Interview with Chef Diogo Porto of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook

When I was around 8-9 years old living in Portugal, my great-grandmother would watch me every Thursday after school. She often made me an after-school snack of codfish cakes, otherwise known as Pataniscas de bacalhau. She taught me how to make the dish but didn’t want to give all of her secrets away. My mom later gave me her recipe and I added my own flair.

What is a knife you cannot live without?

I still have the same knives set I bought from when I graduated culinary school. I bought a set of GLOBAL knives – a high-quality set from Japan. They’ve lasted me around 15 years so far and have traveled with me throughout my career.

What is one ingredient you cannot cook without?

Garlic and shallots. Very versatile and flavorful. It’s used a lot in Portugal.

What was one of the biggest mistakes you made your first year in the culinary industry?

Growing up in Portugal, my mom taught me to make mashed potatoes in a very Portuguese fashion with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cream, egg, etc. At one of my very first jobs at the Penha Longa Ritz-Carlton in Portugal, the French chef instructed me to make mashed potatoes for a side dish. Upon completion, the chef was confused and said, “What is this? What are these ingredients in this?” so I remade the mashed potatoes and learned the “proper” French way, with mostly butter.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef? What led to your first job with the Ritz-Carlton Portugal?

I didn’t always know I wanted to become a chef. I felt like there were two main things I was good at. I could go the finance route because I loved numbers or go into cooking. My mom always said as we were leaving for school in the morning that I needed to make dinner after school because she and my dad worked late. My sister and I would have dinner ready when she got home. While in high school, I thought I would take a shot at culinary school. I learned how to cook through watching my mom and repeating what she would teach me. I learned everything from listening and practicing. My young daughters are gradually following in my footsteps as I teach them recipes. After 2-3 years in culinary school, I was looking for a job for training/experience once culinary school would end. My dad endorsed this nice resort hotel in Penha Longa that I had researched and encouraged me to go. I got an interview and soon developed my first connection with The Ritz-Carlton in Penha Longa. I worked there for my final experiential requirement for culinary school, and then returned to school for one more year. By the time I finished school, my old Chef had a job set up in place for me back in Penha Longa. To this day, I still keep in touch with Chef Ornato Antunes.

When we met during my visit to Manzanitas at Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe I learned that you’ve been with the Ritz Carlton Group for 14 years. What has it been like working for such a well known prominent hotel group? In those years how many different hotels have you had the chance to work at?

I have worked for nine different Ritz-Carlton hotels, varying from Portugal to Austria to Ireland to Bacara to here in Lake Tahoe. I’m grateful that all of my hard work has brought me to where I am right now. It hasn’t been easy, with numerous hours working in different hotels across the country and especially leaving my family at 20 years old to pursue my dream of working around the world. But Ritz-Carlton was able to allow me to explore the world, give me promotions, learn about different cultures and meet new people. My journey helped me bring worldly experiences to the U.S. Each RC has uniqueness but each follows the same vision, brand standards and high expectations.

What is your favorite dish on the current Manzanita menu? What is your favorite dish you’ve ever had on the menu during your time (even if it’s not on it currently)? I still dream about a Cauliflower Soup I enjoyed during a visit one Winter which was divine….

The Scallops and Pork Belly entrée. It brings back memories from Portugal and reminds me of home. The techniques used to prepare and cook the pork belly are the same as Portugal and tastes like home.

Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?

I’ve had many people throughout my career that have provided teachable moments and shaped my leadership and culinary skills. Chef Ornato Antunes helped me build my career at his youngest start. Chef Gael Cruchet helped me at RC Ireland and pursue my next Ritz-Carlton opportunity. Exec Sous Chef Satish Yerramilli helped me to be
mentally sharp and to think in a different way. I really admired the way he treated his team and his enriching development. Finally, Chris Southwick, the former hotel manager here in Lake Tahoe, who helped keep me in line and on the path to success. Southwick taught me how to create expectations and pushed me to be better each and every day. He also taught me the ability to wear many hats at once, be quick on my feet, and how higher leadership will push you but offer valuable teaching moments for your career.

What is your favorite after-work drink?

Red Wine – Pinot Noir. For relaxing, I enjoy an ice-cold Coke and Bacardi with lemon.

As a Truckee local now, what is your favorite local spot when you’re not at work?

Swimming at Donner Lake. My family takes our kayaks and paddleboards to Lake Tahoe, where I spend days with my wife and two daughters at the beach; Sand Harbor or Moon Dunes.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I love scuba diving. I have PADI and open-water, rescue diving scuba diving certification, from PADI. Back in Bama, Spain, I saw a shark when I was training and freaked out but survived! I got my certification in Spain. When I was younger, my dad would dive recreationally and fish – Diogo wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Chef Diogo Porto of The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe and me during a fabulous dinner I enjoyed at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe.

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