Chef Miguel Veiga is one of Rewilding Portugal’s oldest partners, having already provided catering services in several of our events and being part of this big family. Recently, he also became a member of the Wild Côa Network to further strengthen this connection and increase synergies with other members.
Tell us about your catering project, as well as the various products that you currently have available for sale to the public as part of your activity.
Well, my project “Chef Chez Toi” started in 2008, when I started making my own seitan, which was called “Seitan666” and sold it in packages of about 666gr. Meanwhile, at the same time, we started having dinner parties with friends, where I almost always cooked, and it was after visiting New York, where I went to see a vegetarian cooking school, that I got the bug to become a professional in this area of cooking. With the crisis at that time, the price of the course increased, which made me choose to return to London, where I had lived before, and work in vegetarian restaurants to learn the trade at a more professional level. I returned to Portugal in the summer of 2010, and in 2011 I enrolled in a one-year cooking course at the Escola Superior de Turismo e Hotelaria, to certify the knowledge that I had brought from abroad. The project officially came about then and gained momentum as time went by. Now I serve meals at our Quinta das Vinte Quelhas, in Aldeia Viçosa, in Vale do Mondego, and I also cook at the homes of people who request it. I also have a weekly takeaway service, with a pack of five meals that can be frozen and used later, and that can be taken to work, for example. I have also created several unique products in recent years: the seven veganBurgers; a totally vegan ramen broth, fermented pâtés, homemade granola, and I also produce several vegetables on the farm, as I think food should always be made according to seasonality. All these products are available by order. I also give workshops, do catering and weddings, and also field trips around wild mushrooms, an ingredient I love and always try to learn more about.
You have done numerous external catering services for Rewilding Portugal, including major events. How do you see this growing collaboration?
I have been doing more and more events for Rewilding Portugal and it is something that makes me happy, first because it is an organization with which I identify a lot… I love nature and I think that Portugal is far from having a balanced biodiversity, we lack a lot of fauna, especially large herbivores that can help in the “cleaning” of the vegetation. Therefore, I look at this collaboration with good eyes and much happiness because I keep track of the various activities and initiatives that are being made and I am extremely happy to be able to have a small role in this great gear, leaving people with full bellies and smiles on their faces with what I am serving them. I think that a connection with the endogenous products of our area and the area where Rewilding works, and someone who prepares or presents them in a meal, is an added value for both the region, which is being known “across the border”, as well as for the local economy, because those who come from abroad spread the word, and can generate more and more interest in getting to know this region of the Interior.
Meanwhile, you have joined the Wild Côa Network, both with catering and food products. How do you see the added value that this network can bring to your business?
I think this network will benefit me as well as other members, since it is a way to make known what is done here, whether in terms of endogenous products or services. There is no better advertising than word of mouth, and if someone likes what they take away from here, they will certainly tell other people about it, thus creating a certain curiosity in others, which may result in more people wanting to experience those same experiences, bringing them here and consuming the good things that are produced here.
You have developed many of your services using the facilities of the Rewilding Center. Do you consider this space an asset to the region and why?
No doubt the Vale de Madeira Rewilding Center is an asset to the region, because besides being close to areas managed by Rewilding Portugal and the beautiful river beach on the river Côa right next door, it is in a village characteristic of the region and with an aging population, something common throughout the Interior of Portugal. Besides, it has an excellent geographical location! It is right next to Pinhel, the Falcon town with its Medieval castle, a good wine growing area, good local craftsmen, and the land of the famous Cavacas. And it is close to several historical and special places in the region too: Trancoso, Moreira do Rei, Mêda, Marialva, Longroiva, Almeida, Guarda… It is also very close to the Douro and the mouth of the Côa river, with its mythical cave paintings site, which is without a doubt a magical place too. And it is also near the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. I really think that the Vale de Madeira Rewilding Center is an excellent place to use as a “base of operations” for tourists to stay and explore this region of ours. With the development of this space, small businesses can also develop in the surrounding region, which can be a reversal of the trend that only an aging population lives in these villages, because a regional economy is created again, now based on nature. Just see that: the local shepherd now has a livestock guarding dog integrated by Rewilding Portugal; that there are young people from the region who now belong to the organization’s surveillance team, having a fundamental role in fire prevention; the owner of the old village café providing me vegetables from her garden to serve… Rewilding creates life, in a village with very few people, with nature tourism being a diamond in the rough in this region.