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Meet Secret Bay’s New Executive Chef: Fábio Fernandes

Secret Bay’s new executive chef, Fábio Fernandes, has been passionately building a career in food since he was 12 years old, and we are thrilled for him to share that passion with our guests. The quadrilingual chef hails from Lisbon, Portugal, with experience at top restaurants in Austria, the United Kingdom and the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. In addition to drawing from a breadth of international flavors and traditions, Chef Fábio will be cooking with the freshest, purest ingredients possible. To complement bounties from the local land and sea, Chef Fábio championed the recent installation of grow beds at Secret Bay, from which he will harvest organic herbs and produce for the Zing Zing kitchen.

We sat down with Chef Fábio to learn what inspires him in the kitchen, how he’ll shape the new menu at Zing Zing, and a little more about the culinary journey that led him to Secret Bay.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background? 

I am the dreamer, the curious, the passionate about simple things, the one who loves to know new cultures. I love photography and collecting moments during my travels.

I was born in beautiful Portugal — a country with a fantastic culture, full of enthusiastic people and divine food. For those who pass through Portugal, it is mandatory to try wines, traditional sweets, cheese and homemade sausages and have a good dose of regional food — especially if you pass through the Alentejo.

I come from a family with stories from A to Z. As Thomas Jefferson said, the happiest moments of my life were those that I was able to spend at my home (and outdoors) with my family. They are warriors — just and humble with strong characters and values. They supported me and my brother—never with excess, always with enough. They were the spark for my journing of searching for who I am. I always carry each and every one in my heart, without forgetting my girlfriend who has an extremely peaceful personality, a smile that illuminates any darkness and an education that leaves any queen shaking.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your culinary background? 

My culinary background started at 12 years old, but the first formal experience was at 15 with one of the most respected chefs in Portugal, Chef Nuno Manuel Diniz, in a professional internship where I learned how important it is to respect the product and be knowledgeable about the product.

Chef Simao Marckovic, who studied at Hoffman and went through excellent kitchens, gave me the foundations for fine dining at the age of 18 that will last a lifetime. He taught me everything; he was my mentor—the person who transformed a student with bases into an apprentice.

Hilton Hotel in Portugal gave me an overview of how a kitchen works and how important it is to have a quality brigade at each match.

Working at Jose Avilez Group in Lisbon, Portugal was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It made me hungry for more. I had the opportunity to see how a two-star Michelin restaurant and a bar-lounge with exceptional food works with dégustation menus.

Working as a Chef de Partie at one of the 50 most prestigious pubs in England, The Kingham Plough with Chef Emily Watkins, a famous BBC television chef judge for the Great British Menu Competition, made me stronger by making me earn impetus to enter in a kitchen at 200% every day.

Chef Chackall, Argentinian celebrity chef, helped to improve my vision at the business level by helping me to understand how various models—catering, team buildings, multiple styles of restaurants—work.

HBD Príncipe group in São Tomé was, undoubtedly, the most enriching experience at the human level. It gave me the opportunity to work with 60 chefs spread over 3 different hotels with different concepts from fine dining to land-to-table and sea-to-table concepts, with exceptional people. 

I learned a lot from all of them and in all the places where I spent hours recreating myself.

3. How would you describe your cooking style? 

My cooking style is simple: using fresh, local and sustainable products, while respecting the natural flavors using creative and modern techniques with a fusion style representing memories and feelings.

4. What is your favorite dish to cook? 

I don’t actually have a favorite dish to cook, as new dishes are always appearing — they are like wishes. New dishes appear constantly, and the creative process has to be stimulated for the professional’s growth.

5. How did you first learn about Secret Bay and the position of Executive Chef?

I saw an ad on LinkedIn from Secret Bay’s General Manager, Dinesh Kissoon, and I couldn’t resist.

To tell you the truth, I was out of work for a long time for about 3 months because of COVID-19. I had more than 100 unsuccessful applications already. After 21 days, I had an email from Secret Bay. I was quite surprised, and after 3 rounds of interviews, they chose me from the 600 applications that they received. Even today, I think that everything was the work of destiny. I remember seeing the island, the property, doing research on Dinesh and owner, Gregor Nassief, and I must admit that at each interview, everything was getting even more interesting.

6. What most excites you about the position as the Executive Chef at Secret Bay?

What excites me most is the fact that it can be me. It can convey my culinary vision. I am very grateful to our General Manager, Dinesh Kissoon, and our owner, Gregor Nassief, for putting their trust in me.

In addition, there are other factors that excite me; one of them is having a kitchen in a 2.0 version fully equipped to create dishes at even a higher level. I am especially excited to be surrounded by nature and sea and all kinds of produce and superfoods that can be used, such as moringa, bay leaf, lime leaf, banana, papaya, verbena, Indian almonds, guava, sea grape, etc. This is also the growth phase and the evolution of the food & beverage offerings at Secret Bay, which will present new challenges and opportunities, each day.

7. What is your vision for the experience at Zing Zing Restaurant? Will you be following a no-menu concept?

The concept is exciting and is a chef’s dream — adopted in several high-end restaurants. I think, in terms of sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint, there is nothing better. My vision is to create something spectacular with the fresh and local produce, elevated with a bold presentation and technique and always staying true to what nature offers us. My food and dishes will be mysterious in the names, with brief descriptions and dishes that will have their charm and luxury.

8. Will you integrate any aspects of Portuguese cuisine into the experience?

Yes, without a doubt. I will have dishes inspired by my roots using local products.

9. How do you plan to make the most of Secret Bay’s local bounty, both on land and sea? 

All the space itself is generous: all the tree branches, all the plants and aromatic leaves have endless uses. From there I will start — fruit trees, lime leaf, bay, curry leaf, and so on. I am working on developing a larger organic garden on-property, and in terms of the sea, I am establishing synergies with the local fishermen to bring me unusual fresh products. The idea is to discover everything that exists and use it in a different way.

10. What are you most looking forward to about living on the Nature Island?

I am a very adventurous person — I simply like to go. I believe I will discover a lot in due time. I want to dive, go horseback riding through the rainforest, hike to the volcanic hot springs and meet the indigenous people. I’m sure I’ll have a great time.

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