OS HOMENS DO CAN THE CAN E O QUINTO PALADAR
Revista Nau XXI – Junho 2013
Os protagonistas apresentam-se em discurso directo. Uma jam session com Rui Pregal da Cunha e Akis Konstantinidis a volta da ideia de servir conservas.
FOTOS ANTONIO GAMITO
THE MEN FROM CAN THE CAN AND THE FIFTH TASTE
A verbal jam session about serving canned food with Rui Pregal da Cunha and Akis Konstandinidis.
How did the architect meet the musician?
Akis Konstantinidis: I’ve been in Portugal for the last twenty years. I’m Greek, from Athens.
My father was also Greek, but from the diaspora, in Caucasus, where he was born. I trained as an architect. I spent seven years in Italy and this experience gave me a variety of references and influences, so I came to see food as a global thing. And that’s how I also see Portuguese food; lots of influences from the Orient, the Mediterranean. I began working at Brandia Central [branding agency) 15 years ago.
Rui Pregal da Cunha: Before I started at Brandia, I already knew you. It was at the time I started going out with Patricia [Camacho], who was a designer there. I was still working as a musician in London, and I came to Portugal regularly. And there was a time when we all went to ARCO Madrid and Carlos Coelho [the main man at Brandia, now lvity] invited me to work for the agency.
AK: It was through architecture that I got involved in branding restaurant, which is what we have here with Can The Can: a brand; something that has continuity,; something that doesn’t stand still; a brand that is based on a concept.
Is the transition from communication to the restaurant industry a smooth one?
AK: We’re very passionate about things. We get emotionally involved. Everything that happens between us, in each of our houses. has always been a quality challenge. The architecture of each one, the music of each one. each one’s cooking. The idea for Can The Can was like starting with the saucepan and adding ingredients. It’s not just my project, it’s ours.
RPC: It’s not a jam session but it’s something similar. People come up with ideas and something is created.
AK: Something we have in common is that the original ideas come from areas that are not the ones we trained in. We learned that at Brandia, where we had the ctea woman or the errand-boy coming up with ideas. It was very healthy. Each one of us had our own background, but we interfered in other people’s fields; Rui in the kitchen and me in the music.
RPC: One of the things that people said and which shocked me was: “So, your chef is an architect?”
AK: But it’s like it were the same thing: form and content. Managing expectations. adding ingredients.
There are a number of things in architecture that can be useful in cooking.
And why tinned food?
RPC: We were in an antipasti restaurant in Sicily and they started serving dishes in their own packaging. where no preparation was involved. And we thought at the time that we could serve something better. in a better way here.
AK: In Greece, when I was little, it was a tradition in my house to eat fish from a can, which I always thought was Greek. A few years later, I realised that it wasn’t Greek, it was Portuguese. It was Luças. Luças was the top seller in Greece in the 20th century. An exceptional product. That I thought was Greek, was Portuguese after all.
Do you only work with Ramirez products?
AK: No. Ramirez is obviously an important partner. It has a wide range of commercially popular products. It also has the added advantage of knowing how to resuscitate attractively packaged traditional. Exclusively Portuguese tinned food. However, we also have access to various products and to our own personal favourites. We work with a variety of brands. We went everywhere, from Poveira to La Gondola. We spoke to everyone. It was important to acquire the know-how. Bring the product home with us and see the attitude of the brands.
RPC: We decided to try everything. Then, later, we realized that there was this or that brand that we hadn’t had access to at the beginning. These were top-quality brands which, nowadays, come to us. But to do so, we had to test them and organize the tastings properly. We started solely with products in olive oil. There were no blind tastings because we knew what we were trying.
And then we’d work through the night. And we’d decide: today, we’ll do mackerel. We’d get everything together after excluding anything not in olive oil. We had already excluded the non-brand items and only kept the ones from the good canning companies. We opened everything.
We started with the most neutral ones first and left the spicier ones until last. We drank fizzy mineral water to maintain our palate. And we tasted them all, creating a database that included how the tin looked, the smell. how it came out of the tin; and then the flavour, the aftertaste, the aroma, the texture, including the producers and their brands accordingly.
AK: The batches meant there were differences in the quality of the end-product. When someone complains that Portuguese produce isn’t good, it often has to do with the lack of quality management. The problem is always maintaining this quality.
RPC: We have been working with Naval baked cod and anchovy. And very often people complain it’s very salty. Sometimes it’s like that, a tin, or a whole batch, where someone cut corners or the fish wasn’t soaked properly.
AK: When there’s a shortage of sardines, this is also reflected in the consistency and texture of the sardine for the tinned food market.
When did you start letting your imagination run free?
RPC: lt was Akis who was behind most of the things. It’s one thing thinking about doing this better, focussing on Portuguese products or thinking a little outside the box. But it was Akis who thought of taking the product out of the tin.
We thought, we’re going to cook with this; we’re going to do something different with this. We’re going to combine it with fresh seasonal produce but with an innovative touch. The idea would always be to bring us something really new to sustain our concept.
AK: I think there are various tastes. But the most important one, which is very fashionable now, is umami, the so-called fifth taste. We have salty, sweet. bitter and sour. However, the fifth taste has a protein that is traditional in oriental
cuisine, in fish-based sauces, which causes the sensation of good flavour, a taste that completes all the others. What’s important is that all the fish that we have in Portugal, plus the wine, the cheeses, all these products have a high percentage of umami. So. we have the perfect combination here: the products, plus the umami, all that is necessary to match the different things and make interesting dishes. Let’s combine sardines with fresh tomato and herbs, like celery. And our palate decodes all the richness of the different flavours.
RPC: At the Fish and Flavours festival in Lisbon, Akis did a starter, which was Mexilhão do Pomar (Orchard Mussel); crazy stuff; a purple endive leaf, aubergine mousse, a segment of orange and smoked mussels. Fantastic. Is the greatest surprise simplicity?
RPC: I spend all my time decoding our recipes for customers.
AK: I don’t like it when things are encrypted. Our customers come in, take a look at the place, and they like the simplicity of the things. And that is mirrored in our recipes. Our biggest battle is overcoming the idea that tins are something associated with camping and the food of the poor.
RPC: The can is “the McGuffin”, it’s the starting point; it’s omnipresent. But beyond the McGuffin, what Akis says is that there’s much more to canned food than the can itself. To preserve is to keep something beyond its sell-by-date, eternity. If we look at Akis’ menu, we find canned food everywhere.
AK: Our mission is for people to forget the can, appreciate the food and only at the end return to the can, the origin. Some people come here with their doubts, they don’t want to try the canned food, but then, for us it is much easier to exceed expectations.
And what are your favourite products?
AK: Conserveira do Sui has exceptional brands, like Manna – which has an excellent gourmet range. Comur da Murtosa. Poveira from Póvoa do Varzim. La Gondola and 5 Quinas, which are from the same producer but in different segments. In terms of tuna, Santa Catarina is incomparable.
The only part of the country that produces muxama is Vila Real de Santo António, at Catraio and Damaso. Muxama is the equivalent of tuna jamon. And there’s another top-quality product that is not very well known: botargo [dried and salted fish roe]. which is very common in Italy and Greece and which uses mullet roe. Here, mullet is seldom used, only tuna roe is used. We also have the new Nero products from Jose Nero, like the black scabbard fish from Sesimbra. He is someone who enjoys taking it that one step further.