Nuno Mendes was born in Lisbon and grew up with a passion for travel and food cultures, in part inspired by his father and grandmother. He remembers being taken to a Goan restaurant in Lisbon when he was a child, and this formative experience awakened a passion for discovery and flavour that would come to define the chef throughout his later career.
Nuno Mendes attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and, once qualified, received further training in Japan. The experience clearly left its mark; the unique idiosyncrasies of Japanese cuisine along with the use of bold ingredients such as raw fish, yuzu and umami flavours have distinct influences in the way Nuno Mendes approaches his own food.
The chef spent some years traveling the world, gaining experience under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Ferran Adrià, the ‘godfathers of experimental cuisine’, as well as Wolfgang Puck and Rocco DiSpirito. Upon coming to London in 2006 – he was intrigued after news of east London’s buzz made it all the way over to New York – Nuno Mendes headed up the short lived (but long remembered) Bacchus in Hoxton, which combined gastropub ambience with molecular approaches to cooking.
After Bacchus closed its doors Nuno Mendes founded the cult domestic pop up known as the Loft Project, whereby the chef would prepare food in his own home and guests would dine communally around his kitchen table. Part supper club, part performance art, the project developed into a platform for some of the world’s finest experimental chefs – including both Sam Nutter and Sam Miller from Copenhagen’s Noma – to demonstrate their molecular prowess in a uniquely intimate environment.
In 2010 Nuno Mendes opened his own restaurant, Viajante, in Bethnal Green. The concept of Viajante was evident in its name; in Nuno Mendes’ native Portuguese viajante means traveller, a tribute to the chef’s own wanderlust. The menu was filled with global influences – particularly Iberian, South American and Japanese – and his close-knit staff were, by the chef’s admission, ‘all travellers, but one family’. Just as Nuno Mendes and his staff had travelled the world and ended up in vibrant east London, here the ingredients were taken ‘out of their contexts’ and rehomed on the plate, combined with new flavours and textures.