Meet Chef Rafael Fernandes Gil, the new Director of Culinary of Keraton at the Plaza, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Jakarta. A Brazilian native with extensive culinary skills and expertise, Chef Rafa started his career after graduating from business school by managing his family business until 2006, when he then started his culinary training. Being profoundly gifted and passionate, it did not take long for him to join Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, including the three-starred Martin Berasategui restaurant and one-starred EVO restaurant.
In 2013, Chef Rafa set foot in Asia to open Catalunya in Singapore. He then joined Ozone at the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong in 2015 to bring new energy to the highest bar in the world with his vibrant selection of avant-garde Spanish tapas. He is now helming all the F&B outlets under Keraton; namely, the sophisticated Bengawan Restaurant, the sleek and luxurious Keraton Lounge, and the vibrant La Moda in the main atrium of Plaza Indonesia.
During the “Bloco de Carnaval: A Touch of Brazil Sunday Brunch” at Bengawan, the latest creation from Chef Rafa, which will be available until the end of April, Indonesia Tatler had an exclusive chat with the cheerful and friendly chef. Read on to find out more!
Could you please share with us a bit of your background and why you decided to become a chef in the first place?
In the beginning, I worked in banking for seven years, and I also helped my family business before I finally decided to join the culinary world to follow my passion. After I finished culinary school, I moved to Spain. That was the start of my career as a chef. I worked in Michelin-starred Spanish restaurants for five years.
Next, I ventured to Asia. My first stop was Singapore, and then I moved to Hong Kong. In the past three years, I worked in the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, before I was offered an opportunity to go to Jakarta. Honestly, I am very excited to come to Indonesia because of the unique cuisine. When I saw this place [Keraton], I thought that this would be a good opportunity to grow my career. This is my first time being a Director of Culinary, and there are lots of things to do here. I was just here for a month, and I want to present something different for the local and international guests, starting with this Brazilian Sunday brunch.
What are the challenges you face in handling Keraton?
First would be products. I had a chat with a lot of suppliers, and we do not have many Mediterranean products here. But I think this is a good challenge, because it means I had to get out of my comfort zone. I am also interested to learn about the local products. It is a big challenge for me—I am still not very familiar with the local ingredients, but at the same time I want to learn more about them.
What can we expect from you and Keraton in 2018?
Well, as you can see, I am a friendly chef—I really love to communicate with the guests and hear their feedback. The private kitchen is coming really soon—it is going to be a nice experience for the diners where I host the dinner myself. I just want to bring a new experience for the guests. I want to bring them my journey. South America is my hometown, Europe is where I learned in the kitchen and Asia is where I have been developing my career for the past 10 years. I want to mix everything, bring something fun and different, and present something which is really out of the box for Indonesian guests.
What’s your take on the dining scene in Jakarta?
I actually still haven’t had the chance to go out and see what’s happening around so I can’t say much about restaurants in Jakarta. I tried a few types of street food—which I like—and I learned one thing about people in Jakarta: they love any food that is fried!
What are your other hobbies besides cooking?
In my free time, I like to play with my baby girl! My wife and I just had a very cute baby—she is 10 months old now, her name is Valentina. She was here actually with my wife, but I think they have returned home. I also like to play volleyball and paintball, eat and go out with friends. I love to cook for Valentina and feed her lots of food, even though my mother and wife are quite against it. [laughs]
What is your all-time favourite dish?
I love comfort food like chicken stew. I grew up in the countryside of Brazil, and my father used to cook with natural products, like chickens that we reared in our own backyard. Although I used to cook fine-dining dishes, I love the comfort food from my hometown.