Rafael Nazario

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Rafael Antonio Nazario (also Raphael, or "Raf Nazario"; born July 30, 1952) is a Puerto Rican-born pianist, composer and arranger and actor. He has had a parallel career as chef, author[1][2] and occasional wine writer.[3]

Nazario's recordings range from Latin music to instrumental compositions, pop songs in English, classical-oriented piano and orchestral works. His debut album, Patria Añorada[4] (1999, reissued 2004), contains songs in a variety of Hispanic-American styles and features lyrical and jazz-influenced arrangements. Nazario's music includes idioms and vernacular rooted in Puerto Rico's Jíbaro culture, evoking the nueva canción and nueva trova styles of Hispanic-American music.

Early life and education[edit]

Nazario was born in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the son of Elvira Piñeiro Prieto and Rafael Nazario Cardona, a newspaper pressman. Rafael Sr was the eldest of 18, and according to the family's oral history, their father, Francisco Nazario was one of the founders—along with Romualdo Real—of the Puerto Rico Ilustrado magazine, and later the newspaper El Mundo (Puerto Rico). His mother was of Spanish (Canarian), Portuguese and Dutch ancestry. His maternal grandfather, Amador Piñeiro, was one of the last train station superintendents on the island. Rafael Sr. moved the family to Costa Rica when Nazario was a few months old and years later settled in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Nazario attended St Aedens School. They returned to Puerto Rico when Nazario was nine years of age. He eventually studied at the De La Salle (Christian Brothers) School in the suburban city of Bayamón, where they lived. It was at La Salle that Nazario first became involved in theatre, under the direction of Luis J. Cruz.

Upon graduation from high school, Nazario left the island to study piano and music composition, living temporarily with his godparents in Miami, Florida. As he did not play an instrument and had never taken a music lesson, he did not win a place at any colleges he approached. However, an admission-board member at the University of Notre Dame admired the young man's initiative. Rev. Michael J. Heppen, C.S.C., invited Nazario to apply to the University of Portland, where Rev. Heppen was director of admissions. University of Portland's Dean of Music, Philippe de la Mare, was in France that summer, visiting his former teacher,[5] Nadia Boulanger. In this manner, Nazario gained entry to the University of Portland School of Music even though his repertoire consisted of less than a minute of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 (“Moonlight Sonata”).

Rafael A. Nazario as student at the University of Portland

A classmate, Tim Gorman, already an experienced musician at 18, tutored Nazario. The pair soon became best friends. Nazario went on to spend his sophomore year of studies in Salzburg, Austria, where he attended University of Portland classes, as well as the Paris Lodron University. While in Salzburg, he became a member of the Salzburg Drama Gruppe, performing in plays directed by Ilse Lackenbauer. He returned to Portland to graduate, achieving a Bachelor of Music degree in the Composition program.

Early career[edit]

After university and a number of odd jobs, he joined a Top-40 covers band and toured the US, playing mostly hotels. He eventually returned to Portland and enrolled in graduate school, supporting himself as waiter and sommelier. A brief stint as sommelier at the Benson Hotel led to Nazario being asked to join a new restaurant in ‘Old Town’, called "Fingers", after its founding chef, Fred Finger. Within a few months, the founding chef departed and Nazario took on the role of chef at the restaurant. The eatery coincidentally received its first positive newspaper review (Willamette Week; Karen Brooks, Gideon Bosker[6] ) a few weeks later. "Fingers" restaurant was later renamed 'The Norton House', after the historic building (owned by Bill Naito) that housed it.

Los Angeles[edit]

Nazario moved to Los Angeles with his then wife. He worked as waiter at Jean Leon’s La Scala-Malibu[7] restaurant, but left after a few months. After a short spell as a singer–pianist in a cabaret night club, he worked as chef at Hugo's, in West Hollywood. [8][9][10] Here, Nazario created the menu and format for what became an icon in the Los Angeles dining scene. Hugo’s was one of the first of the gourmet take-out stores[11] with a bistro-Euro-café restaurant setting.

Nazario left Hugo's after a couple of years to teach food and wine[12] and later helmed Bono's (an Italian restaurant owned by Sonny Bono) on Melrose as guest chef for a short time. He also worked for singer-songwriter Jackson Browne as private chef during preparations for his "Lawyers in Love" album tour.

72 Market Street, Venice, CA[edit]

As a well-known chef, Nazario found it difficult to be taken seriously as a musician. After several months playing for free at ‘At My Place’ nightclub in Santa Monica he played piano at a new restaurant in Venice 72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill — owned by Tony Bill (The Sting, Taxi Driver) along with several partners, including Dudley Moore. Nazario was the house pianist for six years, and the resident wine and spirits buyer for most of that period.[13] According to LA Style magazine, he oversaw one of the city’s best wine lists at the time.[14]

Later, Nazario was to helm a trio for the live—if short lived—KCRW broadcasts, as well as other NPR related events,[15] and was involved in the 72 Market St. Lecture Series.[16] Los Angeles Magazine included him among the city’s top sommeliers in its Best of L.A. article (Colman Andrews; Nov, 1989), while Caroline Bates noted his wine list and “sophisticated jazz piano” in a Gourmet Magazine review (Dec. 1987).[17]

The clientele at 72 Market Street included a mix of celebrities and West Coast artists, literati and writers, alongside beachcombers and local denizens. During his Los Angeles years, Nazario lived on the fringes of fame. He designed the menu for Joni Mitchell’s wedding reception (as consultant for Nucleus Nuance, whose owner, Bruce Veneiro was a mutual friend) and once spent an evening at the home of composer Ken Lauber teaching Bob Dylan how to play a Gershwin song.

During that period, Nazario also worked as a television and film actor.[18]


Nazario left Los Angeles for Tokyo, where he played jazz clubs in Roppongi and acted in Japanese television commercials.[19] After almost two years, he returned to the States with his young family and took up cooking again professionally. He became friends with Thomas Keller then an emerging chef. Together they worked on a book project, Mastering The Modern Classics [unpublished]. In 1992, Nazario, Keller, and a mutual friend happened to be in Napa Valley together when while visiting Long Vineyards, Bob Long mentioned The French Laundry was for sale. They immediately drove over to view the premises, which Keller eventually grew into a world-renowned restaurant.


Nazario took a job as a chef in Portland, where once again, he became well known. This resulted in him relocating to Mexico for a restaurant venture: Cafe Caracoles. After a few months in Puerto Vallarta, he moved on to Daiquiri Dick’s, a fine-dining restaurant on Los Muertos beach in Puerto Vallarta. Shortly after arriving in Mexico, Nazario began to write songs in Spanish. Just over a year later, he released his debut album Patria Añorada.

As executive chef, Nazario participated in Puerto Vallarta's International Festival Gourmet along with a number of other culinary events.[20] He also appeared in US-based television programs and publications.[21]

While living in Puerto Vallarta, Nazario wrote and designed a collection of his recipes, Sand in Your Shoes (2001), which gained the attention of the James Beard Foundation. In August 2004, he and his crew went to New York City to prepare a dinner of Mexican haute cuisine at the James Beard House.[22]


In 2005, Nazario moved to Australia to become the founding chef and partner in Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerías.[23] He created the opening menu for the first restaurant (Oct 2006, Newtown, NSW).[24][25] As chef and co-founder of GyG, Nazario was a featured guest on Australian television shows such as "Mornings with Kerry Anne", "The Today Show” and SBS’ "Food Safari”. Nazario also appeared on radio shows such as 'Mornings with Virginia Trioli' and 'Weekends with Simon Marnie', as well as features and articles in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living and Spectrum, Gourmet Traveler, Vogue magazine, Delicious magazine, Sunday Telegraph and other publications. [26] Nazario and his partner Steven Marks parted ways three months after opening the first store.

In 2007, Nazario helped launch Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill,[27] another quick service restaurant [28] with a string of Mexican eateries in Australia.[29][30]

Return to music[edit]

In mid-2009, Nazario left the culinary realm to once again devote himself to music. When he began to teach piano, his first student was Joanna Weinberg, singer, actress and musical theatre composer. Nazario later produced and arranged Ms Weinberg’s ‘The Piano Diaries’.[31][32] He also collaborated with Ms Weinberg on a song, ‘Don’t Give Up’, which featured in the movie, ‘Goddess’ (2013), which she wrote.

In 2013, Nazario formed a Latin jazz trio. Soon thereafter he was invited to play at theThredbo Jazz Festival.[33]



  1. ^ Staff writer(s); no byline (December 28, 2011). "Sand In Your Shoes". Open Library. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Sand in Your Shoes". Amazon.com. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Vino Veracity. Vino Veracity http://vinoveracity.com/. Retrieved 8 June 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Staffwriter(s); no byline. "Patria Añorada". Amazon.com. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Dr. Philippe R. De La Mare—Obituary". The Columbian. May 19, 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Brooks, Karen (from 1979). "Word of Mouth". Willamette Week. Retrieved 8 June 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Jenkins, Kathie (24 January 1993). "Ciao La Scala". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  8. ^ Dwan, Lois. "Hugos: The Patron is Victor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Living, Magazine. "Chefs' Day Off". Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Knowles, Robert. "Just How Good is The Food…". Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Reichl, Ruth. "Gourmet To Go". California Magazine. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Baird, Barbara. "Waiters' School Gives Tips…". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Andrews, Coleman. "Best of LA". LA Magazine. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  14. ^ Marin, Alden. "Top Ten Wine Lists". LA Style Magazine. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Scanned, Image. "NPR Program". Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  16. ^ 72 Market, Street. "Market St Lecture Series". 
  17. ^ Bates, Caroline. "Specialités de la Maison". Gourmet Magazine. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Raf Nazario on IMDb
  19. ^ Nazario, R. "Acting Reel Compiliation—older". YouTube. 
  20. ^ "Rafael Nazario, Puerto Vallarta's Most Wanted Chef". Breaking Travel News. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  21. ^ Eckert, Dave. "Culinary Travels—#522 Memorable Mexico". 
  22. ^ "James Beard House". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  23. ^ http://consumer.fairfaxsyndication.com/archive/Chef-Rafael-Nazario-and-the-2F3XC5U6S5QF.html
  24. ^ http://grabyourfork.blogspot.com/2006/11/guzman-y-gomez-newtown.html
  25. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/news/good-living/mexican-wave/2007/11/12/1194766572460.html?page=2
  26. ^ http://vinoveracity.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Chilli-Con-Carne%E2%80%94Recipe-ABC-RADIO-Sydney.pdf
  27. ^ Butterworth, Monique (13 November 2007). "Mexican Wave". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  28. ^ Staff writer(s); no byline (March 17, 2008). "Mad Mex Darlinghurst". Time Out Sydney. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  29. ^ "Hola Mad Mex". Mad Mex. November 2007. 
  30. ^ http://www.indesignlive.com/articles/projects/mexicano-nuovo
  31. ^ Bond, C.J. (January 25, 2012). "CD Review, Joanna Weinberg". JazMuzic.com. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  32. ^ Peters, Jon (March 8, 2012). "Joanna Weinberg - The Piano Diaries (Review)". The Borderland. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  33. ^ "2013 Artists". 2013 Thredbo Jazz Official Web Site—2013 Artists. hredbo Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 14 June 2013.