Veteran foodies knew chef Rafa Gil for his work in Catalunya and telly-lovers recognise him as the finalist in The Final Table on Netflix. Returning La Rambla in ifc as its Executive Chef, chef Rafa continues to wow the city with authentic Catalan cuisine prepared with the best ingredients. The Loop HK is honored to get a chance to speak with the many-sided Chef.
My father was my biggest culinary inspiration growing up. He was a passionate home cook who put his heart and soul into everything he made, especially Brazilian comfort foods like feijoada and fish or meat stews. Though I didn’t have any exposure to professional kitchens and chefs until later in life, watching him cook planted the culinary seed in my mind, and that essence of tradition, authenticity and passion remains the biggest motivators for my culinary journey and cuisine. I’ve also transferred this curiosity and love of food to my daughter, we spend family time cooking together and exploring different ingredients and recipes.
I was a banker by trade and also a dedicated home cook, but in 2006 I shed my suit and tie to go to culinary school in Brazil for 2 years. I moved to Europe after graduation to work with Michelin-starred Spanish chefs such as chef Martín Berasategui and the late Chef Santi Santamaria, where I learnt more about authentic Catalan cuisine, working with seafood, and how I could bring my Brazilian flair into my cuisine.
I think that being a chef is not just about knowing how to cook. You need to be an artist and taste a diversity of ingredients in order to create an orchestra of flavors and presentations. Eating is a sensory journey that isn’t just about unique flavors, it needs to be visually stunning as well.
Moving to Spain was a real eye-opener for me. The Catalan region, particularly Barcelona, is very product-oriented as it’s an important production region for seafood and vegetables. I learnt how to let ingredients speak for themselves — for example, we would have fresh deliveries of live scampi twice a day, straight from the sea. The preparations were simple and we used each ingredient to its fullest extent as the scampi was the star of the dish. That, to me, is the essence of Catalan cuisine.
I come from a meat production region in Central Brazil so I never got a chance to work with live seafood. When I moved to Europe and discovered the varieties of fresh catches I could use, I realised how much I could play with flavors and textures. The biggest highlight of living and cooking in Asia has been the local dining culture of seafood lovers, and I was introduced to new seafood varieties like geoduck, which we will put on the daily specials at La Rambla soon. I also love working with langoustine, or scampi, which really shines in La Rambla’s Scampi And Pluma Iberica Paella.
Moving from Brazil to Europe to Asia has been a life-changing experience, as it’s broadened my perspectives both professionally and personally. I’ve noticed that in Hong Kong particularly, diners are always seeking new experiences, so it’s pushed me to evolve and try new things. During my time at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, I was able to build “Rafa’s Private Kitchen” where I could combine Mediterranean delights with Asian elements and ingredients. Coming back to La Rambla, I can infuse both my Brazilian heritage and my learnings around Hong Kong and Southeast Asia with the heart of Catalan cuisine.
My appearance on Netflix’s The Final Table with my friend Chef Esdras Ochoa was also a standout moment, as I never thought I would be able to meet such incredible chefs from around the world all under one roof and cook alongside them, showcasing the best of what I could do while learning about all these unfamiliar cuisines and flavors through the challenges on the show, and I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity.
La Rambla doesn’t try to be Spanish: We ARE Spanish. The revamped menu features elevated versions of popular dishes from the original Catalunya, as well as new dishes rooted in tradition and infused with flavors and ingredients from my culinary journey through South America, Europe, and Asia. This allows us to introduce an authentic taste and experience of Catalunya to a world outside Spain, and we’ve stuck to the heart and traditions of Catalan flavors using fresh ingredients both Spanish and Asian.
Since each challenge on The Final Table featured the cuisine of a different country, some of which I’d never had before, I now find myself paying extra attention to flavors, techniques and ingredients whenever I try something new. It’s definitely been a new source of inspiration and I’m also very interested in the provenance of what I’m using. My appearance on The Final Table has also wildly increased my exposure so more people pay attention to what I’m doing, and I’m always looking to do something out of the box.
Hong Kong is the most dynamic city I’ve ever lived and worked in — it can be hard for some to keep up with the constant need for a new food adventure, but I see it as lots of opportunities to learn and grow. There is always a demand for talent here and with some recovery time post-pandemic, Hong Kong will continue to be a host of vibrant culinary culture and diners from all around the world will leave their homes to discover what the city has to offer.
With the new menu we have changed the titles of each section to bring a bit more fun and guide diners along their journey. We continue to bring the essence of Catalan cuisine and deliver authentic Spanish flavours to our guests. At La Rambla, it’s not just about the food, it’s the whole experience and we aim to be a soulful piece of Spain in Asia.
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