The Rota das Estrelas (directly translated into Route of the Starts) is a gastronomic event that takes place in several Michelin Stars restaurants in Portugal and Spain as well.

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This year’s Rota das Estrelas route started, as always, at the Il Galo D’Oro Restaurant. The host Chef Benoît Sinthon, invites other chefs from several countries to cook together in the greatest Michelin Star gathering in Madeira to happen every year. The criterion of the selected chefs is not just the Michelin stars. Several chefs without the so ambitioned star, like Ljobomir Stanicic, were present, but who for the quality of their work and respect for the industry have earned the admiration of the host.

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My Rota das Estrelas Experience

This route started as an informal get together between chefs. The perfect excuse to work between friends and enjoy the tropical Portuguese island of Madeira. The Il Galo D’Oro Restaurant, the place where it all happened is a part of the 5 stars hotel The Cliff Bay right by the sea in Funchal, the island’s capital. The Rota das Estrelas festival took place during 5 days, with several culinary events having taken place outside of the hotel and the restaurant. We were taken on a Madeira Adventure Food Tour, cooked fresh clams and sea urchins right on the beach, and plenty of other activities where the chef performed their culinary attributes for us outside of the restaurant.

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The first day started with a Walking Dinner: Kitchen Alive. An event where the ten chefs were invited to cook amongst the visitors throughout the “lower lobby”, The Rose Garden restaurant. It was really fun and serves to prove that the barriers between the kitchen and the dining room are vanishing. All of us want to see the stars cooking, want to congratulate the chefs and interact with them. Regardless of being a fine dining event, the excitement and wonder of seeing some cooking in front you is a tremendous way of discovering more about the person and the food they are producing. Why are they using this particular ingredient? What is the story of the dish? What textures and flavours should I be looking for when I taste this food? For me, this was certainly a great way to start and to break the ice amongst chefs and their audience.

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Each station had a theme. Just for you to have an idea, all across the lobby one could find something as a selection of cheeses from the countries where the different chef came from, to a fresh bread, to the ultra-sci-fi theatrical atmosphere of molecular gastronomy. This last one was a true show and made all the guests go “UAU” with all the smoke and dry ice.

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My two absolute favourites were Joachim Koerper with the tenderest lobster I had ever eaten and Davy Tissot with Sturia caviar; both plates had such delicate flavours and so well balanced with the textures as well. Another favourite of mine was Ljubomir Stanisic´s kid goat. Oh man! So tender and yummy, with a distinct flavour of spices and herbs.

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On the dessert stations, Fabian Nguyen was a clear winner. We had already met at the Four Season Ritz Lisbon Hotel, last January where he present me with an artwork of a Valrhona chocolate truffle tart, sided with a dollop of house-made sour cherry ice cream!  At the Rota das Estrelas in Madeira, he presented us with a lemon meringue covering (like an oyster shell), a hibiscus, strawberry and raspberry sorbet on top of a grapefruit slice and finished off with a petal of white chocolate and a gold powered raspberry. Think this description is long…Image the cue for this godsend of a dessert. It was beautiful and divine with the sweet and acidity playing in my palate.

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What I loved more about this night as that it was all about experimentation and joy. Operating a Michelin Star establishment is such a stressful job, that it was good to see the chefs and their teams laughing and enjoying themselves. The evening was topped off with a concert by the new chef and old singer Miguel Gameiro from the Portuguese hit band Polo Norte, and all the chefs and staff singing and having fun, great night.

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My Rota das Estrelas experience – The Madeira Food Safari

On the second day, we went of Food Adventure Safari throughout the Island. We were given a Safari hat, a bottle of water and told to get into the Land Rover Defenders. It is not the same as travelling through the African savannah, but my excitement was as high! We made several stops on our way to see the great view of the island and taste the best Madeira gastronomy has to offer. First stop “Pináculo” with queijadas (small cheesecake) and coffee! It’s impressive view of the Southeast shore of the island was accompanied the tender local pastry and a much-needed coffee.

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After a few bumpy roads and a constant laughter and good mood inside the Defender, we arrived at the best moment of my stay in Madeira! Honestly! Michelin star cuisine and fine dining meals are great don’t get me wrong, but nothing is comparable with a sunny beach lunch where the sea urchins, clams, oysters and seafood were being caught be fisherman and divers in front of us. This little bit of the essence of what fresh flavours is really supposed to mean topped all my expectations and made a seriously good impression on the food scene in Madeira.

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As the sand starts to get into our shoes, we can see chefs Benoît and Ljubomir were busy preparing the garnishes and the sides. The main courses were at that very moment being brought from the sea, by a couple of fisherman and divers who had just caught them a few seconds ago. In their hands the greatest mana that the waters of Madeira can offer: cracas, limpet mussels, oysters, sea urchins, and even an octopus.

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I was like a little girl jumping up and down with so much excitement of the idea that I would be tasting the freshest Atlantic ocean flavours ever! The skillets were already hot. In go the limpet mussels together with some olive oil garlic and coriander…..That Tchhhhhh sound of the sea water bubbling….The smell of the herbs and seafood impregnated the atmosphere making everyone, especially the Northern Europeans, cry over satisfaction. Even more when we dipped the local traditional potato bread with typical onion and parsley butter on the sauce left in the pan.

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If my excitement wasn’t enough already, we served a green salad made with sea spinach, also just picked from the water. I had never tried anything like this before, and what amazed so much was its freshness, saltiness. So crisp, you could feel and hear the cracking just like potato chips. Topped with great white and rosé wine from the vineyards of Madeira, it was a fantastic idea. Great fresh food, great atmosphere and for me the best beach sunny day of the year so far.

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After this miraculous experience, we drove to higher ground for lunch, because this little wonder food by the beach was only a starter! The air was cooler and the food matched the climate. We tried a local traditional stew with sweet potato and vegetables and of course passion fruit mousse at the highest point of the island. Like being on the countryside of the island! So cool.

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My Rota das Estrelas experience – Day 3

The following day of the Madeira edition of Rota das Estrelas started with a demonstration: L’art de la Table by the maître of the Il Galo D’Oro. He showed us how to dress a Michelin Star table at home. It was fun and curious to notice that even the way you dress a table at this level is changing and it is getting simpler and relaxed, not sloppy but elegant, and without the infinite lines of silverware, plates and glasses.

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I then went to explore Madeira’s food market and let me tell you that I was absolutely amazed, by the quality of the fruit offer! Madeira’s fruit markets are incomparable to any other! With 8 varieties of locally grown passion fruit, anonas, dragon fruit and many others, you can’t get more tropical than this!

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In the afternoon, I had a talk with Chef Bennoît about his life has a Chef, his past and how his granny’s food was so inspiring to his becoming an international acclaimed chef. He was determinate to become a Michelin star from the early stages in the kitchen. His food is elegant and light, so you can enjoy a full menu of his not feel uncomfortable at all. He is a big fan of working with local products and producers, saying that this is the big trend now in haute cuisine. This very evening we tasted his signature menu and, as I could confirm, it was balanced and elegant with the presence of several local products, all beautifully cooked.

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My Rota das Estrelas experience – The Last Stand

The best was left last of course, with the big event of the Madeira Edition of the Rota das Estrelas starting at 7 pm with a cocktail presented by the chefs that were performing that night. Chef Benoît invited Thomas Bühner (La Vie, Germany 3***) Michel Van der Kroft (‘t nonnetje, The Netherlands, 2**) Jordi Esteve (Nectari, Spain, 1*) and the only woman cooking Jacqueline Pfeifer winner of the Best Chef 2012 prize (Le Ciel, Austria).

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The big event began with a Thomas Bühner creation,  foie gras, coca-cola jelly, lemon granité / rucola, the foie gras creme was so smooth, I couldn’t  really feel the coca-cola taste on the jelly but its role on the plate was more to separate the crème from the lemon granite and the rucola on top. The rucola and the granite created a perfect balance with the crème, but there was another element that complemented this plate and that was the wine. This plate was served with a Madeira Wine named Desconhecido Campanário. The name translates into an unknown grave because this wine was forgotten on an old winery and no one knows who made it. The Sommelier bought the barrels, and shared it with us that night! How lucky was that! We were told that it would be a unique time to taste such peculiar wine as these were the last drops!

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It’s known that foie gras goes well with sugar, so matching it with Madeira wine made this a winning combination. This marriage even more amazing as after a spoon of the creamy foie gras, the crunchy fresh granité and the cut of the spicy rucola we drank a gulp of the unique Madeira vintage. The wine filled the pallet of sweetness and it wiped away the flavours but just for seconds. All the flavours would come back with even more power after the wine, it was the perfect match.

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The ceviche of scallops with citrus, avocado and herring roe by Michel Van der Kroft was just gorgeous to look at. Pure beauty! It was fresh and with some kicky flavours! It was like if the scallops and the creamy avocado were springboards for the citrus and the herring roe. This wine was served with another one of my favourite green wines in the world Parcela Única 2012 from the Minho boutique wine make Anselmo Mendes.

cheviche de vieiras por Michel van der Kroft

With Jordi Esteves, we had the “pata negra” cured Iberian ham consommé with lobster. The ham consommé was ever so transparent, with the lobster giving it the ocean taste Served with a champagne Pommery rosé.

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And now the host’s plate, a tribute to the Portuguese red scarlet shrimp, I had a version of this plate the day before in the signature menu, the chef made some improvements that elevated the plate; such as a sheet of purple potato, goose barnacle and the sea spinach also known as the ice plant flower. The crunchiness of these sea flavours matches beautifully with the delicious red scarlet shrimp. The white wine was a soalheiro 2013, and wow, what an aroma of passion fruit, incredible!

Tributo ao camarão carabineiro Português por Benoit sinyho e equipa

After cleaning the palate, it was time to taste Jaqueline Pfeiffer’s veal on top of an Austrian-bred pure with a garlic leaf setting on top. The pure had a bit of horseradish, was warm with its punchy details and at the same time delicate. Served with a Quinta da Leda 2011 red wine.

Veado por Jaqueline Pfeiffer

Finally the desserts, first we had a white chocolate dulce by Valrhona (all the chocolate is Valrhona) with mango and passion fruit. This dessert was a variation of the same colour, as it had several tones of orange. The taste had also that kind of variations but there was a surprise, pop rocks. It didn’t affect the flavours it just gave it a kick in the mouth, great fun. The last course of the Madeira edition of Rota das Estrelas was from Yves Michaux (retired pastry chef at the Il Gallo D’Oro) granny smith – spring 2015. A beautiful green apple that required the presence of the chefs at the table too, at the same moment, crash the apple with a spoon.  I loved the moment and the plate was awesome, unfortunately for me the food colouring to create this beautiful apple overpowered the flavours of the crumble and the dish. Served with a Blandy s Madeira wine Verdelho 1998.

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Next stop is the Restaurant Feitoria in Lisbon 15-17 of May, so you still have time to reserve your spot. It’s quite an experience, for the joy for the opportunity of tasting such amazing creations at just one meal, and I must say the organisation was incredible, super available and always ready to help. Chapeaux!

You can find more info about the Rota das Estrelas at http://www.rotadasestrelas.com/

Disclaimer:

I attended the Madeira Edition of Rota das Estrelas at Il Gallo D’Oro as a guest of the Cliff Bay Hotel. All text and opinions are my own are own.

Rates from 300 € per night (breakfast included) for the top floor Garden room in which I stayed in.

Cliff Bay Madeira Hotel details

http://www.portobay.com/en/hotels/portugal/madeira-island-portugal/the-cliff-bay/

Address: Estrada Monumental 147, Funchal, Portugal

Phone:+351 291 707 700

Text and photos by Maria Braga.