As our loyal Instagram followers, you’ll know that we’re fans of creative #foodie pics and snappy one-liners. Social media famous Elan Café grabbed our attention straight away; with branches on Brompton Road and Park Lane, these cafes serve a modern breakfast and lunch menu, in the most beautifully designed surroundings.
We recently sent our blogger, Neely Khan to interview the Head Chef at Elan Café (Brompton Road). Barbecue-lover and all-round food fanatic Rafael Cardoso shared stories about chef life with Neely, as well as his take on Azanti’s non-alcoholic beverages and why he loves cooking with them so much.
Read on for the full scope from Neely- as well as unmissable foodie tips.
Catch-Ups Over Coffee (The Interview)
I get comfortable at my table; and whilst I should be preparing my notebook and pens, I can’t help but get distracted by the stunning wall that I’m sitting next to. It’s covered in fresh flowers; mostly pink, some white- each of them beautiful.
I order a flat white (served in a pink cup, of course), and skim through the food and drinks menu, whilst waiting for Rafael. The first page is titled, “This is a Love Story” and is followed by a heart-warming account of Elan Café’s ethos and journey.
Every item on the menu sounds delicious; I know I’m in the right place.
Moments later, Rafael arrives. He’s smiling and joyful, as if he really has got the best job in the world. We shake hands, make jokes about the Underground and eventually, begin our interview.
Rafael Cardoso with a bottle of Pierre Zero Rose.
A pleasure to meet the man behind the menu! Thank you for agreeing to meet me, Rafael, I know you’ve been very busy.
Not a problem. And yes, I have been very busy- but mainly working on exciting projects and doing what I love most.
It’s a great menu, isn’t it? But, it’s a collective effort, we’re currently finalising ideas for some new items- there’s been a lot of input from myself there.
Sounds exciting; I bet you love getting creative with all the ideas. Elan Café has a very distinct menu.
The brand is very unique; and the owners defined its individuality from the get-go. We try and carry it through with our food, service, everything. I’ve always worked in the hospitality industry, so I know how important this is.
Let’s talk more about your background, Rafael. Where does the passion for food stem from?
Memories. For me, food is about memories. We associate different foods with memories; mainly childhood memories- and I guess for me, that’s where it all began.
I grew up in a single-parent household with my mother, she worked very hard to provide for the family and as a result of this, I felt that I had to “grow up quickly”. There was no pressure or adversity involved, but by the age of 16 I knew that I had to find a job and contribute towards household expenses.
I started working at a French fine dining restaurant in Soho. I was already interested in cooking because I’d grown up watching my Mum prepare meals at home; working at the restaurant fuelled that passion more.
Did you realise from that point, that you wanted a career as a chef?
I actually didn’t stay at the fine-dining restaurant for very long. I was a young lad and left after the first 5 or 6 months.
Shortly after, I landed a job as a Relief Chef at Harrods; and to be honest, I haven’t looked back since. I got offered contracts with various agencies off the back of my work, and eventually found my way to Elan Café as a Sous Chef. I was very grateful for the opportunity.
Wow, you’ve done very well for yourself at such a young age. What would you say makes a “successful” chef?
Well, passion always comes first- but any chef would tell you that. Of course, you’ve got to know exactly what you’re working with, and continuously work to improve your skill-set and knowledge about the industry.
Patience is a big one for me, too. Knowing that there aren’t any “short-cuts”; a lot of hard work, long hours and sleepless nights go into being a chef- like right now, I’m exhausted but I absolutely love what I do.
I’ve learned the art of patience and built a strong work ethic because of my Brazilian heritage (and upbringing) and my mum, she’s a speech therapist and the most composed person I know.
Wonderful. So, you say you’ve been working on a few new projects recently and one of them is updating the food menu for Elan Café. Are you thinking of incorporating any of the dishes with Azanti’s non-alcoholic wines?
Ha, of course. I love all of Azanti’s products, especially the non-alcoholic sparkling Rose. The founder, Azhar visited our branch with samples a few months ago. As soon as I tried them, I knew they’d be an excellent fit for our menu.
Given your line of work, I’m sure you’ve tried a number of non-alcoholic wines and champagnes before. What made Azanti’s products stand out for you?
I love the brand. Aesthetically, the branding and packaging is great. It’s sophisticated and it’s what initially attracted me to the product.
The flavours are obviously there. Many other non-alcoholic wines are very sweet, like grape juice, making them difficult to cook with. Azanti’s blends are some of the best I’ve tried; I’ve already used them as ingredients for my cooking.
Most of all, I love Azanti’s brand philosophy. The concept of social inclusion and integration is inspiring.
So, you agree that there’s a market for premium non-alcoholic wine?
Absolutely. A massive one.
Living in London, I can of course see the appeal for Muslims and those who choose to abstain from alcohol completely.
And then there’s the health conscious, expecting mothers, fitness enthusiasts, the list goes on. Azanti’s non-alcoholic wines are a real solution to a noticeable gap in the market; and as I’ve mentioned, I love their ethos of social inclusion and responsible drinking.
You mentioned that you’ve already tried cooking with some of Azanti’s non-alcoholic wines; can you share a few tips and ideas with our followers?
So, if people choose to enjoy the wines as an accompaniment with their meals, then the basics are red wine with meat and white wine with chicken and fish.
In terms of cooking, there’s plenty to explore; and because the flavours of Azanti’s beverages are so close to “normal”, alcoholic wines, the dishes will always taste great.
Moroccan Lamb is a great place to start, cooked with lots of garlic and bay leaves. Red wine tenderises red meat better (and the flavours complement each other beautifully), so Azanti’s blends of red would really work here.
With the white wine range, I’d perhaps try an oven-baked sea bream dish. Cooked with plenty of butter, a squidge of fresh lemon, chestnut puree (shop bought if you prefer) and a splash of non-alcoholic white-wine. It’s quick, easy and absolutely delicious.
Sounds gorgeous, I think I’ll be trying these ideas at home myself! What about desserts? Is there anything you’d recommend?
I quite like the idea of champagne jelly, as it’s simple and classy. I’m not a big fan of overly pretentious food, the deconstructed cheesecakes etc. For me, the flavours of food should stand out most.
There’s a number of popular cakes and pastries that often list alcoholic wine as an ingredient too; like blackforest gateau. Again, Azanti’s red wine blends would be the perfect alternative here.
Rafael, these are all great ideas; we’ll have to ask you for proper recipes soon! Thank you so much for your time. Before you leave, tell me- what are your plans moving forward and where can our followers find you?
Currently, I’m still working as Head Chef at Elan Café, so if you’re ever in Knightsbridge again please do pop down to say hello.
As mentioned, I’m busy working on a few very exciting projects for the near, near future. I’ll be announcing the details of them later this year.
Perfect. And any last words from one of our favourite chefs?
Yes, all the very best to Azanti and the team with future endeavours. With such a positive brand message and high-quality product, I have no doubt that the business is going to do well.
Continue spreading your message of social inclusion and integration; I’m looking forward to working with you all in the future.