In the spring of 2014, a young carioca chef opened a very different, very modern restaurant for the city of Rio called Lasai.
Considering modernist chefs down there, his precedent chef Felipe Bronze, opened the doors for this kinds of cuisine with the launch of Oro, in 2010. Four years later, Lasai consolidated and made it official: an incredible food revolution is under way in Rio de Janeiro.
Perhaps, you are unaware of the difficulty of eating fancy in Rio. The city remais beloved by those who cultivate botequim culture, street food, and beach philosophy. The well prepared, well priced, uber sophisticated meal is almost not existent.
I can’t speak for every carioca, but for someone like me, who left Rio in a time when it was almost impossible to stumble on a satisfying modern meal, this kind of cuisine, to the surprise of the nation, may actually stick and stay in Rio.
What kind of man has this power? I sat down with him on a sunny afternoon. Rafael Costa e Silva, aka Rafa, brushed aside his life in a straight, simple line. Born in Rio. Started cooking at 23 years old. Business administration grad. Studied cooking at University Estácio de Sá (Rio de Janeiro). Loved it. Invested in higher education: CIA in New York. Worked in the Big Apple. Sent resumes to Europe. Landed at Mugarritz, Spain. Moved from apprentice to executive chef. That’s it. A simple straight line, when told backwards, of course.
Somewhere along the way—actually, at the CIA—Rafa met his wife Malena, and the two arranged to apprentice at Mugarritz together, him working in the kitchen, her working in the front of the house.
In 2012 Rafa came back to his hometown (Rio) with big plans. Huge in fact.
Lasai means “calm, tranquility, slowly” in Eureska, a dialect spoken in northern Spain where Mugarritz is located. The restaurant offers two menus, so called short one in with you try XX plates and a long one called Festival, offering 15 courses. From the first bite to the wine on your glass, every aspect of the meal is calculated by Rafa and his team.
Architecture and décor details were also planned, reflecting the mind and taste of this carioca chef, from his obsession with Flamengo (a soccer team in Rio) to the wine adega.
When Rafa was putting together his business plan, words of des-encouragement poured from just about everywhere and everyone. “Rio will never embrace this culture. Reservations don’t work in Rio. Cariocas don’t want to eat like that.”
He heard it all. But against all odds, Rafa gets as many as two weeks of reservations ahead of time. For a city like Rio, that’s unheard of.
Considering the limitations of a kitchen staff in Rio (or in Brazil for that matter), and their lack of knowledge and education, Rafa has invested deeply in training his personnel to be the main channel between his work and the discerning dinner. “If you train your staff really well, they will seduce the costumer with our menu options.” Rafa said.
The only near traumatic problem with Lasai is getting in. While I was interviewing Rafa for this article, two people knocked on the door trying to make a reservation for that same day. Rafa had to tell them he was completely booked. What a delicious problem he created for himself. Should you manage to acquire a reservation, you will feel like an insider and taste Brazilian cuisine unbound, which is always unexpected in Rio.
Photo Credits by Rafael Costa e Silva