Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Chef Rafael (“Rafa”) immigrated to Southern California at the age of 17. He started working as a dishwasher moving his way up by working as a bus boy, prep, and, eventually, a line cook. He enjoyed cooking and the adrenaline of running a smooth line so much that in just four 4 years he was working as a sous chef. Rafa had the fortune to work at a fine dining restaurant with renowned international chefs and mentors from around the world. He accomplished this without any formal culinary school – only a wealth of hands-on experience. Less than seven years after his arrival to the US, he finally had the chance to attend culinary school and quickly ascended to Chef.
Rafa has been working at Elephant Bar Restaurant since 1991. He was part of the original team that opened many new restaurants. The founder, Chris Nancarrow, had such passion that Rafa’s love for the brand grew each day. By age 34, he had helped hire, train, and establish five new restaurants in Northern California.
“The success of a company is only accomplished by teaching, coaching, and appreciating each and every employee. One of the greater things I have learned in this business is to create raving fans out of your co-workers who could, in turn, project this to our guests. Great food made from scratch, a wide variety for all palettes, and great service with a home-like feeling as our guests walk through our doors is my goal. As of today, I have been a part of about 36 openings, and still learn something new every day. Who would have thought what I started doing to make a living would become my passion of cooking for life? Creating a new dish has to be done with love, and if you love what you do you just have fun working.”
I am originally from Northwest Indiana where I grew up around great food and hospitality my entire life. Early on I was very intrigued of the cooking styles of food and the chemistry of everything that was happening in them. There has always been home cooking and skills for me to learn growing up and what different cuisines are out in the world. After finding my passion in food I went to vocational school in high school where I meant my mentor Allen Bild. He helped guide me and teach about history of the food industry as well as providing me with overwhelming support in any question I had.
It all started as a dishwasher at a diner in Northwest Indiana, and blossomed into me going 16 hours away to Johnson & Wales University in Providence Rhode Island. Over the course of those 4 years I worked through many different restaurants and earned an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition with a concentration in Food Science. My main mentor at school was Paula Figoni who helped me learn the discipline and environment it took to do research and development work. Since then I have worked through Research and development competitions and different companies trying to better my trade.
“Food wasn’t about mechanics; it was about a feeling, wanting to give someone something, which in turn was really gratifying. That really resonated with me” – Thomas Keller