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Chef Paolo Leite

Who would expect to find Michelin star chef on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Yet that can be discovered in the Atlantic Ocean at À TERRA at the Octant Hotel in the port city of Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island.

Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island is a historic center with am imposing 18th century city gate, convents, churches and grand houses. This capital of the Azores is the gateway to spectacular volcanic craters, crater lakes, smoking fumaroles, whale and dolphin watching and soaks in thermal baths. The coastline road leads to landscapes of rugged volcanic rocks. The signature dish, cozido das Furnas, is a meat and vegetable stew cooked for five hours in a pan buried in the ground in the thermal hotspot, Furnas. 

Linda Fasteson

Sete Cidades, São Miguel, Azores

Linda Fasteson-City Gate, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores

How did this island about a thousand miles from Portugal’s mainland attract this talented chef? To get here, Chef Leite’s story took him around the world and back.

Chef Paulo Leite was born in Aveiro, a small town near Porto, Portugal with long white sand beaches. Chef Leite describes this coastal city with natural salted lagoons as a lovely place to live and grow up playing along the city center’s canals. It is known as the Portuguese Venice.

Linda Fasteson

He notes the strong family influences, “I was raised in a traditional Portuguese family with a lot of passion for our local food and flavors, but also influenced by the Portuguese northern cuisine. Our family meals, especially on holy days, always featured seafood that my grandfather fished in the Ria de Aveiro. We also commonly had lamb roast since my father’s family came from the Douro Valley region. There are three other products that a man from Aveiro must love and be proud of, and were a regular presence at our table: Bacalhau, the Portuguese salted cod; roasted suckling pig (one of my favorites!) and Ovos moles, an egg yolk custard treat, so good that it’s almost impossible to stop eating.”

Chef Leite noted that he realized he wanted to work as a Chef quite late, but the pleasure of food and cooking had been there since he was a young boy. “It was quite natural to join a Hospitality and Cooking school. After I graduated, I started working in The Yeatman, one of the best hotels and restaurants in Portugal. At that time, it had 1 Michelin star and now it has 2 Michelin stars.”

He continued “With young blood flowing I was highly motivated to learn more. I wanted to try something new, so I got into my 20-year-old car and traveled 6 days to the Netherlands, praying to reach my destination. I lived and worked there for one and a half years.

“After that, the greatest opportunity came up. When I was hired by Chef Joachim Koerper, one of the most respected Chefs in Portugal and Spain… Cidade Maravilhosa was an incredible chapter in my life: In less than one year I met my wife and our restaurant was awarded with a Michelin star.” Cidade Maravilhosa was an incredible chapter in my life: In less than one year I met my wife and our restaurant was awarded with a Michelin star.”

Chef Paolo Leite

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was a major influence, “not only because of what we accomplished there and the awards we won, but also because it was in Rio that I met my wife. For Portuguese people, Brazil has something special. The Brazilian accent, the energy, the music and of course, Rio de Janeiro! It’s called “Cidade Maravilhosa” for one reason: It’s truly wonderful and one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’m truly grateful for the opportunities I have been given and the place I am working and living right now it is just another truly amazing one!” 

“In Rio, he continues, we had everything organized to achieve one main goal: to be awarded in the Michelin guide. We managed to reach our goal in less than one year and we were also recognized by local press as one of the best fine dining restaurants in Brazil.”

So why would such a renowned chef in such a successful career and compelling destination move to such a remote island?  Chef Leite revealed that “After returning to Portugal and working in Porto, I got the chance to move to this amazing place, the Azores. These small Atlantic islands halfway between Europe and United States are an incredible destination not only for leisure but also to live. In 2021, I was invited to become the Executive Chef of Octant Ponta Delgada Hotel, and this has been an incredible journey.”

The maritime subtropical climate and access to the freshest of ingredients is a huge draw. He continued “For me, as for most people from Portugal’s mainland, the Azores are full of surprises. No cold winters nor super-hot summers, just warm and pleasant temperatures all year. Everything here is green and blue. The fish and products from the ocean are simply the best one can get and it is by far the largest producer of beef and dairy products of Portugal. Add to this a pinch of tropical fruits and some weird vegetables (at least for a mainlander) such as: Pineapple, Guava, Cherry guava/arrack, Yam, and so on. This was an offer I couldn’t reject so I moved!

At Ponta Delgada, we are focused on freedom, sharing and making people happy with good food, soul and storytelling. We are recognized as a great restaurant in the Portugal food bubble and across the media and tourism guides.

When asked about his favorite cuisine and what makes his food unique, Chef Leite states. “It has been demonized and pointed out as one of the greatest problems with our food, but I consider it a strong ally and friend: Salt! Sea salt, of course! This special ingredient that nature gave us, along with fresh ingredients and family flavours are the secrets to make good food! Well… the list can be extensive, but I would say that what makes my food unique is salt and love! And to always cook and serve guest as if they were our beloved ones, wife, mother, or father.”

Chef Leite generously offered to share a recipe with our readers

Sopa de Queijo – Octant Ponta Delgada cheese soup

One of our flag courses, for cheese lovers made with Azorean cheese. This dish is very reflective of Portugal and Azores as soup is our first course for every meal. Lunch or dinner it stars traditionally with a soup dish. In some regions, soup is the only meal. Strong soups made with pork, beef, and beans or light ones made only with vegetables.

Chef Paolo Leite

Ilha cheese soup, for 4:

100g chopped white onion

100g  chopped leeks (white part)

50ml olive oil

400g potatoes

200g São Miguel cheese in pieces

50g São Miguel cheese grated.

80g cream

Cheese crisps – Place the grated cheese in a baking paper and cook it in a microwave oven at maximum power for 60 to 90 seconds, until golden and crispy. Save this for later, it will elevate your soup!

Stir-fry onion and leek in olive oil until lightly golden/brown.

Add chopped potatoes and let it sweat.

Cover all vegetables with water or light chicken broth and let it cook in medium heat for about 30-40 min, until soft.

Blend it with a hand mixer or a blender.Season with salt and add the cream.

Pour it really hot in a deep plate previously garnished with a poached egg and sauteed zucchini or mushrooms.

Finish with crushed cheese crisps.

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