Cheer­ful, hos­pitable and deeply pas­sion­ate about cook­ing, Brazil­ian-born Chef Rafael Fer­nan­des Gil loves shar­ing good food with friends and fam­ily as much as he en­joys cook­ing.

Exquisite Taste - - Up Close & Personal - By Amanda Lux­ford

Chef Rafa joined Ozone at The Ritz-Carl­ton, Hong Kong in 2015 bring­ing new en­ergy to the high­est bar in the world with his vi­brant se­lec­tion of avant-garde Spanish ta­pas. In ad­di­tion to this is his brain­child Rafa's Pri­vate Kitchen, a rare culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence found high up in the clouds on the 118th floor of The Ritz-Carl­ton, Hong Kong. These in­ti­mate din­ners of­fer panoramic night views over Vic­to­ria Har­bour and are where Chef Rafa lets his imag­i­na­tion run free to cre­ate mas­ter­pieces for dis­cern­ing gour­mands.

Chef Rafa's pas­sion and skill saw him quickly move into world-class Miche­lin-rated restau­rants, in­clud­ing three-starred Martin Berasategui restau­rant in San Se­bastián and one-starred EVO restau­rant in Barcelona. He moved to Asia in 2012. Ex­quis­ite Taste talked to Chef Rafa about his jour­ney, his cook­ing and the chal­lenges.

: You stud­ied busi­ness man­age­ment to go into your fam­ily’s busi­ness be­fore re­al­iz­ing your pas­sion for cook­ing. How did that re­al­iza­tion come about?

Rafael: When I was a child, I used to help my

fa­ther pre­pare the in­gre­di­ents when he was cook­ing for the fam­ily and his friends. That was how I de­vel­oped my in­ter­est in cook­ing. I had al­ways wanted to get into culi­nary school, but it was a new idea in Brazil back then. So first I stud­ied busi­ness at university to ful­fill my par­ents' ex­pec­ta­tions and went to culi­nary school af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

: Your culi­nary train­ing only started 11 years ago, how did you at­tain this pres­ti­gious level so quickly?

R: It's all about pas­sion. If you are pas­sion­ate enough, you will find a way to learn. My work ex­pe­ri­ence in Europe helped a lot, as it was in­ten­sive and in­volved long hours.

: You’ve worked in Miche­lin-starred restau­rants in the past, what did you learn there that you have brought with you to Ozone?

R: My ex­pe­ri­ence in Miche­lin-rated restau­rants equipped me with the top cook­ing tech­niques, as well as a true un­der­stand­ing of fine din­ing.

: I’ve been look­ing at some of the dishes you’ve pre­sented at Rafa’s Pri­vate Kitchen, where do find the in­spi­ra­tion to cre­ate them? R: I usu­ally get my in­spi­ra­tion from read­ing books and keep­ing up to date with trends around the world.

: Could you share any es­pe­cially mem­o­rable events from your pro­fes­sional life?

R: It was an event in culi­nary school where the stu­dents cooked for their par­ents. It was the first time I had pre­pared a for­mal din­ner for my par­ents and I was very ex­cited. My mother was fi­nally con­vinced of my de­ci­sion to be a chef.

: You left Europe for Asia in 2012, what made you take that move and what are your thoughts on Asia?

R: I was very ea­ger to take up the chal­lenge of mov­ing to Asia as it was a good op­por­tu­nity to learn about Asian food and in­gre­di­ents. In Brazil, we mainly con­sume meat and the va­ri­ety of in­gre­di­ents is very lim­ited. It was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to try us­ing veg­eta­bles and seafood that were all new to me.

: What part of your job do you love the most?

R: I en­joy the in­ter­ac­tion with guests. It is re­ward­ing to know how they feel about my dishes and that they en­joyed the meal.

: What are your plans for Ozone, your pri­vate kitchen of­fer­ing and your fu­ture? R: I in­tend to con­tinue cre­at­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences for guests with the in­tro­duc­tion of new ta­pas menus for Ozone and new dishes at my Rafa's Pri­vate Kitchen, as well as en­hanc­ing the menus with fine in­gre­di­ents from around the world.

: What is the big­gest chal­lenge you’ve faced in your ca­reer?

R: The first few months in Europe were chal­leng­ing, as the work­ing style was very dif­fer­ent from Brazil. Hard work, long hours and a lack of re­spect made it dif­fi­cult for me to adapt. Luck­ily, I over­came it and even­tu­ally learned a lot from the kitchens of those Miche­lin-rated restau­rants.

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