When TAP Air Portugal launches its new route from San Francisco to Lisbon in June, it won’t just be an opportunity for Californians to travel directly to Portugal, it’ll highlight Portuguese culture in California itself. The newest contributors to TAP’s “Taste the Stars” program, serving Portuguese dishes from top chefs on the airline’s business class menu, are Bay Area residents David Costa and Jessica Carreira. The two are chef-owners of Adega in San Jose, the only Michelin-starred Portuguese restaurant on the West Coast.
Portuguese cuisine is not only a profession to these two chefs; it’s in their blood. Chef Costa is Portuguese-born and spent his early career in Lisbon. His path took him from culinary school to the Michelin-starred Restaurant Eleven with chef Joachim Koerper, then to the restaurant Assinatura, taking a modern approach to traditional Portuguese flavors. Finally, he landed at the Ritz Four Seasons Hotel in Lisbon.
Chef Carreira was born in San Jose and raised by Portuguese parents in a true Little Portugal — the largest Portuguese community on the West Coast, right in northern California. “My grandmother lived around the corner from where the restaurant is now. She would make me traditional Portuguese meals when I was growing up,” says Carreira. “And my parents’ house kept those traditions alive.”
Confident that she would pursue a culinary career, Carreira attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and then chose to do her externship in Lisbon, where much of her family still lived. It was while spending three years working in Lisbon that she and Costa met.
“Chef David and I realized we worked really well together,” she said. “And we decided that the United States needed more Portuguese cuisine.”
At the time, chef George Mendes’ Aldea in New York was the only Portuguese restaurant with any sort of national recognition. (Mendes is also one of TAP Air Portugal’s Taste the Stars chefs, creating dishes for the airline’s New York to Lisbon route.) To Carreira, her hometown — home neighborhood, really — was the ideal place for a fine-dining Portuguese restaurant.
In earlier decades, the neighborhood had been full of Portuguese shops and restaurants, Carreira says. But as her own generation assimilated and moved on from the community, many of those local businesses began to die out. Carreira and Costa wanted to see the Portuguese community thrive again. “A real objective for us is to revitalize the Portuguese presence in the area,” she says.
And the location they found, in the heart of Little Portugal, couldn’t have been a better fit. A Portuguese restaurant owner, who had been in the neighborhood for 33 years, was looking to sell — but only on the condition that the restaurant remain Portuguese, says Carreira. “Well, he was in luck.”
Today, years after its opening, Adega is critically acclaimed, its accolades including a Michelin star and Wine Enthusiast’s designation as one of the “100 Best Wine Restaurants in America.” The restaurant has the largest list of Portuguese wines in the United States (and, to their knowledge, the largest outside Portugal itself).
Adega’s menu exemplifies the kind of cuisine both Costa and Carreira were intimately familiar with: Portuguese flavors through a fine-dining lens. Many of the dishes on the menu at Adega, Costa says, have their roots in family recipes that he grew up on — but from a chef’s perspective.
“In Portugal, food is often presented family-style, with huge pots for a big group at the table. Here, our plating is much more elegant and modern,” says Carreira. It may differ visually, but the soul of each dish is intact. As Costa says, “We transform Portuguese food without destroying the origins.”
Staples of the menu include Portugal’s ubiquitous cod, bacalhau; every time the menu changes with the seasons, chef Costa introduces a different bacalhau dish, such as the bacalhau à Adega, pan-seared codfish fillets over caramelized onion, scrambled egg, and fried potato. Octopus is enduringly popular, particularly the polvo à lagareiro with fingerling potatoes; a ribeye steak with an Iberico ham steak sauce is another favorite.
It was the sophistication of their cuisine (and, no doubt, the influence of their Michelin star) that caught TAP Air Portugal’s attention. When the chefs were approached by the airline to develop dishes for its Taste the Stars program, they leapt at the chance. “It’s such an honor to represent Portuguese food to travelers going to the country,” says Costa.
Designing dishes to be served at 30,000 feet is a wholly different prospect from designing dishes for a dining room. There are any number of factors to consider: how food will be reheated, how it will be prepared offsite, how it will taste at altitude. But “a good chef can produce good food anywhere,” according to Costa. So the process of translating their style of cuisine into an airline menu was a welcome challenge.
And just as the Adega menu keeps the spirit of classic Portuguese dishes intact, the in-flight menu for travelers heading to Portugal from San Francisco retains that spirit as well, according to Carreira. “Really, we’re just working with the catering team to tweak our recipes so that they can be produced when we’re not around,” she says. “We’ve worked to make sure that the quality is just as good onboard as it would be sitting at a table at Adega.”
Arroz con pato — seared duck breast over chouriço and bacon shredded duck rice — is one of the most popular dishes in the restaurant and will be served onboard TAP flights from San Francisco to Lisbon. “Different eating experience, same flavors,” Costa says.
With a California restaurant and Portuguese roots, the chefs are no strangers to travel. “This is surreal for me, because I’ve been a passenger on TAP for as long as I can remember,” says Carreira, flying from her hometown in California to see family in Portugal. “I’d always have to stop in New Jersey or Boston. It’s so great that people can now take a direct flight there. And to give our take on how special Portuguese food is? It’s a huge honor.”
Once you’re in Portugal, the chefs say there’s an almost infinite number of dishes to discover. Bacalhau, of course, in what Carreira calls “a thousand and one different preparations.” Chef Costa recommends virtually any fish and seafood: “It’s all so fresh and delicious.”
And chef Carreira can’t pass through without indulging in pasteis de nata, the rich custard egg tarts you’ll find throughout the country. “Every time I go to Lisbon,” she says, “I eat three or four at a time.” Portuguese cuisine may have arrived in America — but some things just taste better in their native home.