A big part of Quinta Carvalhas is the food we grow, prepare and serve to our guests. In fact, the food we serve is one of the biggest reasons our guests want to stay on the farm and not go home – there is genuine delight and surprise that vegetarian food can be so incredibly tasty. This is a huge win for us; we strive to create the tastiest food with the best possible ingredients to leave you feeling nourished and nurtured.
We started this journey from humble beginnings however. When we bought the quinta in 2016, with exciting plans to develop a retreat centre, we did not have any idea about how the food and catering would be accomplished. We were not vegetarian and had no formal training in cooking. Although Richard was a very keen home cook and I had experience in catering for large dinner parties, we had a lot to learn. But as with all the aspects of this unfolding dream, we were happy to just start, and allow ourselves room to make mistakes, to learn and improve. This is a recurring theme with the growth and development of this dream: going with the flow.
As we slowly developed our philosophy for the farm and the way we wanted to live here in Portugal, it became evident that we had to become more aware of where our food comes from – and the effects of producing and eating it. This led to the goal that over time we would progress to a plant-based diet and menu for the farm. Today all our food is vegetarian with an increasing number of plant-based meals.
The vegetable garden is a work in progress and as we started growing vegetables in the garden without any chemicals and pesticides, it became evident that traditional ways of vegetable farming had short comings. The soil was constantly becoming depleted and of poor quality, and so we started again, from scratch, this time looking at more sustainable ways of growing our food and implementing the principles of permaculture farming. An important part of creating nutrient rich soil is our compost production. Boy are we are lucky to have 12 horses producing the perfect basis of this black gold! The learning is still ongoing, our chemical-free garden already produces a bounty of vegetables and fruit that are both tasty and nutritious, and our goal is to solely use produce from our garden and orchard for 100% of the meals we serve.
The idea that we would serve mostly plant based food gave us much to accomplish before we could feed guests. Firstly, no of us had ever cooked plant-based food professionally, secondly plant based food needs a lot of attention to make it taste and look good. We embarked on an amazing journey of using local ingredients to develop tasty dishes. Inspiration came from recipe books, Netflix shows (Chefs Table), Instagram (a very good source of vegan recipes) and dining out in various cities in vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Armed with this new knowledge we started developing our own recipes using our own or locally sourced ingredients. An exception to the plant-based approach is with the use of our own eggs. We have a flock of well looked after free-range chickens that produce the eggs we use in the kitchen.
Lots of hard work has led to a menu that is fully vegetarian, astonishingly tasty, nutritionally balanced and healthy. Our soup making skills are legendary! We have quite a fan following in the soup department, and we often get asked for our recipes. Today Chef Andrea leads the kitchen and she takes great pride in presenting food that doesn’t just makes your mouth water, but also provides all the nutrients you need to be healthy and happy.
We created a series of cooking workshops in case you want to learn how to make tasty vegetarian food, with ease. These are run periodically throughout the year.