As she prepares to host a SoBeWFF event, Paula DaSilva dishes on the passion for cooking that she’s rediscovered
On the days when she dons her traditional white chef’s coat, it can be said that Paula DaSilva wears her heart under her sleeves instead of on them. That’s because the Coconut Creek resident and chef de cuisine at Burlock Coast on Fort Lauderdale Beach has three (visible) tattoos on her arms that give glimpses into her life and culinary career.
One is a Grey Kunz spoon, one of her favorite kitchen tools, which she uses for plating, saucing and more. This desire to display finesse with technique began with her family’s culinary influence, partly represented by another tattoo—her grandmother’s name spelled out in katana, or Japanese swords.
The third tattoo is an arrow, which DaSilva got when she left her position two years ago as executive chef at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. Feeling that she was no longer growing, she took time off.
“To shoot an arrow, you have to pull it back. When you release it, it shoots itself forward,” DaSilva says. “If life ever holds you back, eventually it’s going to propel you forward.”
For a year, DaSilva let life propel her by traveling and doing consulting work. She met her partner, Carissa, bonded with Carissa’s two children and left the restaurant world for the first time since she was a teenager.
Along the way, DaSilva discovered something about herself.
“I missed the kitchen,” she says. “I missed being around cooks. I missed the hustle and bustle of dinner service, my favorite time of the day.”
The bustle, this month, includes two special events connected to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival—one of which, a dinner featuring Ritz-Carlton chefs from around the state (Feb. 24), she’ll host at Burlock Coast.
It’s the latest chapter in a foodie story that started in Brazil. It’s there that DaSilva lived with her grandmother for a year while her parents were setting up a new life in the United States. She and her siblings joined their parents when she was 10 and helped to run the family restaurant, Oasis, in Medford, Massachusetts, serving foods typical of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
The family moved to South Florida when DaSilva was 14 and opened two restaurants: Panorama in Pompano Beach and Brazil Tropical in Delray Beach. DaSilva picked up more responsibilities, going from helping with food prep to running the Brazil Tropical kitchen at 17—with her father’s supervision. It came as no surprise to her family that DaSilva decided to expand her culinary skills at Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale after high school.
DaSilva began to turn heads during her time at 3030 Ocean, where she initially worked under chef Dean James Max and eventually became sous chef. Her reputation in the kitchen prompted staff to encourage her to try out for “Hell’s Kitchen,” a reality show hosted by the famously hot-headed Gordon Ramsay.
“I have a little bit of a temper, and every once in a while [my staff ] would get yelled at,” says DaSilva, 38. “So they thought that would be great” to see her getting yelled at.
She didn’t pass an audition for the fourth season but tried again the next year after an acquaintance at the hotel got her a private interview with showrunners. When she was chosen for the fifth season (which premiered in 2009), she found that the competition’s physical requirements were as important as her culinary skills. Throughout the six weeks, she slept about four hours a night, waited hours for scene setups, and endured “punishments” for losing challenges.
“The only time we could ever talk was when we were microphoned,” says DaSilva, a resident of Coconut Creek for 13 years. “We even had to go to the bathroom with the microphone on, which was the worst thing. We learned how to turn it off.”
Despite the challenges, DaSilva thrived. She finished as the runner-up, feeling content and relishing in the relief of it being over.
“As much as I worked hard my whole life, I never worked for 20 hours a day trying to cook and do challenges,” she says. “I never put myself through that mental and physical stress at the same time. What I did learn from Gordon is that you can be pushed really hard.”
After a few more years at 3030 Ocean, DaSilva was ready to venture out on her own in 2010. She opened 1500 Degrees, a farm-to-table restaurant, at Nobu Eden Roc in Miami, gaining national fame as the executive chef and snagging a James Beard Award nomination. The restaurant made Esquire’s 2011 “Best New Restaurants in America” list.
She returned to 3030 Ocean in 2013 as executive chef; after two years, she took her break and didn’t come back until she became restless. After a stop in Miami, she accepted the position at Burlock Coast, closer to home at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, where she has been since August. She has introduced a few dishes indicative of her love of “good comfort food”: pork belly tacos (popular at 1500 Degrees) and moqueca (Brazilian fish stew) with roasted swordfish and fried yucca.
“This is the first time that I have a new group of sous chefs that I didn’t bring with me,” DaSilva says.
“They’re very talented, and I want to inspire them to be creative—but I also want to be inspired by their style.”
As she ponders her future and enjoys “the best view” of all the restaurants she’s worked at, she remembers the arrow on her right arm. “I needed to get out of cooking for a little bit,” DaSilva says. “But I always knew that, in the end, it’s going to be in a kitchen for me.”
Grilled to Perfection
DaSilva also will appear at Clambake—another SoBeWFF event, hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Jorge Ramos, Feb. 22, at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach. She was kind enough to share a recipe with Lifestyle connected to the event.
White Water Clams with Beer and Orange Broth
4 dozen clams, rinsed well
.5 cup shallots (sliced)
8 garlic cloves (smashed)
1 cup Hefeweizen-style beer
2 cups fish stock
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
8 ounces European style butter, diced
2 oranges (peeled, cut into rounds)
4 tablespoons parsley leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
In large pan, sauté garlic and shallots with clams. Deglaze with beer and fish stock. Cook over medium-high heat until all clams are open. Stir in creme fraiche and butter. Season to taste with salt and finish by folding in orange wheels and parsley leaves. Serves four.
The Ritz-Carlton Dinner: A Culinary Adventure
Where: Burlock Coast at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale (1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.)
What: As part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s CRAVE Greater Fort Lauderdale Series, DaSilva invites other chefs from Ritz-Carlton resorts around Florida—including Naples, Orlando, and Key Biscayne—to prepare a menu showing off the best of their talents.
When: Feb. 24, 7 to 10 p.m.