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Interview: Chef Chakall – the TV star feeding visitors at Expo’s Portugal pavilion

Connecting Travel’s Sarah Hedley Hymers got to know the Argentinian beneath the turban ahead of Expo’s launch

With his trademark turban and Maldivian ocean eyes, Chef Chakall is unmissable. One of the culinary icons contributing to the smorgasbord that is Expo 2020 Dubai, Chef Chakall will operate a pop-up, Al-Lusitano by Chakall, at the Portugal pavilion, and for one night only, he will present a degustation menu at the Jubilee Gastronomy Restaurant, on Wednesday 1 December 2021.

Chakall’s turban speaks to his time travelling through Africa. It was here, in Sudan, living with a family comprising one husband, four wives and 27 kids, that Chakall learned to speak Arabic.

Argentinian by birth, Chakall is “Portuguese at heart”. After relocating there, he worked in kitchens, set up a catering company and applied for citizenship. But he wasn’t always a chef. Back in South America, Chakall was a correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine. He went on tour with U2; his last interview was with Bono.

It seems unfathomable that a man in his twenties would walk away from the clique of music journalism during the Nineties, but his destiny was calling. “I thought it was time to change,” shrugs Chakall.

“I’m a Gemini.” He tells me this twice

It was around this time that Chakall’s best friend – the man who gave him his singular sobriquet – suddenly passed away, aged just 27.

“He was a painter, and he loved music; he played music very well,” says Chakall. “I knew all the musicians in Argentina and one night we had a party, and he was playing with these famous old musicians. The next day he called me and said, ‘I have to tell you yesterday was the best night of my life.’ An hour later he died. He was having dinner with his family, and he had a heart attack. Ever since I have always thought, this could be my last night.”

Chakall had always dreamed of travelling, so that is what he did. He spent three years in Africa. Then, while travelling in India, he met a Portuguese lady. “Not that kind of meeting,” says Chakall with a grin. “She was very nice to me and said, ‘You should come to Porto, you’re gonna love it.’ And I thought, why not?”

Chakall arrived in Lisbon right before Expo ’98, an international event that would forever change the city of Lisbon and Portugal’s image on the international stage. From a family of restaurateurs, he quickly found work in a kitchen and was promoted to head chef within weeks.

Chef Chakall_Bacalhau com Grão copyChef Chakall’s bacalhau

“Four generations of my family have owned restaurants, so I grew up in a restaurant. In my childhood I was a waiter in my mother’s restaurant,” says Chakall. “Of course, when you’re at a high level there are different requirements, but, at the end of the day, cooking is very simple. I think, singing or playing an instrument is much more difficult than cooking. Anyone can cook if they have the passion to do it.”

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Alongside his catering company Cozinha Divina, Chakall has created several restaurant concepts in Portugal, including El Bulo Social Club, Refeitório Senhor Abel, L’Origine by Chakall, Areal Beach Bar by Chakall, Luz by Chakall, and, most recently, the Chakburger hamburger franchise.

He’s also the executive chef of three restaurants at the Pr1me Energize Hotel in Monte Gordo, in the Algarve; the Super Bock Beer & Gastronomy Restaurant in China; and the Bom Bom and Roça Sundy restaurants on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, situated by the Gulf of Guinea.

At Expo 2020 Dubai, Chakall hopes to expand his business even further, introducing his franchises, Chakburger and the upcoming Chakachicken, to the market.

I think Chakachicken will be really, really good in Dubai

I also have another business with my sister selling Argentinian empanadas. That’s doing well overseas. In supermarkets in France, we’re selling more than 40,000 units a month now, after we started with just 500. I wanted to serve good food for everyone, so the prices are very affordable, and we only sell top-quality meat. We produce the cattle, and we produce the empanadas with salsa made to our mother’s recipe. It’s a kind of tribute to her. She had Alzheimer’s. So, we named the business after her as a tribute to our hero.”

At home in Portugal, Chakall is perhaps best known for his many television shows. During our chat, he proudly shares pictures of himself and his seven-year daughter rehearsing for the latest one. Called ‘Raising Noa’, Chakall and his daughter Noa travel and eat, learning about the world as they share epic adventures aboard Chakall’s converted three-wheel ‘camper bike’.

IMG_8144Chakall on location with his daughter for new TV series, Raising Noa 

“I bought a three-wheeled motorbike from Italy and I built a house on it,” he laughs. “I’m making the trip with my daughter so I can educate her, but she is also educating me.”

A communicator by vocation, there are few chefs more suited to a role at Expo 2020 Dubai. Speaking seven languages, Chakall is a true citizen of the world, and cooking is one of the most fundamental ways to connect people and share cultures – the raison d’etre of the World Fair.

For more information, visit www.expo2020dubai.com/en  

 

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