Rafael (Rafa) Costa e Silva
Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: Executive Chef/Owner, Lasai Restaurant
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro native Chef Rafa Costa e Silva started out as an investment banker. “I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business but really enjoyed cooking,” he says. “I took some cooking classes just for fun and quickly decided the office life was not for me.” Chef Rafa attended culinary school in Brazil, however, with a desire to expand his culinary education, he researched schools the world over and ultimately chose The Culinary Institute of America. “The CIA has the most appealing program and offers the most hands-on experience,” Chef Rafa says. “Plus when I asked one of the top chefs in Brazil—who happens to be French—where he thought I should go, he recommended the CIA, where he had sent his own son to school.”
Attending the CIA’s Hyde Park campus was fortuitous in two ways. First, he received an extraordinary culinary education at the world’s premier culinary college, and second, he met his wife, Malena Cardiel ’06, who hailed from El Paso, TX. After graduation, Chef Rafa worked for the restaurants of Jean Georges and René Pujol. In 2007, he landed a stagier position at the two Michelin starred Mugaritz Restaurant. By the time Chef Rafa left Mugaritz in 2011, he was the restaurant’s executive chef.
In 2014, Chef Rafa and Malena opened Lasai in a historic house in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Lasai, which means “tranquility” in the Basque language, is a farm-to-table restaurant serving a 12-course tasting menu that changes daily. Chef Rafa works only with small local producers. He also has two personal gardens—one in the city and the other on the mountainside about an hour and a half away in Vale das Videiras, Rio de Janeiro—that supply his kitchen. Lasai was an instant hit and quickly garnered a Michelin star, which Chef Rafa has maintained. It is also #16 on the 2017 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is part of The Diners Club® World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy Global Selection.
“I have visited many culinary schools around the world and at the CIA you find the best infrastructure and staff,” says Chef Rafa. “You learn more than just cooking techniques; you learn about the industry from a business perspective and about life in general. Quite literally, all the tools you need are at your fingertips and all of the best chefs are ready to teach you. This profession will consume you in all aspects—mind, body, and soul—yet it also gives you endless creativity.” Opening a restaurant in his own hometown is a dream come true for Chef Rafa and he’s living the dream of providing farm fresh ingredients transformed into inventive and delicious meals for his fellow Brazilians.