Like many of her peers, Miami chef Paula DaSilva spent much of her formative years in the kitchen. The daughter of two self-taught restaurateurs, DaSilva learned the basics from her parents before taking the path of culinary education post-high school. Now the Executive Chef at 1500˚, located in the hip Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel along the sunny shores of South Beach, DaSilva has been incorporating those early years of inspiration into her menu since the restaurant’s opening last fall. Fresh off the heels of her stint as a contestant on last season’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (she came home with second place), the tough chef chatted with me recently about what it’s been like to finally be the captain of her own ship.
Jennifer: I read that you come from a family of cooks…
Paula: I do. My family was in the restaurant business, though neither one of my parents were trained. They decided one day that they wanted to open a restaurant when we were living in Bedford, Massachusetts, so they put their money together and did it. My Mom and Dad were always both great cooks and had a niche for doing a bit of everything. They went on to own a total of three restaurants over the course of ten years, so that’s how I got into that.
J: I remember meeting you briefly during the 2010 Cayman Cookout when you were working with Dean Max. Tell me about your experience under his tutelage.
P: Dean and I worked together for almost a decade, just shy of ten years. You know, I was a young cook when I started working with Dean, and people wonder why I spent so much time with him. But there was just so much to learn. One year just wasn’t enough, and then two years wasn’t enough, and both my position and the restaurant just continued to evolve. So every few years, I was doing something different and still learning.
J: Now you’re running 1500˚on your own. How is the experience of running your own kitchen after always being the right-hand chef?
P: You know, it’s always different. I was with Dean for so long, and was pretty much running the kitchen, especially in the last few years as Dean expanded to the other properties. So I was pretty much on my own there. But it was the first time opening my own kitchen, you know, on my own. I definitely didn’t think it would be an easy task, and it sure wasn’t. It’s like anything else – just hours and hours of work, days and days without any time off. It’s exhausting and daunting. It’s totally different when it’s entirely your responsibility.
J: What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
P: I always think about what I’d be doing if I didn’t fall into this. I have a passion for a few other things, including photography. Even though I don’t practice it as much now, it was something I always found intriguing. I think also something in the psychiatry field. I find that interesting, although, I feel like I get some of that now. (Laughter.) But to be honest, when I was graduating high school, there was really no question in my mind that I knew I wanted to go to culinary school and learn more.
*Photo credit: Brustman Carrino Public Relations