Instinct and curiosity are the main characteristics of Rodrigo Castelo, a Chef from Santarém, Portugal, who has taken his beloved Ribatejo to the most renowned gastronomic events in the country, from the National Gastronomy Festival to the Congress of Cooks, the “Sangue na Guelra” and Chefs on Fire.
The winner of the ‘Bib Gourmand’ from the Michelin Guide Spain and Portugal 2020, opened last April 20 the space “A Galinha da Vizinha”, where Castelo seeks to combine the flavor, potential and price of a very special chicken, with other recipes created in a singular way. The space also promotes local crafts, so if you want to buy the dish where you ate, you can.
Created by Rodrigo Castelo together with Francisco Cunha and Daniel Domingos, A Galinha da Vizinha is a barbecue restaurant with unique characteristics located in Santarém. For a year and a half, they developed the concept and the aspects that make it unique, ranging from the confection of succulent chicken on a rotating grill, to unique specialties such as gizzard and chickpea stews, pork ribs, patés, hummus, salads, croquettes, pies and samosas. “Even the sauce was made to be unique, as well as the three desserts I created”, says the Chef. The Crests of Chicken is a good example of these inventions, the mixture of wafer leaf in the shape of a crest with a sweet egg and almond filling, this dessert is the delight of those who taste it.
Customers can Take Away some of these delicacies, as well as buy various types of preserves, and the Chef emphasizes the large variety of dishes, noting that “they even have pickled pudding.” In addition, at Galinha da Vizinha you can buy Ceramirupe crockery and cutlery, where each piece is unique and handcrafted, giving visibility to Portuguese handicrafts.
The path that led Castelo here was inspiring, abandoning a career path in the pharmaceutical industry and reversing the course of his life to devote himself to his passion, cooking, all because, he says: “I just want to be happy”. The taste for gastronomy comes from his childhood… he laughs that he once stayed at home for a few hours while his mother went to the hairdresser, and when at lunchtime she came back, Rodrigo had already made a steak with sliced fried potatoes and eggs, he was only 8 years old. Rodrigo Castelo first made his dreams come true in 2013 when he opened the Taberna Ó Balcão, in Santarém. The kitchen has always been his passion and that is why he is responsible for it at Galinha da Vizinha, while partner Franciso Cunha takes over the financial part and Daniel Domingos is dedicated to operational management, both have catering businesses, Hamburgueria da Baixa and the Brazão Restaurant respectively.
The respect for Ribatejo products has always been part of his way of being in life and within his kitchen – even when it was just a matter of making snacks for friends. It is his instinct and his curiosity that made him develop a consistent gastronomic repertoire of traditional and regional inspiration, which allows him to assert himself today as a national reference in cuisine.
In addition to the ‘Bib Gourmand’, Chef Rodrigo Castelo stood out in 2016, the year in which he received the award for “Best Author’s Cuisine” and the Gold Medal at the 6th Delicacies and Wines of the Tagus Contest, also winning the first place in the “Restaurants” category in the “Revolta do Bacalhau” contest. A year later, he won the “Daily Table” award, given by “Mesa Marcada”. In 2018, he was awarded the “Garfo de Prata” by the “Boa Cama Boa Mesa” guide from Jornal Expresso and the “Troféu Portugal” promoted by “Edições do Gosto”. The following year, he also won the “Traditional Kitchen Restaurant” award from Grandes Escolhas magazine.
With the quality that Chef Rodrigo Castelo gives to Galinha da Vizinha, more awards will certainly be achieved. Here, quality doesn’t come at a high price, a whole grilled chicken costs €13.50 and half a grilled chicken only €7. Some of the specialties cost around €5 and some patés around €2.20. The chicken comes with a tomato salad, red onion and double-fried thin potato, with oregano and coriander.
In the future, a goal of Galinha da Vizinha is to continue with the exceptional quality that characterizes Chef Rodrigo Castelo, and to franchise the business from the north to the south of the country. In fact, the Chef admits: “we already have a closed deal in the north of Portugal…” It goes to show that quality and creativity at a low price is possible, and according to the business’ aims you will be able to taste this “chicken” from the north to the south of Portugal in the near future.