When chef Raphael “Raffa” Lunetta closed the doors of his beloved Santa Monica restaurant JiRaffe in February, he didn’t know what he would do next. But he knew he wanted it to be something new and different.

Now, nine months later, he’s achieved that goal.

Lunetta is being welcomed into the kitchen at the Fairmont Miramar’s FIG Restaurant to collaborate with its chef, Yousef Ghalaini, on a four-night pop-up dinner event.

“With chef Raffa in between projects at the moment, we knew the community would be missing him,” Ghalaini said. “We thought it would be a really cool concept to bring him into our kitchen at FIG and see what a collaborative menu might look like, how we could build off of each other, and what we each could bring to the table.”

Though they had known of and admired each other’s work from afar, Ghalaini and Lunetta really developed a relationship once they began this project.

“I think it is going very well with Yousef,” Lunetta said. “He is a super pleasant person and I’m excited to be spending some time in the kitchen with him. There is a certain camaraderie that develops when you work in a kitchen together. Long-lasting relationships are built when you work alongside each other in that environment.”

Ghalaini agreed with Lunetta’s sentiment.

“Since the planning started,” he said, “we’ve definitely been spending a lot of quality time together coming up with this really great pop-up … We’re just excited to have chef Raffa with us and welcome him into our kitchen.”

Though Lunetta was very emotional over the closing of JiRaffe, which opened in April 1996, he said he knew in his heart that he had to let it go. But that doesn’t mean the chef isn’t excited to be bringing a taste of the old restaurant with him to FIG.

“I’m getting a little bit more creative and exploring new preparations and dishes, which was hard to do at JiRaffe because my customers always wanted our staples. But I will be bringing some signature dishes like our almond crusted John Dory, wild mushroom salad and roasted beet salad.”

From Ghalaini, diners can expect dishes like charred octopus, herb roasted lamb sirloin, whole fried Mediterranean snapper and fried cauliflower.

Aside from their own dishes, both chefs are looking forward to presenting a dish they developed together.

“One brand new dish we’ve come up with together and we’re both excited about is a Mediterranean bouillabaisse,” Ghalaini said. “The seafood and produce will come directly from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, so we can’t really share all the ingredients and components until we see what’s available day of. But it’ll be fresh and something totally different.”

Ghalaini has high hopes for the event, as he believes Lunetta’s flavor profile ties in naturally with FIG’s seasonality and compliments their Mediterranean influences.

“Chef Raffa shares our spirit and understands what FIG stands for,” he said. “This pop-up experience is a great opportunity for us to come together and celebrate what we both love to do and create.”

The unique dining experience at FIG will run from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 8-11, from 5 to 10 p.m. For reservations, call (310) 319-3111 or go to figsantamonica.com.


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