he admits. "I have trouble staying still." In his twenties, that restlessness led him from Lisbon to a culinary school in California, with later stops working at Jean Georges in New York, Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe and El Bulli in Roses, Spain. In between he ate his way through Japan, Thailand and China.