August — 2018
I am already aware that the Jose brand makes canned seafood. Is there more on offer like wine, cheese, and more? If so, what was the first thing the company created?
The first product was cheese, but it could have been something else, because diversity and quality were not lacking around us. In our trips, we sampled a wide range of cheese from France, Italy and Switzerland, but we always had that feeling that Portuguese cheese is also fantastic. And so it is. We started with a collection of four excellent varieties, from Serra da Estrela, Azores, Rabaçal and Azeitão. However, the distribution was complicated, and the maintenance of transport time and storage led us to choose products with a longer shelf life.
Since I met Adriano, our conversations, motivations and points of view were centered on the dormant qualities and opportunities (some of them profoundly asleep) regarding the production, commercialisation and consumption of Portuguese products, rich in tradition and qualities. We were searching, sampling, getting to know what was best in Portugal, we were figuring out the qualities, consumption habits, potential, carefully observing what was out there and how it was made, who we could involve, who would benefit from such products, how they could add value, and so on and so forth.
This led us to canned food, which for us was already high up on the list. At the time, it was an underrated product, without great commercial value. But its characteristics indicated that we could take it to a whole other level, where there are consumers with desires, needs and requirements that are fully compatible with such products.
We started out 10 years ago. Today, there are many people who value these products, both in terms of consumption and production. Our project has very defined practical and aesthetic objectives and we are not worried about the competition. We want to do something different, but not for commercial reasons per se. In addition to ours, there are many more shops with canned foods on their windows these days.
How did the recipe for canned products come about? Who was the creative force behind the taste? Was the packaging design inspired by the recipe?
We needed to renew the idea, the narrative (or the lack thereof), the ‘labels’ that became attached to these products and which narrowed down their perspectives of consumption and knowledge, removing them from those familiar contexts and moments spent around food, from those social habits that we believe must be conquered: meals and snacks, in the company of friends, toasting with good wine.
Ignorance of the qualities was massive. Many people thought that canned foods were full of preservatives or were unaware of their nutritional value, such as the “miracle” of omega 3. We therefore needed to come up with a different motivation, another story around the product.
As a matter of fact, we had plenty of inspiration at home. Both Adriano and I had small children, and we were always worried about their interest in hamburgers and fast food in general. We, on the other hand, appreciated the taste, quality and variety of canned foods: sardine, mackerel, octopus, tuna, petinga (smaller sardines), squid, roe, etc. Everything, absolutely everything, with divine flavour but unattractive to the little ones. It seemed to us then that it was not enough to seduce adults; we had to focus on children, fostering family conviviality.
We took advantage of the fact that the younger ones like to imitate, accompanying their elders in the kitchen challenge and impressing their friends with their prowess, and proposed a set of recipes created by chef Luís Baena. Seeing as the gastronomic content itself was not enough, we asked writer Eugénio Roda to develop super short stories based on the ingredients and their combination in the recipes, stories that would give a taste of the visual, literary and gastronomic “content” of each can.
Savouring the illustration, savouring the text, savouring the product in a different context, where adults and children could share imagination, creativity, memories, novelties, etc. We were interested in offering an inviting packaging, but not with the intention of aesthetically inflating the product or giving off the idea that it is more than what it is, because the product doesn’t need that; it’s worthy on its own. On the contrary, we wanted the packaging to reflect the quality of the product, whetting one’s appetite not only to the actual food, but also to what characterises a human being, the search for meaning beyond basic needs, such as food.
I assume you were the first to design the packaging. What was the first approved design?
At the time, the easiest thing to do would be to the follow the trend, that is, to redesign or take advantage of the packaging design of the 1940s, for example, and launch the product in revivalist imagery. Although this might have some interest for the public and even if it could commercially benefit the product in the short run, I was not interested in strengthening only an intangible heritage that was already a given. It has never seduced me to live lazily, to live off the fruits already sewn and harvested, to relive the past. I did not care to relive history, but to create a completely new episode of history.
And it was not a question of innovating for the sake of innovating, but also of taking advantage of the opportunity to modernise the means, the results and the effects; to create new points of interest, new angles, to involve new actors, new ideas, new images, new meanings. From the beginning, both for me and for Adriano, the opportunity of it all, the one we were interested in, was to launch new habits and new challenges, to launch new challenges to the competition, to make a qualitative leap forward, something that we could be proud of somewhere down the road.
Without pretense but with conviction, we knew right away that the best tribute to product excellence would also be to invest in a new strategy. A new product with memory and contemporaneity. A project where the fundamental values of choice, selection, identity, quality, difference, demand and uniqueness would also be reflected in the attitudes of those who buy, who seek these products with a fine palate and eyes that taste, without relinquishing the quality of all aspects involved, whether they be raw materials or visual communication.
How did an illustrator become a shareholder of a brand of canned food?
I was never an illustrator limited to illustration, I was never a designer limited to communication design, and I was never a professor who would be content with just teaching. Although I do engage in very different activities, the way I perceive them, the way I put them into practice, the way I connect them creates a strong sense of unity. Life manifests itself in diversity, but it is only one. And it only requires a few solid values to give it meaning: challenge, opportunity, work, discipline, enthusiasm, friendship.
This project was born out of a friendship, the same friendship that continues to feed it. I never wanted anything in exchange for my work, it was always a challenge between two friends. And just like me, my friend Adriano never made any profit from what the company was able to put together financially. The success we achieved was always invested in making the company grow. And this growth is reflected not only in an increase of entrepreneurial possibilities but also in the appreciation of those who work in production, who care for the raw material or with it create our products, in a fair market and global appreciation perspective.
I understand you work with illustrators (from all over the world? from Portugal?) to create the art for the packaging. How do you choose them?
Most of the invited illustrators are Portuguese. They are also friends or students whose quality is unquestionable to me. I only work with people I like, whom I believe, people I cherish. I only work with people whom I consider to have the qualities required to develop the projects in which I involve them. They could be very young or very experienced, what matters to me is the high standard by which we work. The rules of relationship are the most important, and they are always based on quality and good understanding between people.
From the beginning of the project, the strategy entailed the choice of illustrators. At that time, I chose twelve of the most well-known children’s illustrators from recent years, illustrators who have catered to the dreams of children that are now adults and even have children of their own. Once the design of the packaging was decided, after studying all aspects of graphic, typographic and material production, adequacy and organization, the model was made available to illustrators along with some information to be taken into account for the intended result. Depending on the type of products and the respective public, the strategy had different nuances and particularities.
After this first palette of twelve illustrators, I gradually involved authors with diversified grammars, whom I felt were more akin to certain objects, certain audiences. I also involved younger authors with certain specificities in terms of materials and language, seeking on the one hand to provide the illustrators with a first experience in the labor market and, on the other, to meet new sensitivities among customer niches. As in a museum or an art gallery, I wanted to highlight this aspect of the collection where every image, while belonging to a series, is unique and signed by someone. Our collective exhibitions can be found at the stores that represent José Gourmet products – with the added bonus of whetting your appetite for more and quenching your thirst for something amazing and unique.
They say you should not mix business with pleasure, but you are mixing food with art. Is it the perfect combination?
More and more I believe the exact opposite. Well, if pleasure and work are divorced, then it’s perhaps best to keep them apart, because they won’t get along! I’m married, and my work is also married to pleasure. I won’t do anything that doesn’t give me pleasure. If we can live with what gives us pleasure, we become closer to being happy and to making those around us happy.
I think that mixing work with pleasure and pleasure with work has to be something natural. But for it to be natural, you have to be disciplined. And it can’t be just pleasure for the sake of pleasure, of course, otherwise it would end up in divorce again. I’m talking about the pleasure of responsibility, experience, discovery, risk; the pleasure of achieving a good result, but also the pleasure of feeling those butterflies in your stomach; the pleasure of having plenty of time at your disposal, but also the pleasure of being pressed for time. I’m thinking about immediate pleasure and long-term pleasure! The pleasure that comes with an image, material, drawing, shape, texture, problem, idea, conversation, person, place, experience, color, minute… these are the tools of my trade!
What other design projects are you working on? Where can we see more of your work?
I’m a multitasker. Not long ago I finished a project which also started among friends – some I already knew, and others I came to know. With Nuno Ferrand, Jorge Wagensberg and Hernán Crespo I had the pleasure of developing the Biodiversity Gallery of the Natural History Museum of the University of Porto. It was a project that took nearly four years of research, designing, production and assembly of mediation devices. Four highly fulfilling years of working with a large and diversified team, of conviviality, conversation, meetings, challenges, trials, tests, etc. It opened over a year ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind because I have been getting feedback from people who come to Porto to visit it, and because it was recently awarded the best work in museography prize, which increased our satisfaction.
At the moment, I am very much committed to the next book of the Gémeo Luís – Eugénio Roda partnership. This project is related to the Wolf and its importance in the ecosystem. It is intended as a contribution to broaden creative and perceptual perspectives, which still cling to the Big Bad Wolf figure! In parallel to scientific study and discourse, but without mixing the role of each one, I am interested in working artistically, yes, but in dialogue with science and technique, to delve into the life that all topics have. In books, as in other projects, I’m interested in broadening our perception of things, renewing points of view, fostering new effects, increasing aesthetic quality and adding value to the ethical dimension of the space we share socially.
Where do you find inspiration? Do you have a favorite cafe to go sketching, for example?
I like coffee, I enjoy being at the cafe, but coffee doesn’t inspire me more than other things or other places. Two daughters, a son and a girlfriend to whom I’m married provide me with an endless source of inspiration. Parents, siblings, nephews and nieces join in a clan that I find inspirational. I also have a restricted group of friends with different sensitivities and backgrounds, with whom I fraternise personally and even professionally. In a broader circle, I include the authors of universal reference together with the less obvious, the failed ones and even the malicious ones, the “scoundrels.”
All these people are, in different ways and for different reasons, at the heart of my inspiration. Additionally, the people I work with, the technicians involved in the production of things, the knowledge I absorb, they also become deeply inspiring. I’m not one to isolate myself, I like to surround myself with different people. Nor do I need to stop what’s happenning around me to focus more or less on what I’m doing. On the contrary, I like speed, variety, questions, intrusions, influences, discussion of points of view. Among friends, with family, with clients, with people I enjoy working with. Knowing what I want at a given moment allows me to be free to be influenced and inspired by people, moments, places.
Any place is good for a note, a sketch, a conversation, a question, a visit, etc. My areas of interest are so many, architecture, music, dance, sport… I find myself scouring the life stories of the people I admire. Those with whom I had the opportunity of socialising and with whom I built my closest circle of friends make up a habitat of human and artistic qualities, of vision and innovation, creativity and contemporaneity, an inspiring habitat of daily demand.