[Interview] Antonio Loureiro, Founder, A Cozinha, Portugal
António Loureiro, together with his wife, Isabel, started the restaurant A Cozinha in Portugal in 2016. Fiercely committed to sustainability and zero waste, A Cozinha was recognized in 2021 by the United Nations as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world.
Could you introduce your company?
We are a restaurant that provides gastronomic experiences. It is a project that I share with my wife, Isabel. I am the Chef of Cuisine and mentor of our philosophy – Nature and all she has to offer is what truly inspires us. Isabel is in charge of monitoring the sustainability indicators. We both believe that cooking is also about telling stories, creating sensations, making people reflect about the process, about the origin of the products that we use in a sustainable way. Our restaurant is a Michelin star and Green Key award winner, recognized for our commitment to sustainable development and respect for the products that we use as well as the people that are working with us.
Were there particular circumstances in your community that led you to start your agri-food business?
Sustainable development is in our DNA. I have always been very sensitive to the issue of food wastage and bad food consumption. From day one of our operations, we have sustained a near zero waste and a near zero kilometer policy.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly impacted your business operations?
The pandemic had a negative impact on our business as we had to shut down temporarily. We did however use that time to support several online initiatives to promote sustainable and healthy food. Those initiatives where promoted by us and by several local and national institutions like schools, universities, ABAE, Green Key, among others. We also supported our producers by cooking their products and showing the results through our social media; letting people to know where to buy locally and how to cook in a sustainable and healthy way. Through these initiatives, we highlighted the importance of local production, the better options in terms of consumption and about ways to prevent food waste. I can safely say that we transformed the negative impact of the lockdown into something positive for our community.
What other challenges have you faced in your journey and how have you worked to overcome these?
The biggest challeng is getting people onboard, influencing how people think. “Eating is necessary but cooking is an art” and for this reason, restaurants can be a social vehicle that drives perceptions and changes in society.
Describe what it means for your agri-food enterprise to be selected by the UN as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world?
First of all, it's a team effort and we all feel tremendously proud that external and credible entities recognize our work. Personally, I am very pleased to see that the team embodies our values of respect and commitment and through what we do, we can raise awareness among our customers and the community to issues related to sustainable cooking and, more generally, to the food system issues.
What is your vision for 2022 and beyond in delivering a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system?
I will reiterate that sustainability is a company policy in our restaurant. Having a monitoring process to measure the sustainable development indicators and having respect (for the product and for the people) as a fundamental value could raise awareness on the value of food and the meaning of “Cooking what Mother Nature is giving us”. With a near zero km strategy, it is possible to establish important partnerships helping local producers to evaluate their own products by cooking them and telling people about their stories. Furthermore, through a near zero waste policy based on “Food is not waste; Food has and is a value” it is possible, as company, to sensitize clients, community and young generations to the importance of responsible consumption and the value of Food.
What key advice would you give to others that would like to follow your example to become passionate, values-driven, innovative food entrepreneurs?
My advice would be on the importance of establishing key actions within your business to work on a daily basis and to highlight them to clients and community. In addition, I would advice the development of a plan for external and credible experts to evaluate, monitoring the impact of those actions and be evaluated for your actions with transparency.
This interview is part of a series covering the winners of the United Nations Global Best Small Business Contest of Good Food for All.