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Food Makes a Fine Festival in the Azores

Bartender Extrordinaire Joao Couto Mixes up a Pumpkin Mug cocktail
Julie Hatfield

SAO MIGUEL, Azores --Ten years. Ten days. Ten chefs.

That's how 10FestAzores'14 describes its exceptional food event here in this archipelago that boasts it's the only one that takes you to Europe with just a four-hour flight. It's only 2259 miles from Boston to Sao Miguel, one of the nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that make up the Azores, still more than 1000 miles west of Lisbon.

The Azores are proud to be part of Portugal, but its cuisine has always been specifically Azorean, and this festival, which began on June 19, celebrates the 10 years that the award-winning School of Tourism and Hospitality Training has existed. It brings 10 of the world's noted chefs to the island to cook a dinner using Azorean ingredients and goes on for 10 gastronomically incredible days. Locals love it but so do tourists, who travel here from many different countries during the festival to enjoy a feast of beautifully cooked flavors. Students from the cooking school assist the chefs in the preparation of each dinner, which takes two days per dinner.

Last night, Chef Helena Loureiro came from Montreal where she presides over the restaurants Helena and PortusCalle, to present a seven-course meal that included mackerel "escabeche," marinated in vinegar and white wine and accompanied by sea lettuce mousse, yellowfin tuna in pea broth, crayfish with seabream and bisque sauce; and black pudding sausage cream with potato foam and smoked pineapple. Lourero was born in Portugal so she knew how to take the local ingredients and do with them what Headmaster of the school Filipe Rocha says is the purpose of the education it provides: to tweak the basics and the traditional cuisine, which is very good to start, and make them great.

Winemaker Antonio Macanita paired each course with a wine, including "Sexy Rose Brut" champagne; Arinto dos Acores, from a white varietal found only in the Azores; Palpite Reserva White from the Alentejo region of Portugal where his mother's childhood was spent; and a Preta Red 2008 wine that Macanita called "rich, full of sun, fruit driven and from a very special year."

Rocha calls his own barman/sommelier/bartending teacher Goao Couto "the best," and Couto was on hand before the dinner making his own signature cocktails, which included the "Pineapple Mug," consisting of Cachaca Janeiro (a distilled spirit), Azorean pineapple, pink peppercorns, lime, fresh ginger, ginger and lemongrass syrup on crushed ice and served in a mug "so it looks like a cup of milk," Couto smiled.

Another Couto creative drink, the "Halloween in June," is a blend of Four Roses, pumpkin jam, lemon, mint, cardamom, allspice, and homemade soda.

We sat next to Chef Rui Martins of Paris, who will be cooking on Wednesday, June 25, at 10FestAzores'14. Martins has worked at several Michelin starred restaurants, including Cuisin'Arts & Management in Paris, La Maison du Danemark in Champs Elysees, Restaurant Bar et de Boeuf in Monaco, and Hotel Le Park in Paris with Chef Alain Ducasse.

He continues his collaboration with Ducasse at the School of Tourism and Hospitality Training in its Ducasse Education program and said of the famed chef Ducasse, "He was demanding and difficult at first, but now we're fine." The slender Martins obviously enjoyed every one of last night's seven courses, as he cleaned his plate every time.

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