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Victor Vieira on MasterChef fame, overrated dishes and nudes

Tomatito's new chef relives his stint on the show and talks scallops, spices and more

Photograph: courtesy Rodney Evans (Central Studios)
Tomatito has recently acquired a new head chef in former Brazilian MasterChef contestant, Victor Vieira. Aside from carrying on the tapas bar’s tradition of chefs cooking fun, 'sexy' food, Vieira is also looking to shake the tag of ‘the MasterChef dude’ (he’s a serious chef now) and leave a legacy of his own at the restaurant. Here, he tells us about tapas inspired by Nirvana, his most overrated dish and how three months in China turned into ten years.
So, what brought you to Shanghai?

Well, like a lot of people who come to Shanghai, I came thinking it would be a quick stop. It was originally to be the creative director on a three-month project for Coca Cola, who I used to work for in advertising. Those three months became five months, five months became five years and now it’s been almost ten years.

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Photograph: @masterchefbr via Instagram

We heard you were on MasterChef, how did you end up on there?

I burned out doing advertising (convincing people to buy expensive cars and bags wasn’t for me), so I decided to take a sabbatical for a year to focus on my two passions: cooking and travelling. One day, a friend came over for dinner and told me I cooked like a pro. We kind of joked about MasterChef and checked online to see if they were still taking applications and well, they were. So, after a bit of drinking and a bit fun, she made a video of me cooking and we submitted my application. I got the call a couple of months later when I was at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, ready to board a flight to Shanghai. They said ‘Is this Victor? We are MasterChef. You’ve been selected. Can you be here on Tuesday?’ For the record, this was on a Sunday. I asked about Thursday. That was fine and off I went, first to Shanghai and back to Brazil from there.

Things you took from the experience?

To never talk back on social media! I learned that being ‘famous’ isn’t just about your follower count, it’s also about the number of haters you have – of which I amassed many. Generally, just being on the show itself was pretty wild. I received tons of nudes and still get around ten a day. When the show was airing, I was receiving over 100 a day or something crazy like that.

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People see you on TV and dish out genuine hatred, comments, private messages, the lot. It wasn’t so much what I technically learnt on the show, it was more the spark it lit under me. For the first time in my life I was getting up and getting dressed with the sole purpose to cook. That spurred me on.

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Photograph: courtesy Tomatito

What do you have in store for Tomatito?

Tomatito’s already a well-oiled machine and there are dishes that I think if I changed, people might just hate me. But of course, when every chef moves into a new house, he brings his own colours and flavours with him. The plan is to first introduce a few dishes for a new summer menu and little by little, bring my personal touches to the restaurant – as long as it’s ‘sexy’ I know everyone will be happy.

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I like playing with cultural references, pop, art, music and video games. Pop culture inspires me, and I try to bring those references into something unique and experimental – like say – tapas influenced by Nirvana [the band]. I also love to re-interpret classics, making something new out of something old. Simple but good flavours where paragraph-long descriptions aren’t needed.

Favourite ingredients to use?

I love using beetroot and scallops. My last name Vieira actually means scallops in Spanish (you can call me Victor Scallops). I also go heavy on spices. I have over 100 spices in my kitchen at home, some that I’ve grown myself and others collected from my travels all over. It doesn’t matter what I’m cooking – whether a cold dish, vegetarian or barbecue – there will be spices.

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Photograph: courtesy Tomatito

Favourite dish to make?

My signature dish (shock) involves scallops. It’s called the ‘Scallop Tiradito on Coco Cream’ and I take it with me to wherever I go. The concept is super fresh and simple: thinly sliced raw scallops and coconut cream infused with Southeast Asian flavours. It started out as a ceviche that’s evolved over the years with influences from my travels.

Most overrated dish?

There is one that I can’t eat, beef tartare. And that’s coming from a chef that’s here in China with an open mind and normally eats absolutely everything (offal, intestines… everything). It’s the idea of raw beef and raw eggs. I eat carpaccio and other tartares like the fish-based ones, but with this dish, maybe something happened to me when I was young like a childhood trauma where I was forced to eat it and my palate hadn’t developed yet.

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Photograph: courtesy Tomatito
Brunch – love it or hate it?

It depends! I guess if you asked me if I liked cooking eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, probably not, right? In my country there isn’t a ‘brunch culture’ like there is here in Shanghai – it’s more about big barbecues and giant paella gatherings with family and friends. That’s my kind of brunch.

Any customer pet peeves?

Entitlement. For example, a lady once asked me if she could trial a croquette, I obliged and cooked her two which was then met with ‘Oh no Honey, I’m with the group of ten. If you are going to give me a free sample, you better make at least 20.’

Describe your cooking in five words

Fun, colourful, unpretentious, innovative and delicious (of course).

Venue details

Tomatito

The same funky Tomatito vibe, now with a big terrace in Xintiandi

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