Decor Feature & Interview with Chef Diogo Noronha
When I was preparing my graduation thesis, I decided to pick a restaurant to photograph for my decor feature; luckily I knew someone – the young, energetic and very talented chef Diogo Noronha. After a long stint at Pedro e o Lobo, an elegant-yet-casual restaurant serving modern takes on very typical Portuguese recipes, he went on to open his own (absolutely fantastic) place, Casa de Pasto. And, with the excuse of having to do it “for school” he was kind enough to let me photograph his restaurant and interview him about the decorating process!
What is the history behind this restaurant? What is the Portuguese tradition of the “casa de pasto” (eating house) and why this choice of inspiration?
“Historically, casa de pasto was the name given to establishments where food was served, accompanied by wine, at the end of the 19th century in Portugal. Like the bodega in Spain and the locanda in Italy. The word ‘restaurant’ comes from France and only start being used a couple of years later throughout the rest of Europe. At this time there was a great transformation in customs and habits of people in Lisbon, where there was the presence of a more financially secure bourgeoisie. People started leaving the house more, preferring to dine out but always in a home-like environment. A gastronomy typical of Lisbon begins to emerge, the more bohemian side of the city develops. Artists, politicians, writers and others live through the city, the casas de pasto and other establishments and consume all kinds of food and drink. We wanted to bring back a bit of that historical legacy in an equally historical area where much of that transformation took place. Very close to the Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon’s main provider of goods at the time. We tried to recreate an era and a little bit of the environment, while still carrying the experience through to today. We created a gastronomical proposal with very deep Portuguese roots, Lisbon in particular, while using cooking techniques and an aesthetic that is more modern.”
What was the space like before you took ownership?
“The group already owned the property before we opened the restaurant. Some structural modifications were done, namely in more technical areas like the kitchen. We tried our best, however, to keep the space in harmony, in order to be able marry its dynamic with the era of the building and a warmer, more homey environment, obviously without jeopardising the functionality of the space as a restaurant. For many years, this space was home to brokerage offices for the Lisbon harbour.”
What was the process of decorating like? Where did you find such particular pieces and why did you choose them?
“The decorating process was very much about created a concept and then following that line of thought in a very spontaneous and natural way. Also, to meet the requirements of a restaurant. Acquiring the key pieces for the space… some from collections, others were researched and bought during the development of the project and others right at the end to close the cycle. Some of those items already belonged to the group, the remaining ones were the result of a lot of research and hard work by the team that develops the group’s projects. The entire process of choosing the pieces was based on this dynamic of recreating a bygone era while staying grounded in the present.”
How important is the dialogue between tradition and innovation in Portugal?
“To me this is the most important dialogue. In my opinion, you cannot innovate without understanding and valuing tradition. With tradition comes a lot of knowledge, wisdom, the fruit of the experiences and committal of many people, generations, habits and customs that eventually grew into roots. There is a connecting thread there, and to be able to look ahead we have to know where we came from and, with that knowledge, choose the path we want and ideally innovate and create new approaches. That is my conviction and my goal. Not everything that comes from tradition is right and makes sense, in the same way that innovation doesn’t automatically become tradition. It’s complex and requires maturity, time, mistakes and successes. Life is about all that and as such you shouldn’t turn your back on dialogue.”