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The Eat Vacation team recently had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Chef Rafa Gil of Keraton at The Plaza, A Luxury Collection.

Chef Rafa Gil started his culinary career back in 2006 when he realized that he wanted to follow his dream. After working 7 years in the bank, Chef Rafa felt like his life was boring and he wanted to do something fun. And with his love of cooking for friends and family, Chef Rafa started his culinary school in Brazil in 2006. 

After his school ended, Chef Rafa moved to Spain for an internship and had since worked abroad in Singapore, Hong Kong and now Indonesia. He found it interesting how each country differs in eating habits and how particular it is – how they eat, what they eat and even the spices used in the dish, during his journey travelling the world as a Chef. I think it just adds into my professional life. Adding knowledge in terms of people, in terms of food and spices and it is beautiful. My job as a Chef helped me to travel and discover different things, he stated. 

And for Chef Rafa, food is a sensory journey and can evoke emotions as well as memories. For example, I am an expat living here in Jakarta, but when someone cooks Brazilian food for me, it will remind me of my hometown, my family or my grandmother. These memories are what the food creates and brings to your life, and it is beautiful to see the emotional engagement of the food and the guests, Chef Rafa explained. 

“[what I love most about being a chef] is to discover different emotions. We eat, it’s something everyone needs to survive. But with emotions, it is different, when they eat your dish and then they look at you and smile, it’s an incomparable feeling.”

Chef Rafa uses his journeys to base his foods on. He would mix the techniques he learned with Asian flavours or Indonesian flavours and just think outside the box to create something different. For him, it is important to add something to the plate, be it emotions or history. 

Chef Rafa described his team at Keraton at The Plaza, A Luxury Collection as a very passionate team filled with passionate people. They are people who really like to cook and are interested to know and learn different things and techniques. They are also always smiling and always there for him when things get a little challenging. He said that these particular Indonesian behaviour, always smiling and very friendly, like Brazilians, are the things that helped him to be happy in Indonesia.  

He also admitted that he decided to come to Indonesia despite being offered the chance to go somewhere else because the people are amazing. It just felt like home, he said. Some people might not have the technique, but they really wanted to learn and for Chef Rafa, this is the best thing. Having had the opportunity to travel and see different techniques as well as work with the best chefs around the world, sharing what he had learned to these passionate people is his way of being thankful. 

“Cooking for me is not just cook. It is something emotional. You need to be well and happy with yourself to create good food. For me, the way I can really bring happiness is when I cook, when I share the flavours and my experience.”

At home, Chef Rafa likes to eat and cook comfort foods. He also would like to learn the traditional recipes of comfort foods and try the comfort foods in different places. And for the particular food that he likes to cook, Chef Rafa explained that it is hard for him to choose as it depends on the friends that are with him. But it’s always just about fun and enjoying himself as he is not doing it for work. 

When asked about his favourite Indonesian food, Chef Rafa mentioned Cireng as well as Lontong Cap Go Meh, Semur Daging and Sop Buntut. As for his favourite Indonesian dish to cook, Chef Rafa chose Semur Daging as he really likes the combination of the sweet soy sauce, something that he didn’t really work with in school. 

He told us that Brazilian have something similar as Cireng that they bake instead of fry. Chef Rafa also said that Indonesia share quite a lot of similar comfort food such as Pisang Goreng, Singkong Goreng and others of the same derivatives with Brazil. And this made him feel a little bit at home to have all these comfort foods. 

Always adding something to the plate to create something unique, Chef Rafa presents guests with Dining Studio, his private kitchen. It is a space where special guests with a maximum of 10 people can enjoy Chef Rafa’s vision of the menu. Guests can watch as Chef Rafa prepares elaborate, off the menu dishes that Chef Rafa curates based on his travels and tailor-made to suit your needs. Chef Rafa would also come to the table to explain every single course and how did the team prepares them. He even would sit with them sometimes to talk, asks for feedback and even exchange some ideas. 

“The Dining Studio experience is not only about the food itself but also the interaction between the chef and the guest.”

Some of the creations that Chef Rafa presents at Dining Studio are Avocado and King Crab Roll with Lobster Bisque and 2 kinds of Caviar; Semur Daging Sapi, Ōra salmon & King Prawns in a Brazilian Moqueca Sauce and One, Two…TEA. Avocado and King Crab Roll with Lobster Bisque and 2 kinds of Caviar comes as the appetizer and with its fresh and delectable taste, it is no wonder that it becomes the customers’ favourite. Chef Rafa also presents his take on Semur Daging Sapi, where he grilled the beef like one does when preparing a steak instead of cooking it traditionally. 

Ōra salmon & King Prawns in a Brazilian Moqueca Sauce is a grilled salmon that is served with the foamy Brazilian Moqueca Sauce, spinach, crispy crumbs and King Prawns on top of it. Chef Rafa also serves One, Two, Tea which will be a wholesome dessert as it combines three ice creams made from Earl Grey tea, English Breakfast tea and Jasmine tea, with home-made coffee boba, as well as chocolates. 

Chef Rafa also mentioned that they are currently working on his own corner that is probably going to start at the end of the year. It is going to be a special restaurant in terms of concept, environment, service as well as food. The venue will be private and the chef can sit on one end with the tasting menu placed on the opposite end and Chef Rafa will be around. He mentioned despite everything, this new project will also focus on the food experience and chef interaction, just like the dining studio does but on a bigger scale.

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