The organizers of Lisbon’s Sangue na Guelra festival call it “Blood n’ Guts” in English; they also describe the event as “Young Chefs With Guts.” The name, which literally means “blood and gills,” referring to the fight in a fish, comes from a Portuguese expression that can also be translated to mean “hot-blooded,” “fire in the belly,” or simply “young bloods.”
You get the idea.
“It’s about having blood and guts, being aggressive,” says Paulo Barata, who founded what has been called Lisbon’s “punk fish festival” with Ana Músico. “You just do it. Sangue na Guelra is an attitude; it’s the courage to take risks and be creative.”
This year’s festival takes place May 22-24. Since it started as a satellite event of Lisbon’s Fish and Flavors Festival in 2013, Sangue na Guelra has become known as meeting point where international chefs can test their mettle with Portuguese seafood and other local products and work beside Portuguese chefs. And, importantly for Lisbon’s “young bloods,” it’s an emerging-artists showcase where sous chefs and pastry chefs are given the opportunity to take center stage.
“This isn’t about let’s eat and be fancy,” Barata says. “The chefs really have to do something special for us. We want a dish inspired by the name Blood and Guts.”
Barata recalls balls-to-the-wall moments of past events, like the time divers risked their lives in bad weather and rough waters to gather sea urchins for the menu. “That’s something they would only do for us,” he claims, recalling the extreme episode of Sangue na Guelra’s sea-to-table history.
This year’s festival will bring together Belgium’s Alisdair-Brooke Taylor, Alberto Montes from Atrio in Sapin, James Lowe of London, and Portuguese pastry chef Diogo Lopes on May 22. Mathieu Rostaing-Tayard of Lyon’s Café Sillon, Italian chef Riccardo Camanini, Portugal’s João Viegas and pastry chef Telmo Moutinho of Lisbon’s Alma restaurant will be in the spotlight on May 23.
Perhaps to relieve the testosterone buildup, and more pointedly to provide a space for women in food, Barata and Músico have created a new “Girls & Guts” day on May 24 that will have an all-female cast: the celebrated Slovenia chef Ana Ros, the Michelin-starred Trieste native Antonia Klugmann, Chloé Charles of Fulgurances in Paris and Portuguese pastry chef Maria João.
Barata, who is a food photographer with a photojournalism background, and Músico, a writer, publicist and producer, started Sangue na Guelra after Barata took a trip to Italy to shoot the chef Jamie Oliver for a magazine assignment. Long story. He never met Oliver, but a session with the famed Massimo Bottura led him to Modena’s food scene and the idea of doing something to promote Portugal’s young chefs.
“We’re paying tribute to our country,” Barata says of the festival. “Chefs don’t need to look for the culinary tradition; it’s there. We have a story that’s 800 years old. We’re not talking about foie gras: The ingredients are 100 percent Portuguese. A lot of chefs are now explaining Portuguese products in a very different way.”
Barata and Músico, who are married, organize dinners and other events in Lisbon’s restaurants throughout the year. Sangue na Guelra has become known as a sort of incubator for Portuguese chefs and the new food scene.
“Chefs didn’t have each other’s phone numbers, they didn’t go to each other’s restaurants, and now they do,” Músico says. “We are trying to motivate that connection.”
They also do their part to encourage broader networking with fish vendors, farmers and other food producers and distributors. Barata speaks proudly about the custom coffee blends and breads served at the festival, as well as the dishes commissioned from young ceramicists. Last year’s festival program included a demonstration on a more humane way to kill fish.
“Here in Portugal we are still at the beginning,” notes Músico. “We have a great traditional cuisine. We have great, great products. But we didn’t have this modern cuisine. Eight years ago you could count on your fingers the people who knew what a Michelin star was. But what’s going on now is very exciting.”
Barata interjects, “But no matter what, I think we will always be wild.”