Will Carvalho: The Olympic chef

Our talented head chef Will Carvalho was handpicked to be the resident chef  the Brazilian female football team during the Olympics this summer, now he’s safely back on home soil Will told the Marylebone Journal about his influences and experiences during the summer of sport…

Where are you from originally?
I grew up in a small town on the coast, just south of Lisbon. My mum is French and my father was Portuguese – he passed away when I was three.

When did you decide to become a chef?
I went on holiday to France when I was 13, and my French grandmother took me to a shop in Biarritz that did a sausage with truffle. She taught me how to cook the sausage – you poach it, otherwise it will break up. After that I wanted to become a chef. The following year I had the choice of either staying at a normal school or going to a technical school to learn a skill, so I went to train as a chef. I was very young. My first placement at a hotel was horrible, but my teacher was very nice to me and I ended up number two in a class of 20 students. The number one was already working as a chef in hotels.

Take us through your journey as a chef.
I stayed in Portugal until I was 20, and then went to São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese-speaking island nation off the west coast of Central Africa. I was a chef at the Pestana Equator resort for two years and had to cross the Equator every day to get to work. Produce-wise it was amazing. I could get my own pineapples, mangoes, vanilla pods, all sorts of things, from the garden, and my life was lived in shorts and flip flops. From there I went to The Manor House in Castle Combe, with one Michelin star, and stayed for two years. I met my wife, decided to come to London and was lucky enough to join Harbour & Jones, the contract catering, hospitality and food services company. My first position was at the Royal Society on Carlton House Terrace, before moving here in September 2010, just after the refurbishment. We had our first big event that October.

Tell me about 41 Portland Place.
It’s a Grade II* listed building, designed by James Adam in 1773.
The Ciba Foundation, later known as the Novartis Foundation, moved here in 1947, and hosted scientific events and meetings by some of the greatest medical scientists of the last century. The foundation closed in 2008 after merging with the Academy of Medical Sciences. After taking over the lease, the Academy began a £5 million programme to create a modern headquarters and a conference and events venue, while preserving the grandeur of the house.

What sorts of events take place here?
Those who use the venue for conferences, meetings and events include medical research charities, leading research universities and many pharmaceutical companies. But anyone can come and hold an event here, from product launches and press briefings to fashion events. There were dinners and meetings here for Olympic committees in the build up to the games. People come here for private parties, retirement dinners, wedding anniversaries and quite lavish birthday parties. We’re a great venue for fine dining, whether that’s an intimate dinner for eight people right up to dinners for 80, and canapes for up to 200. The range of spaces works nicely. You can have pre-dinner drinks in a modern setting and then come up to a nice period room for dinner. And our garden terrace is superb for summer parties. Any profit generated goes back to the Academy of Medial Sciences, and is used to further its goal of promoting health and medicine.

How do you cope with such variety?
By always being on track, by being organised. The greatest challenge is to maintain the high standards. I like to get quite involved in the preparation of the menu – and for larger events we’ll often do tasting sessions. I’m lucky to be able to choose my suppliers. For example, meat-wise I use Ashbys, a family business in south London. I knew them from my days at the Royal Society. Their meat is fantastic.

Describe your approach to cooking.
Whether it’s fine dining, a sandwich lunch, cakes or scones, anything I serve must be of the highest standard. Some venues just churn it out. I always say: “Try to think that you are the client. Would you eat this? Would you drink this? No! So why serve it?”
Have you cooked for any distinguished guests at 41 Portland Place?
I had the pleasure of cooking for Michel Roux Jr and Mary Berry. I made afternoon tea for Princess Anne last year, and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson came to lunch as part of the Olympic committee meetings.

We hear you’ve had a busy summer…
I was invited to be the head chef for the Brazilian women’s football team during the Olympics. The directors of the Brazilian Football Confederation were there, and I was lucky to have them in my restaurant for three days, because they said: “Take him to Japan.” So as soon as the Olympics finished I was off to Japan for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. It was the chance of a lifetime.

The Academy of Medical Sciences
41 Portland Place
020 7520 5444

Words: Viel Richardson
Image: Joseph Fox

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