I was born in Amieira and studied in Faro, at the hospitality school. Then I worked in hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, and I was working in Chicago when my father became ill and I had to come home. I opened Djebe Sport Café at my parents’ old cheese factory.
The plan was to stay for two or three years, but I’ve been here for 14. I could never find a replacement for Alentejo’s scents anywhere else in the world! My friends are here, and I enjoy going out foraging for asparagus and mushrooms, fishing. I enjoy being free and Alentejo gives me that freedom.
Out in the fields, I know where to find wild watercress and asparagus. When it rains, I can go looking for “silarcas”, a local mushroom that’s even better than truffles! Açorda de peixe do rio (typical Alentejo soup made with river fish), ensopado de Borrego (lamb stew), beans with chards… “silarcas” are in every dish in this land! To find them, you have to walk the slopes from the bottom to the top.
I learned these things from my grandfather when I was six or seven years old, and these details are what makes us grow closer to the place. I fish “achigã” (black bass) or “lúcio-perca” (zander or pike-perch) at the marina and, at the end of March, when the fish are fatter, I catch barb fish at Ardila river. A group of five or six of us go out fishing, cook some broths and soups with river fish, and pick some wild asparagus on the way home.
Manuela and my mother are the cooks at Djebe. Our clients get to know the typical Alentejo cuisine in a place where exceptional service is our top priority. From the moment you walk in through that door, I want you to see me as a friend. That’s a very Alentejano way of life.
One way or the other my family always worked in the food industry. My parents owned a cheese factory -- we made 800 to 1000 goat cheeses a day, and they were the best in the area.
Our story and mission
Between 1993 and 2003, while I was working in the Algarve and abroad, I would return to Amieira in the summers to help my father at the cheese factory and would leave again in October.
Degebe is the name of the river that flows near Amieira. When we were kids, and we went swimming or fishing in the river, we always said “let’s go to Djebe”, and that’s why I chose that as the name for the restaurant.
When I have an idea for a new dish, I tell Manuela what I want, she gives it a try and, most of the times, it turns out as good or better than what I had imagined.
I do everything around here. I finish work at 3 in the afternoon, close the door, and spend time in the garden planting legume and vegetables. The surplus tomatoes and lettuces are used in the restaurant. I source around 30 per cent of all products we cook with from my garden and other producers with whom I do business with. Great, high-quality products.
I go out into the fields to do many things, but I never come back empty-handed. I always bring back something like pennyroyal, a herb you can also use as a side dish when it’s still green, or oregano in July. I could plant them in some corner of the garden, but they are not the same, they don’t even smell the same. And I also enjoy venturing out to pick them, climbing up those ravines, and through the brushwood. Four or five bunches will last the whole year.
But Manuela is the real secret of Djebe Sport Café. She is an excellent and talented cook, and everything is done right. I don’t know any cook in their thirties as skilled as her.
A writer from Vancouver told me one day that “Alentejo is a land of great plains, where the soul soars and stays.” It’s so peaceful… An infinite horizon, a delightful evening when you can hear all the owls and every other sound you can imagine. It’s perfect!
In this region, we can find a little of everything. Although the temperatures are higher, we have all the ecosystems in the country here.
Fortunately, we are in a mountainous area of Alentejo, which gives us things that the plains don’t. For example, the sugar concentration in the “medronho” (a local fruit that’s typically used in an alcoholic drink) is up to 57 degrees here. The more sugar, the higher the alcohol level. We’re in a great place. When I was a kid, we used to go 20 km up the river and then 20 km more down the river.
When the fountains near the river were dry or when our heads were scolding hot, we would dive in the river, swim three or four metres deep, fill our mouths with river water and swallow it when we reached the surface. That water wasn't enough to quench our thirst, but it was colder.
In Portel county we are the only ones who are loyal to the true “açorda”. You can make up many soups and broths, but “açorda” is the staple dish of Alentejo. The origin of the word is Arab and means bread with water.