Lisbon, the oldest city in Western Europe, is pieced together by steep hills and narrow streets, making you deeply regret that croissant you had for breakfast. The unavoidable cardio of navigating the city, however, does not deter José Avillez from regularly visiting his six restaurants spread across Lisbon. “I work very hard not to fail,” he says.
Avillez is the chef and owner of Belcanto, the first Portuguese restaurant to earn two Michelin stars. Belcanto opened in January 2012 with a staff of 12 people, and after just eight months, Avillez earned its first Michelin star, and in 2014, its second. His staff has grown from 12 to 320, serving 45,000 meals a month. There are 25 cooks for 30 seats—meaning diners get more attention than students at small liberal arts colleges. Despite the massive growth of his six restaurants and the hectic task of managing them, Avillez stays focused on the singularity of each dining experience. Sometimes this means making people cry.
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“At Belcanto, people start to cry because they get emotional about a dish,” says Avillez. “The first time that happened, it was strange because you get scared that something is wrong.”