“We are really good, everything is happening. We’re doing what we love and respecting ourselves, our families, and our colleagues,” they agree. While both these talented chefs are referring to their industry peers in general, there’s no overlooking the buzzing New Kids On The Block (NKOTB) Collective—started in March 2020, of which they are a part of. Made up of eight founding members, including the project instigator Chef Pedro Abril, and incorporating the many other “Kids” that work with them on behalf of the movement, Tiago stresses that this is not a business. Instead, it’s a collection of individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and kitchens, coming together with different perspectives and a singular goal: to reinvent the restaurant industry.
Each of the collective members has independent businesses or other work concerns outside of the group but unite as a team for events and happenings. They pull from one another’s strengths and specialties. And what food do they cook? Only the food they love to eat and serve. That’s what you’ll find every Saturday from 10h-14h at Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira, next to Time Out Market. Typically you’ll find four NKOTB members serving up the freshest of the season in playful ways. Think pork belly lollipops with crackling skin and a sweet, spicy, salty sauce or an addictive pastry made of pulled pork, mayonnaise, and crispy onions. “We don’t like calling it street food. It’s our take on world cuisine,” asserts Tiago. That being said, Pedro adds, “it’s food that you can eat standing, walking or, our favorite, dancing.”
Pulling Out Of The Pandemic
No one disputes the fact that the pandemic has been well, shall we say, a challenge. Restaurants closed, staff were laid off, money got tight. But the NKOTB are nothing if not resilient. “This allowed us to rethink the food we were cooking and serving. We, out of necessity, reinvented ourselves, and started making waves,” reports Pedro.
Pedro and Tiago are speaking with Relish Portugal from the MUSA Brewing lab in Marvila, where Pedro runs the food concern. Says Pedro, “We prepare dishes to serve with fun.” One of Pedro’s MUSA successes, once the lockdown was lifted, was his “Breakfast of Champions,” serving beer and food at 9am. “It became very famous, we worked with lots of different cooks, very, very nice.”
That’s in keeping with the NKOTB directive: working with other chefs, sharing ideas, building community, and taking care of themselves in the process. But there has been push back. “We are making too much noise and our projects are not universally accepted. We try to stress that we are all in the same boat, we try to keep humble, try to keep everything going. We’re intent on changing the previous system. 90-hour workweeks were exhausting and hard on our mental health,” says Tiago. “All people working in the industry need personal and happy time away from work. 90 hours a week is just too much. It’s not supposed to be like that. You can’t have a relationship or a family,” he continued.
As for their outlook, they estimate that 60 percent of Lisbon restaurants were tourist-facing, serving bad food. Tourist traps. They believe that these types of restaurants have suffered and expect only 10-20 percent to reopen. In their experience, the restaurants that will survive are those that service the Portuguese community, including expats. “We see this. They come to have a beer, eat something, and talk about it,” notes Pedro. Tiago adds, “The Portuguese will not abandon us. When the tourists return that’ll be a bonus. We look forward to that time, for them and us. But for now, we are concentrating on locals.”
NKOTB are busy, doing events and pop-ups two or three days a week in different spaces across the city. The collective is exploring expanding throughout Portugal and even bringing awareness and flavors of Portuguese gastronomy abroad.
And their message is being heard: there is strength in diversity. The day after we spoke, Chef Abril, Chef Monteiro, and Chef Cruz were slated to do a short film project, in conjunction with the city, about diversity in Lisbon. “We are all different but share the same ideas about Lisbon, it’s rising like a Phoenix,” says Tiago. And for those of us that love good food and value the human spirit, dusting off those ashes is only the beginning.
Find out where the New Kids On The Block Collective are cooking on their Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nkotb.pt/
Meet a Michelin-starred chef, listen in on a Portugal travel and expat guru, discover Portugal’s thriving craft beer scene, and more in the latest issue of Relish Portugal. This free-with-subscription English-language food and culture magazine for Portugal lovers everywhere is a gorgeous award-winning, quarterly, online publication. Sign up and relish the bounty of riches that is Portugal: relishportugal.com.