Ibiza restaurants: Meet the chef – Rafa Zafra, HEART Ibiza

HEART Ibiza presents a dining concept unlike any other venue in Ibiza… perhaps even the world. Every night a new multi-sensorial adventure unfolds, with no two experiences ever alike for diners, who are enveloped into an interactive world of gastronomy, art, performance, music, from the very first moment they enter the dramatic, stylish and ambient space in Ibiza’s new Marina district. Starting on the upper terrace, where they are greeted by the culinary delights of the famed Adrià brothers, followed by a decadent and immersive live dinner experience with performances and live acts curated by creator of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, in the main dining room, before dancing ‘til dawn to some of the world’s best DJs.

The gastronomic bar has truly been raised at HEART Ibiza in 2017, elevating the restaurant to the highest echelons of the island’s culinary scene. And while the entire experience is something that can be compared to magic, the true magic takes place behind the scenes, seven days a week. Executive chef Rafa Zafra is the man ensuring each morsel served is true perfection; that each ingredient sourced is of the highest quality in the world. No stranger to the world of haute cuisine and Michelin stars, the Seville-born chef spent the formative years of his career rising through the ranks of the world’s best restaurants. In 2005, Ferran Adrià took him under his wing and entrusted the young Rafa with the reigns of La Hacienda Benazuza’s kitchen, where he maintained its two-Michelin star status before opening the esteemed Black Hole Restaurant in Cancun and his own Estimar in Barcelona.

When Ferran and Albert Adrià set their sights on Ibiza in 2015, they knew exactly who they wanted to be their man on the ground. As Zafra describes it, their eyes, ears and right hand. There was no question Rafa would become part of this cutting-edge team – now, three years later, he sees the project as an ever-evolving creative journey that only gets better and better with time.

What inspired you to become a chef?
I always say without a doubt that my mother taught me to love the kitchen and Ferrán Adrià taught me to understand it. At home, with my parents and four brothers, we always ate wonderful food – my mother cooked like the angels and meal times were sacred. Each member of the family had a role; one would set the table, another would clear it, another would serve the drinks and so on. It was so nice to experience eating in this way – today everything goes much faster and there is less time devoted to enjoying meals as a family. On the other hand, Ferran instilled a love of the kitchen in me; he opened my mind and showed me the way to understand the kitchen. He also took care that it would become an important part of my life.

Who has been the most influential person on your journey so far?
In recent years Albert Adrià has influenced me a lot. We have a sincere friendship, plus we respect and value each other. But Ferrán was the one who influenced me the most – he put me in command of La Hacienda Benazuza when I was very young, when it already had two Michelin stars. It was a very big responsibility since we were the only hotel restaurant in Spain to have this award and the first restaurant in Andalucia. Ferrán has a gift of knowing how to bring the out best in each person – he does not allow for mediocrity. Day by day you become a better professional and you also start to demand the maximum. He took care of me when I was just a kid; he made me feel like a man.

Tell us about some of your career highlights?
All the places where I have had the luck to work have served me while I was learning and I am eternally grateful. To name some: Restaurante Arzak, Tristan, Atrio Restaurante Hotel, Tragabuches, Calima, Arnolfo Ristorante, elBulli, La Hacienda Benazuza, Estimar and Tickets. And also HEART Ibiza.

How did you get involved with HEART Ibiza?
Albert Adrià told me about the project and at that very moment, I knew the post was for me… At that time I was in Mexico but I didn’t even have to think about it. I wanted to go to Ibiza.

How do you describe the gastronomic concept of HEART Ibiza?
We are not elBulli and we are not Cirque du Soleil, but I assure you, you will not have seen anything else like it in the world. There are no references to compare it to. HEART Ibiza is an experience that must be lived to understand it. This has definitely been our year. We have bet on a lot of different concepts and we have the best team working to make it the perfect destination for gastronomy, entertainment and nightlife.

What does your role as an executive chef consist of on a day-to-day basis?
[Laughs] I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave! My job among other things is to grease the gears so everything works perfectly every day. To ensure nothing fails and to be the eyes, ears and the right hand of the Adriàs. I also manage the staff, create the teams and the gastronomic proposal and look at costs alongside Albert and his creative team. You see, I’m never bored.

What is involved in creating the menu?
We create the new menus in the winter months when HEART Ibiza is closed – that is when we have more time to devote ourselves, in body and soul, to creativity, whether it’s new dishes or new concepts, which are yet another factor in our proposal. Then during the summer, we dedicate ourselves to turning the ideas we had into reality – those ideas that can realistically be applied in the kitchen on a day to day basis when we’re serving 180 people in the restaurant.

Can you tell us some of your favorite dishes from the menu?
The spherical olive. It’s a classic from elBulli created by Albert Adrià in 2005. Conceptually nothing like it has ever been created to this day – it’s something magic. I like the Cauliflower Puree with Caviar, there is technique, flavour, aesthetics and great produce in this dish and also the Giant Ravioli of Fresh Crab – again, it is all about technique, flavour, aesthetics and ingredients.

Tell us about your working relationship with the Adrià brothers?
At a professional and creative level, the Adrià brothers have given me everything. Undoubtedly, there are no more creative people in the world – they proposed to change many of the concepts and history of gastronomy and they succeeded. For me, being able to work and collaborate with them for more than 12 years has its rewards. Every day I spend next to them, I get to soak up their creativity and their talent.

What is it like working with Guy Laliberté?
Guy Laliberté is another genius, also endowed with a high level of creativity and a very special energy that is infectious when you are with him. He transmits so much joy and positivity. He’s one of those people with the power to transform madness into sanity. I think working with different creative disciplines also makes you more professional and creative. I’ve had very few hobbies since I was little, apart from football! I was passionate about cooking and always wanted to work in a restaurant and belong to the Adrià circle. I was also an absolute fan of the Cirque du Soleil shows, so years later for me to be able to say these men are my direct bosses, it makes me feel very proud and grateful.

What would you recommend to anyone planning to visit HEART Ibiza?
Let yourself be carried away by the HEART Ibiza experience, where more than 230 workers make you feel very special by taking care of every detail from the moment you walk through the door. Let yourself be surprised during the four (or more) hours you are going to spend with us. So many things will be happening – there are moments for emotion, nostalgia, joy, mischief. Come with a very open mind and know you will enjoy a unique experience

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