Two South American chefs are currently taking London by storm—serving Latin American-inspired dishes with an Italian heart—at the Michelin star Da Terra restaurant in Town Hall Hotel & Apartments. Rafael Cagali and Paulo Airaudo have a lot in common: both chefs have an Italian heritage and moved to Europe at a young age to quickly rise through the culinary ranks. Cagali, who hails from Brazil, has worked under master chefs such as Stefano Baiocco and Quique Dacosta. Argentinian chef Airaudo worked in the legendary kitchens of Arzak in Spain and The Fat Duck in the UK, before opening his own restaurant Amelia, which earned a Michelin star within its first six months. At Da Terra, the parade of dishes the pair serve in the tasting menu can only be described as exhilarating.
Q: Tell me about the first time you met. What were your first impressions?
Rafael Cagali: We met while I was working at the Fat Duck a few years back now. Paulo came for a month stage as many others did so at first, I just thought of him as another stage, despite being Argentinean!
Paulo Airaudo: I had a really good first impression; he helped me a lot and taught me the way things worked. The first time we worked together was when they transferred me to pastry. I learned and keep learning from him since then.
Q: Do you have a fun anecdote from when you were working together at The Fat Duck?
RC: The Fat Duck was busy all the time, so we always kept our heads down to focus on the work. It was in the prep kitchen where we would have time to catch up, to have a bit of banter, and chats about the time we both spent in Spain. This is where our friendship started.
PA: Well, I remember we used to say te voy a romper las piernas a lot. That means, I’m going to break your legs in Spanish.
Q: What did you eat as a child? Was it more Italian? Or Argentinian/Brazilian? Or a fusion?
RC: Brazil is a multicultural country so I grew up eating everything you could imagine. Generally, though the food I ate had great Italian influences, as well as Portuguese, Spanish, and French.
PA: A bit of everything! A combination of pasta, asado (roast), and Milanesas con papas fritas (Argentinean schnitzel and chips). It was an Argentinean and Italian mix; more Italian during the weekends I remember.
Q: Who inspired you to start cooking?
RC: I moved to Europe as a student. I wasn’t planning to be a chef. Looking back now, I grew up in a kitchen environment as my mother owned a restaurant, but I never imagined it as a career path. Working for some big chefs around Europe has inspired me in different ways.
PA: I love to eat so basically that motivated me to start cooking.
Q: Tell me more about how you plan to evolve the gastronomy culture with Da Terra.
RC: I would say that at Da Terra could be a place where everybody can get involved. The fact you are in London, a multicultural city, means we can have influences from all around the world. It has been a part of my life to have mixed cultures, and Da Terra fully embraces that.
PA: We have combined our roots at Da Terra: Latin American-inspired flavors with an Italian heart.
Q: Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
RC: I love the scallops with fennel and apple to start the meal. The scallops we get from Scotland are great. Although, I think the pork dish we have on the menu has to be the winner. It took some time to get the flavors right as I am the only Brazilian in the kitchen. I tried to pass my memories of eating feijoada (a national Brazilian dish) to my team as much as I could, but the way this dish is composed is very different from the original.
PA: No, I actually have favorite ingredients and I look forward to each season with the bounty it brings.
Q: What is your comfort food?
RC: Anything that someone else cooks for me is appreciated! I love a good pizza, but I am mad for chicken or beef parmigiana.
PA: Italian food.