Gold for Portadown’s Jose for Brazilian twist on Portuguese egg custard tarts
Authentic Portuguese egg custard tarts created by a couple from Brazil at a bakery/café in Craigavon captured the attention of taste experts and led to a gold award in the recent Irish Food Awards in Dingle, Co Kerry.
The gold award winning tarts, known as Pastel de Natas in Portugal, are among the most popular foods at the L’Artisan Bakery that’s owned by Jose Andre and wife Lucia which has specialised in a wide range of tasty patisseries and savoury dishes since he launched the small business in 2013.
The tarts, which Jose also supplies to other retailers and cafes here, gained the influential gold recognition at the recent Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards, the most important competition in the food and drink industry on the island of Ireland.
“The award is another marvellous boost for our natas, a distinctive egg custard tart that’s extremely popular in Portugal, and should boost sales here and further afield,” says Andre.
“The tarts are based on those originally produced before the 18th century by monks at a monastery in Lisbon who were passionate about French pastries. Convents and monasteries in Portugal once used large quantities of egg whites for starching of clothes. It was quite common for monasteries and convents then to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout Portugal.
“While the tarts have been a mainstay of our food business since 2013, we’ve since added a wide range of Brazilian and Portuguese influenced foods including Coxinha chicken fritters, a particularly popular ‘street food’ snack in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities. We’ve also expanded the business to provide coffee and snacks, such as sausage rolls, and quality meals.”
Originally from Portugal, Jose set up the business because he wanted to take control of his own career direction. Food production made sense to him because he originally came to Northern Ireland from Brazil to help leading food companies recruit employees from Portugal for posts that they couldn’t find locals willing to undertake.
He rented a small bakery unit at Bluestone Business Park on the outskirts of Portadown with some potential customers retained from the previous owner for quiches, his first product. “I also took samples to cafes and coffee bars throughout the Craigavon area. However, it was two months before I made my first sales,” he remembers.
“The early days were tough. I kept going because I was confident about the quality, taste and innovation of all the foods we developed and continue to produce in Craigavon.”
He won business with cafes and delis such as Arcadia and Sawers in Belfast and Yellow Door in Portadown.
“There are excellent food businesses here and a host of superb producers of ingredients especially within the farming community. I am now working with these producers in the development of my quiches, tarts and other foods. We give priority to local ingredients wherever we can. All the eggs, for instance, used in our quiches and natas are locally sourced. The products are all handmade by the team here,” he explains.
Born in Portugal’s historic Évora region, an important farming and food hub, Jose spent most of his life in Brazil, where he met Lucia and ran a successful restaurant and deli. He was just two years old when his father, an electrical engineer, moved the family to Brazil. His father, also Jose, was to become managing director of the big Philips operation there.
Jose worked in export-import management before deciding to set up a restaurant in his Brazilian home town of Porto Alegre, the largest city in the south of the huge South American nation: “I’d always loved food and been keen on the industry. Porto Alegre has a very diverse and cosmopolitan cuisine with German and some Portuguese influences.”
The restaurant scene, however, was also intensely competitive. Margins were very, very tight, he remembers. A severe downturn in the Brazilian economy didn’t help the fledgling business and led him to switch direction into recruitment for food processing and other industries there.
Jose then decided to look beyond his adopted homeland and to explore opportunities in Britain for his management skills especially in staff recruitment. A friend had also suggested he should look at Ireland because of the growing demand within the food industry for skilled workers.
He found employment with a recruitment agency in Dublin and was then given the task to helping food processors in Craigavon to hire production staff from Portugal.
He moved north and began making contacts within the region’s biggest manufacturing industry, a move that subsequently led to his own successful food enterprise.
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