Most people think French restaurants are expensive fine dining experiences only; however, the brasserie of The Ritz-Carlton Café Macau offers traditional French cuisine at more palatable prices. The man behind the brasserie is Chef Raphaël Kinimo, a devotee of bringing the best of French cuisine to different countries around the world.
Like many of his peers, Chef Raphaël helped his family make cakes and baked delicacies since very young, saying: “My mum cooks very well and she can make some nice cakes. I used to cook with her. I found I was interested in it so I went to culinary school.”
For chefs, hands-on work is a more important way of honing their skills thus after graduating Chef Raphaël tempered himself by working with an array of internationally known chefs. “I worked under many big names like Paul Bocuse, a 3-star Michelin Chef of the Century and the only one in the world who got 50 years of 3-star Michelin [accolades]; Marc Veyrat, a 3-star Michelin [chef] and the only one in the world to attain a perfect score of 20/20 from Gault & Millau; and Mr. Joel Robuchon, the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world. I learned many recipes in their kitchens.”
Thanks to his experiences in these Michelin starred restaurants Chef Raphaël believes consistency and perfection are the criteria of a successful restaurant.
After working in France, his curiosity took him to London, followed by the Middle East and then Asia. “I wanted to see what the cooking differences in other countries [were] so I started travelling around Europe,” he said. “In the beginning it was very difficult because you didn’t know what you would find. Everything is difficult and you’re alone. After learning and understanding the differences, you get to love these challenges.”
Putting on The Ritz
Whilst working in Thailand he became fascinated with Asian culture, food and people. It was at that time, by chance, that he received an invitation to join The Ritz-Carlton Macau when it opened, observing: “Asian culture is very rich, so I wanted to know more and wanted to be part of it. Why The Ritz-Carlton? It is a big name. I think it is a beautiful challenge so I accepted it.”
During his journey around the world exciting things happened. “I used to cook for royalty. I cooked for the Queen of England and the King of Thailand. They loved the traditional French dishes that we did. It was not difficult to cook for them. They came to try authentic food and they respected our recipes.”
Despite working in various cities the overarching ambition of Chef Raphaël has remained constant. He wants to let more people know about authentic French cuisine. So working in a brasserie – a type of French restaurant in a relaxed setting, which serves single dishes and other meals like The Ritz Café – is the best choice for him.
“In Asia,” he says, “there’s a lot of fine dining. Actually, brasseries are more famous than fine dining in France.”
The Ritz Café serves traditional French cuisine cooked by the best produce using the same technique as fine dining restaurants. “I come from a fine dining background and I want to show my cuisine to more people. Because fine dining is very expensive, doing this kind of cuisine in The Ritz-Carlton Café is more convenient and friendly and more accessible for everyone.”
Chef Raphaël believes perfection lies in the detail, and he insists on simplicity at his best. He also considers the preferences of his guests. For example, he made some adjustments of his signature Pan-seared Sea Bass when he came to Macau. “I changed the recipe since I was in London. When I was in London, I just made the sea bass with saffron sauce but when I came to Macau I felt that people here loved seafood. So I added octopus, prawns . . . I update the recipe with a very interesting mix; now it is one of our most popular dishes.” he said, adding that he cooks with less salt for Asians.
Enjoying the life and culture of Asia, everything local serves as the inspiration for his new menu.
“I look around here and I eat somewhere. When I see something interesting, then I will think how I can use it in my kitchen.” he said. “There was a time I went to a Macau fish market, where I saw the fresh fish and seafood jumping out of the water, very alive. It was very interesting, so I made a French-style Macau fish.”
The French pay great attention to seasonal produce, which is why Chef Raphaël changes his menu every season. Guests visiting The Ritz Café now are invited to enjoy the new à la carte menu comprising an array of Spring produce including Spring baby chicken, skate wing with black butter, capers and assorted vegetables.
Beef is the highlight of The Ritz-Carlton Café during this season – particularly the 1.2KG grilled Angus Tomahawk that takes pride of place on the à la carte menu. Chef Raphaël brings the finest cuts from Metzger of France to the only place they can be tasted in Macau. “I use one of the best French beef [cuts]. They don’t sell this beef outside of France. I knew him [Metzger] personally when I was in France so I asked him to bring the beef to Macau. It is difficult to bring it here because it is organic. Their beef is very different. It’s tasty and soft.”
In order to serve the beef in the best way, Chef Raphaël always comes to the table and talks to the guests when they order the beef, explaining: “I need to know what you like then I can give you the right sauce.”
The Ritz Café’s pastries and desserts are also outstanding, with Chef Raphaël one of the few chefs who do well in kitchen and pastry. “As I said,” he says with a laugh, “I made cakes with my mum when I was young. Actually, my first job was working in a Michelin starred restaurant working in pastry . . .”
This year, The Ritz Café has been assigned a Michelin Plate – Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau and 2018 Macau’s Best Restaurant – Hong Kong Tatler 2018.
“These awards give me more passion,” he says. “I feel very proud to win these awards . . . because it means people love the food I’m doing!”