President of Portugal visits Sonoma for Portuguese food at Tasca Tasca
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal visited Sonoma on Tuesday afternoon to nosh on tapas from the Portuguese restaurant Tasca Tasca as part of his international visit to celebrate Portuguese heritage in the Bay Area.
For Tasca Tasca sous-chef Jordan Cortez, cooking for de Sousa marked an accomplishment that put in to perspective how far he had come since he first began working in restaurants as a dishwasher.
“I honestly never thought I was going to cook,” Cortez said. “I would have never thought 16-year-old me working at a restaurant that I was going to get to serve a president... It’s crazy.”
Portugal’s consul general in San Francisco contacted Tasca Tasca’s owner and head chef Manuel Azevedo about a month ago to organize President de Sousa’s trip to Portuguese businesses and cultural events in California. Azevedo owns Sonoma’s other Portuguese restaurant, LaSalette, named after his mother.
According to a public schedule for the president, de Sousa and his entourage dropped by Amorim Cork America factory in Napa Valley and planned to visit the consulate in San Francisco for an award ceremony.
Less than a day before de Sousa’s visit, Azevedo didn’t know which of his two restaurants de Sousa would dine in, accompanied by an entourage of about 40 aides, secret service agents and law enforcement officers.
“I'm not even exaggerating, it was probably put 15 hours before he was to arrive and we still did not know for sure whether he was going to be at LaSalette or Tasca Tasca,” Azevedo said, adding there would be more last minute requests. “And near the last minute, it was decided that the president wants to watch the football game, a soccer game between Portugal and Spain.”
Despite the initial stress of welcoming a presidential crew, the meal at Tasca Tasca almost immediately became a casual affair for the restaurant’s staff.
“He was just chillin’ and hanging out,” server Melina Roldan said. “We had a few little chairs for the game... It wasn't anything too crazy. It was all just fun.”
Specialty plates were prepared at LaSalette by its sous-chef Francisco Flores, who ferried the plates to Tasca Tasca. Cortez said they cooked up Alcatra, a Portugese beef stew, served with Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes. The president passed on a sea bass filet served with collard greens and oven-roasted corn with garlic butter — he is not a fan of seafood, Cortez said.
Azevedo said LaSalette's is the longest-serving Portuguese restaurant in California, and the president’s visit was gratifying after so many years of ordering Portuguese products for authentic cuisine.
“I've been carrying the Portuguese flag in Sonoma, to the extent that I could, for 25 years now,” Azevedo said. “I'm just thrilled that that he's coming out and that he appreciates what we're trying to do, or what I've been trying to do in my small way for 25 years.”
Server Melina Roldan said meeting de Sousa and his presidential entourage was a “once in a lifetime” experience, particularly for what de Sousa did after the meal.
After Portugal’s soccer team fell to Spain with a goal in the 88th minute of the match, de Sousa took time to shake hands and thank Cortez, Roldan and the rest of the staff of Tasca Tasca. He even took a selfie on Roldan’s phone.
“The president himself, took his time to be grateful for the kitchen,” Cortez said “He was really grateful of us. He specifically wanted all the employees to gather around him for a picture.”
Azevedo said his crew was fumbling with their phones when de Sousa asked one to hand it over. Then, with Tasca Tasca staff grouped together on the porch of the restaurant with a Portuguese flag flying overhead, the president of Portugal took a selfie.
“Everyone involved was blown away. We were stressed and almost like looking forward to wait for it to be over,” Azevedo said. “Then we're toward the end, we actually were sorry to see him go because he was so fun and charming. And we pulled it off.”