Expat Editions is a series of interviews with expats from various countries living in Portugal, as well as Portuguese living abroad. It offers a brief insight into their personal experiences, providing unique information from “outsiders” that you don’t find in travel guides. If you’ve considered moving to Portugal, or if you’re Portuguese and debated living abroad, you may find our featured expats share more with you than their home country: you may recognize your own dreams, fears and challenges in their experiences.
In this edition, we interview Julie Deffense, a American pastry chef, cake designer and author living in Portugal, where she runs a successful cake business, specializing in gorgeous wedding cakes. She also accepts special cake requests in the greater Boston and Sarasota areas.
Catarina: How long have you been in Portugal and why did you decide to move?
Julie: I moved to Lisbon in 1998 (luckily I arrived in time to see part of Expo 98) for a 3 month job designing websites. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Portugal was that I had spent a semester abroad in college studying architecture in Florence, Italy, and I loved it. I wanted to come back to Europe and when the opportunity presented itself for me to come to Portugal, I jumped on it! I never imagined that I would end up calling Portugal my home, but 18+ years later, I’m still here and loving it! My husband Jacques and I met only one month after I got here, so that definitely helped me to decide to stay and make my life here.
C: Name one positive thing or experience you weren’t expecting to have in Portugal.
J: Aside from the part of deciding to stay for the long term, I feel very fortunate to have been able to share my work and passion with so many people here and abroad. I was very honoured to be invited to publish my books, I am very proud to have published 3 books in 4 years, in Portuguese, no less. I’d love to have my most recent book, “A Bíblia dos Bolos de Casamento” published in English in the States and other English speaking countries. The book is truly a reflection of me, my personality, my art and creativity.
C: What do you miss the most about home?
J: Family and friends. Luckily I get back fairly frequently, both for wedding cake requests as well as for vacation. In the past two years I been traveling back and forth for luxury wedding cakes more often, and almost always that means that I get to spend more time with my parents and nearby friends. It’s great to be establishing my presence as a leading luxury wedding (and special event) cake designer both in Portugal as well as back home. For now, I’m accepting requests for areas where I have access to a kitchen (greater Boston and Sarasota areas).
C: Name your favorite Portuguese dish/food and your favorite place there.
J: I love all of the amazing fish and seafood that we have in Portugal. One of my favourite places for seafood is in Lisbon, at Cervejaria Ramiro. We always order sapateira (crab), ameijoas a bulhão pato (clams with broth and garlic), gambas ao alho (garlic shrimp). It’s a great, relaxed, “roll up your sleeves” kind of place, they give you a hammer and a block to crack the crab shells, it’s a lot of fun. I also love a simple, grilled fish with a glass of vinho verde (green wine). Food here is very fresh, tasty, simple. Farm to table is the norm and I love that. I also have a sort of love affair with some of the Portuguese desserts, I have to admit. Even though I eat cake for breakfast every day (it’s my “job”), I can’t resist the queijadas of Sintra or the Baba de Camelo when it’s homemade.
C: What advice would you give someone who wants to move to Portugal?
J: Call me, I’ll show you around!
Things take a little more time here – the pace of life is a little slower (well, not mine, usually, but I’d say on average) which allows for enjoying the little things more. We have lots of sunshine, great food, friendly people. It’s tough sometimes to earn the same type of living (financially) that you would in the States, but the quality of life compensates. Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, is one of the hottest European destinations at the moment, it’s a great choice if you’re looking to discover amazing food, culture, history, art, travel.