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In February, the Michelin-starred Portuguese chef George Mendes hosted an online event entitled “Scotland Meets Portugal.” In collaboration with Dewar’s and virtually co-hosted by the brand’s master blender Stephanie Macleod, the cooking and mixology class celebrated the latest iteration of its Dewar’s Portuguese Smooth blend—an eight-year-old double-aged scotch whisky aged in port casks.
The event provided an opportunity for those living and working from home to enjoy a meal and an accompanying cocktail in an unexpected way. Guided by video, the participants followed step-by-step methods to create both the perfect meal and the perfect drink by masters of their respective crafts.
Mendes, who is a first-generation American born to Portuguese parents, opened his restaurant Aldea in New York over a decade ago. With its closing last year, guests that loved his cuisine were left to wonder how and when they could expect his dishes again.
Via Zoom, the restaurant’s experience came alive again as Mendes taught onlookers how to make a quintessential Aldea meal, paired with fun Dewar’s cocktails. The class began with Macleod creating a Spiced Tonic Highball, followed by Mendes reimagining a seared shrimp dish, marinated in a curry broth. Then, Macleod demonstrated how to make a contemporary take on an Old Fashioned with the Dewar’s Portuguese Smooth. For dessert, Mendes showed the crowd how to make caramelized strawberries with mint coffee ice cream, paired with a neat pour of the whisky.
Whitewall spoke with Mendes to learn more about his recent event with Dewar’s, how he’s been spending his time amid the pandemic as a new father, and what he’s eating when he’s not in the kitchen.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your recent “Scotland Meets Portugal” cooking and cocktail-making class with Dewar’s Master Blender Stephanie Macleod and National Brand Ambassador Gabe Cardarella?
GEORGE MENDES: What a great time and so much fun hanging out with Stephanie and Gabe celebrating the launch of Dewar’s Portuguese Smooth—the brand’s latest edition to their cask finished series. Portuguese Smooth is a double-aged, eight-year-old blended Scotch whisky that’s finished in Portuguese ruby port casks, so I was thrilled when the brand reached out to partner with me on this launch.
The class was awesome because we got to talk about Scottish and Portuguese culture coming together to create this new bottle while leading a cooking and cocktail demo together. Although it wasn’t in person, it was cool to have so many people come together across the country to enjoy an hour of food, drinks, and conversation. People were able to learn something new about Dewar’s blended scotch, how to pair it and had a few of my recipes to try at home, too. So overall, it was a great experience!
WW: You mentioned when closing Aldea after ten years that you wanted to step back and re-evaluate cooking. What kind of evaluation are you doing, or have you done, over the past year?
GM: I closed Aldea right as the pandemic was growing in late February so it really slowed everything down for me—and all of us. It was and is a time of reflection. I re-evaluated the years of work at Aldea but also took the time to think of what was next for me in terms of cooking. I have begun looking at food differently, creatively, and in a refreshed way. And letting other cuisines of the world and cultures influence me.
WW: Putting a modern twist on family recipes gave you a voice and an opportunity to launch your career. What dishes do you feel epitomize that idea for you?
GM: I have always described it as refined-rusticity, and this will still carry on with me. The dishes that epitomize this were the Arroz de Pato and the Shrimp Alhinho. They represented the flavors of Portugal and reminded me of my childhood.
WW: What is your classic go-to Portuguese dish?
GM: There are too many. But I’d say the bolinhos de bacalhau (Salt Cod and Potato croquettes).
WW: For those that love your cuisine at Aldea, how can they enjoy your food now? If they can't do you plan to open a new space?
GM: I have to remain tight-lipped for now, but I do have an upcoming new project. Announcing soon!
WW: How are you spending your time today amid the ongoing pandemic?
GM: My fiancée and I have welcomed a baby boy. He’s now 8 months old and has taken over our lives in the best way possible.
WW: Are you doing anything personally to hit the re-set button?
GM: Meditation, bike riding, and running.
WW: Where do you eat or order takeout from when you're not in the kitchen?
GM: We cook a lot at home, but when we do order, Mexican is our go-to. I currently love Xilonen in Williamsburg. As well as pizza from Leo.
WW: Where are you planning on traveling to first for food, when travel resumes?
GM: I have to be honest, I miss Lisbon dearly.