Rafa Costa e Silva – Chef and Owner of Lasai, Rio de Janeiro
Considered one of the best restaurants in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Lasai is owned by chef Rafa Costa e Silva and his wife, sommelière Malena Cardiel. Opened in 2014, it was conceived after the chef had been studying in New York based Culinary Institute of America, and after this, staying for five years working at Andoni Aduriz’s Mugaritz restaurant in Basc Country, most of the time as sous-chef.
Situated in a house declared historic heritage, Lasai has been a success since the beginning. It now owns a Michelin star, and is listed in both World’s and Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.
Rafa Costa e Silva – Chef’s Portrait
Rafa, when did you first realized you would follow a cook’s career?
Since I can remember I always wanted to have a bar, restaurant or something like that, but I never saw myself as a cook. So in 2002 I went to stage in a kitchen as a cook, so I could understand a little bit about how a kitchen works, and that people would steal from me so much… that was what I was thinking. After 2 months working in the kitchen, I got bitten by the joy of cooking and the adrenaline… from there on, I never stopped cooking… I felt in love about cooking and spending time in the kitchen. My history of cooking is not from memories of my childhood or family food, it is of falling in love about cooking.
How was your learning — was it in the Culinary Institute of America? Anywhere else?
It was at the CIA for sure that I learned the basics, consistency, rules and discipline! But cooking is something that there is just one place you can learn: in the kitchen, in the restaurant, spending time with the people from the industry, reading about food and people’s culture. CIA was a great school and show me another way of doing what I love to do. Equipments and infrastructure wise, nothing can beat that school.
Was Andoni Aduriz, from Mugaritz restaurant in Basc Country, your main professional influence, or do you have other references or mentors?
Andoni, to whom I worked for several years, for sure was my main influence, support and until now is still the main ambassador of Lasai around the world. Our connection is very strong and we talk regularly, I don’t think there is anybody in the world that can give me better advices towards the food industry. But there is a endless number of people that inspire our work at Lasai, not just chefs.
Do you totally change your menu daily at Lasai?
We don’t have dishes that stay all the time in the menu, basically we change them every day, according to whatever we find in the organic markets in the city and around, and also in our own gardens.
Can you mention some dishes (and its recipe…) that are representative of your work?
I think the work that can represent us the best is not having any dish that represent us. What could represent us in reality are the products that come from our garden, and there are lots of them… It is also hard to give a recipe, we never had any written recipes at Lasai, but I give to you one from a dish that we have on the menu this week: Beijupirá, misso, bacon and turnip.
Are your vegetable gardens the main source of your products?
Not actually. No matter the price, we give preference to local producers from Rio or around Rio. The main goal of our garden is to produce whatever we don’t find in local organic street markets. So, if we have a really good carrot at the organic market, for example, we do not plant carrots.
Your menu has a strong offer of vegetables dishes, isn’t it?
Yes, our menu is based on vegetables, roots and fruits. We do have meat, but mainly vegetables — from the 15 dishes that we have daily, around 80% is vegetables, roots, leafs, fruits…
And they are also used in an original way.
For the vegetables, no precise cuts are allowed at Lasai, we always make the natural cut of the fruits and vegetables. No brunoise, no julienne…. do not peel anything that we can eat the skin; except for the wine, there is no products that get in an airplane, or that come from outside Brazil (being almost all brought from Rio de Janeiro region).
And regarding meat?
We always use products from nearby. We have our own chickens in our properties. We just use line caught fish – never, ever use farm raised seafood, and do not use anything of the sea from outside of Brazil. No name of the fish is written on the menu, the waiters verbally tell the costumers what it is, because it can change from table to table, according to whatever we have on that day.
Yours is a small restaurant, was that the idea from the beginning?
Yes, this is a family-run restaurant. My wife, Malena Cardiel, takes care of the front of the house and I take care of the kitchen. Besides, lots of our team members have been with us since the begging and we really take care of them, we love them, they are the real heroes of Lasai.
Thank you very much, Chef Rafa!
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