Upon discovering One Canada Square’s new head chef trained as a chemist, you may envisage him hunched over a workbench concocting outlandish dishes a la Heston Blumenthal.
But Brazilian-born Rafael Liuth has drawn more heavily on his degree in nutrition when creating the new menu at the Canary Wharf restaurant.
“I am trying to offer really light, fresh and seasonal dishes so you won’t find much butter or double cream,” the Barking resident said in heavily accented English.
“I like to use superfoods like quinoa and don’t really like to mix a lot of flavours in a dish – four or five at the most.”
This influence can be seen in his use of lemon zest, olive oil and edamame broth in place of rich sauces. But Rafael has also added some Latin American flavour with bar snacks such as a cassava and jerked beef croquette.
He was born and raised in the tropical beach climate of Espírito Santo, in south-eastern Brazil, and grew up eating the nine-hour barbecued meat the region is famous for.
His favourite meal is the cupim cut of beef, which comes from the hump of zebu cattle – although he has grown fond of fish and chips and sausage and mash since moving to England three years ago.
The 34-year-old’s first memory of food was aged three courtesy of his Italian grandmother.
“I remember the flavour of her cocktail sausages in something like puff pastry with a sauce. I have never found that flavour again and it is the kind of memory that, even if you find it, it will never be the same.”
It was to Italy he went when he decided to become a chef. He had given up his job as a biochemistry teacher and trained as a nutritionist with an eye on bringing a healthy philosophy to the kitchen.
“I only planned to go for a year to see what would happen but I never went back,” said Rafael, who worked in hotel kitchens before landing a role as chef de partie at Sadler Restaurant in Milan.
“Italy was good but I couldn’t see a progression as most of the restaurants are family owned.”
So he packed up and arrived in Willesden Green with no job and knowing only a few words of English.
“I could say ‘good morning’ and ‘goodbye’ but that was it. I couldn’t hold a conversation. It was a crazy decision, a shot in the dark, but then I found a job really quickly.”
And not just any job – a role at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges .
“It was really hard,” said Rafael. “I was working with 20 chefs and none of them spoke Italian or Portuguese so I was exhausted at the end of each day from trying to understand them.
“It was a massive impact for me in every sense – language and economically – but I showed them I could do a good job.”
Roles at Clarke’s Restaurant in Kensington and Sketch in Mayfair followed before he ended up at the ETM Group -owned Chiswell Street Dining Rooms.
They promoted him to head chef at One Canada Square to replace Ross Bott who left the 100-seater restaurant in September to work at Benares Restaurant in Berkley Square.
Rafeal admits it has been a tough job.
“There were problems with suppliers, staff and the menus so the restaurant really needed a massive change.”
Favourites such as the scallop starter, pie and burger remain but the Barking resident has changed almost every other dish on the menu and tripled the number of daily specials.
“I really like Canary Wharf. I imagine people here are looking for something light that won’t weight them down in the office. So far the feedback has been really good.”
Follow The Wharf on Twitter @the_wharf
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook