Vitals: Born and raised in Brazil until the age of 7, Paula DaSilva grew up in a family of cooks and restaurateurs that shaped her love for cooking. Growing up in Somerville, Massachusetts exposed the young chef to fresh produce and the notion that American food – across a variety of flavors and influences – could be made deliciously simple, warm and inviting. Now, at just 33 years old, DaSilva is currently the executive chef at 1500° at Miami’s luxurious Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel, which has garnered a variety of local awards and earned her the attention of the James Beard Foundation.
Awards: Paul DaSilva is no stranger to competition in the kitchen, thanks to a 2009 stint on Gordon Ramsay’s show “Hell’s Kitchen.” “It was a grueling six weeks that tests your patience, your pain threshold and both your physical and mental well being,” recalls DaSilva. “It’s a military boot camp of cooking, but it was an amazing experience.” Since earning the title of runner-up in the show, DaSilva has earned a number of accolades from newspapers and national publications for her cooking at 1500° and was even named a James Beard Award semi-finalist in last year’s prestigious race for “Best Chef South.”
Experience: DaSilva grew up in her family’s trio of restaurants in Massachusetts, an experience the chef credits with shaping her love for food and exposing her to the hard work needed to succeed in the industry. A move to Florida with her family as a teen provided her the opportunity to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and while still in school, DaSilva began to work her way up from waiter to cook at the Harbor Beach Marriott. It was there that she learned what it took to change the stigma around hotel food, and under the mentorship of Dean Max’s 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, honed her impressive technique and creative food styling. Now, at 1500°, DaSilva creates fresh, farm-to-table cuisine that blends subtle Brazilian influences with modern American steak house in a unique and creative way.
Her love for farm-to-table cuisine: “My food is about paying attention to where the products are from and elevating them to the next level to bring out natural flavors. I don’t like fusion, mixing pasta and soy sauce, because for me, farm-to-table is about treating food with respect. I think it’s important to sustain local farmers because by us helping them grow, they’re able to provide the freshest ingredients – that’s what really matters to me. In this industry, having great relationships with farmers and suppliers helps you keep creative. Of course, because I’m in Florida, not everything is entirely local but I have wonderful relationships with farmers out of state, which helps me imagine how my food can evolve. “
Her inspiration: “My passion for cooking inspires me. I learn more every day by reading, staying up to date with my staff, visiting tables and listening to feedback. What’s inspiring for me is to continue to go down a path that those behind me can feel encouraged by. I want to work hard so that in 30, 40, 50 years from now people will know me as someone who’s made a positive change in the industry and inspires others.”
5 ingredients she can’t live without: “Salt, extra virgin olive oil, bay leaf, thyme and pepper. Those are the most frequently used seasonings in my stocks, sauces and bases. I love the earthiness of herbs like bay leaf and thyme and I couldn’t live without them.”
Favorite snack: “French fries! I actually gave up French fries, mayonnaise and bread for Lent. In my kitchen we also have 24-hour room service for the hotel so we are always making French fries – it’s very easy for me to dip into a bowl of French fries when there’s extra and then dip that into our house mayonnaise. It’s so delicious …so I give that up once a year. I don’t forbid myself from eating anything, but I do try to eat in moderation since I love all food.”