for he’s a jolly good carver
Miguel de Almeida encapsulates the modern designer. An accomplished graphic designer with quite an elegant eye, Mr. de Almeida also loves to cook. And cook he can! We’ve known each other for years now – he is the other half of one of my dearest friends. An invitation to a “light supper” at their elegantly – this word applies quite a lot to Mr. de Almeida – appointed flat is a good-hearted ruse that transpires to be more of a culinary tour de force. Portugal-born, London-based Miguel has also written a book on cooking inspired by the multicultural influences of food in the capital from the perspective of an outsider. He is currently working on his second book, a coronary-inducing, finger-licking ode to the dessert. The tasting sessions chez Miguel are legendary. Forget calorie-counting and just give in to the great big waves of sugar rush. What marks Miguel out is that not only is he an accomplished cook and talented designer he is also a brilliantly sensitive photographer. Mr. de Almeida also happens to be one of the loveliest people I know.
I recently sent him some questions by email. Here are his responses, unabridged.
What inspires you to cook?
My passion for eating and sharing my dishes with the ones whom I love the most. I also strive to share the Portuguese cuisine, which is often overlooked, to a new audience.
What informs your cooking style?
Firstly, my own culinary heritage. All the meals that I watched my grandmother cook became engraved in my mind. Secondly, the incredible daily produce and varied cultural references I find and use in the city in which I live, London. These are the main factors that contribute to my style which is relaxed and homely but embraces global influences.
Do you look to other sources for inspiration apart from the culinary-related? Could you list them if so?
I enjoy looking at the work of food photographers Jonathan Lovekin and Con Poulos which influence the way I like to photograph my dishes. As a graphic designer I draw influences from an array of designers and artists like Glaser, David Hillman and Bill Viola to name a few.
Your main profession is graphic design. What similarities do you find between graphic design and cooking?
I believe the cooking process is extremely similar to that of the design process and vice-versa. For instance, following a recipe is like following a design brief as in both processes there is an end product that is achieved by going through a series of steps, which involve research, experimentation, creation, finessing, presentation.
What stylistic tricks, if any, do you use to enhance the look of a dish before photographing it?
I believe when photographing a dish, we should focus primarily on the food, therefore I place my food into very simple crockery pieces, mainly in white, so that we can see clearly the colours and textures of the food. No photographic tricks, gels, colourings are used. I photograph my dishes with a Canon 500D equipped with a 50mm macro lens, which are all lit with natural light.
If you could compare yourself to a fashion designer who would it be?
I have always loved the work of Jil Sander and Alves/Gonçalves who are a brilliant Portuguese duo.
What food trends do you predict?
I predict that we are going to see a continuation on the present notions of artisan, hand-made, local, home-made food due to the ongoing economic crisis, a time when we go back to our basic values. I think more and more people are going to start growing their own produce, home-cooked meals instead of splashing out on restaurants, sharing their knowledge between friends and family. With all “doom and gloom” people will always find reassurance at home.
What are your opinions on current trends and could you list them?
Global “tapas/mezze” style sharing – We have seen attention on this type of serving, simpler, humbler approach, bringing people together which I think is fantastic.
Cocowater – Nutritious drink for summer although too hyped by celebrities
Nordic cuisine – Unfussy, fresh and balanced cuisine packed with oily fish, and berries – it is great to see herring become popular again.
Tea is cool – Drinking tea/hosting tea parties where we show-off our baking abilities on a tight budget – maybe it is time to move on from the cupcakes brigade.
Do you see any similarities/ disparities between food and fashion?
I believe trends are set by creative masters, whether they are renowned chefs or Couture designers. The general population regard food very differently from fashion but increasingly both are marketing led. I think in both fields, we can find products that serve a mass market or a very specialized and prestigious audience. Although food has a intrinsic survival quality about it, both share sensorial stimulation through shapes, colour, texture. Both fashion and food have a capacity to influence how people experience their lives through materiality or sustination.
Baked pears in Port, mixed spices and quince
all images subject to copyright. Miguel de Almeida