No offense to any Fort Lauderdale chef, but the title of the city’s top chef just got a little more heated since Paula DaSilva returned to town last summer. When Chef DaSilva arrived in Fort Lauderdale for her first stint here – as the chef de cuisine under the applauded Chef Dean Max at 3030 Ocean – she was a fresh-faced culinary savant who had just graduated from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. And then “Hell’s Kitchen” happened, and soon DaSilva became more than just another chef.
Her second-place finish on the popular reality TV show catapulted her into culinary stardom, becoming one of the area’s most in-demand chefs and paving the way for her to open up her own restaurant, 1500˚ at the Eden Roc Miami Beach. Its farm-to-table menu achieved much critical accolade, but with the hotel property in flux, the restaurant closed in the summer of 2013.
As they say in business, what is one’s loss is another’s gain. Fort Lauderdale welcomed its culinary daughter, Chef Paula, back in town as the new executive chef of 3030 Ocean (After 14 years heading the restaurant, Chef Dean Max left in August to pursue other endeavors).
“It’s nice to be back here,” DaSilva says while slowly drinking a glass of water at the restaurant’s dining area, her hair tied tightly in her signature bun. “You feel that warmth, as if you never left.”
DaSilva’s admittance into the restaurant world started at a young age, as the Brazilian native worked in her family’s restaurant in New England. Her family imbued in her a strong work ethic and a mentality to constantly push herself further. Even today, as the long hours in the kitchen can be draining, DaSilva admits her family and their support have helped carry her beyond her goals.
“They love my food,” DaSilva says, smiling.
DaSilva doesn’t look to come back to town without making a splash. While she continues to carry out 3030 Ocean’s concepts under Chef Dean Max, adding her own twists and touches where she can, DaSilva has much more in the works. She has been in talks with the owners of the Marriott Harbor Beach, where 3030 Ocean is located, to change the entire concept of the restaurant, from menu to décor to even its name. Details are admittedly vague, but it’s not without some hints of greatness.
“Over the years, my culinary style has changed. I don’t cook the same way I did four years ago,” DaSilva, 33, admits. “As I become more confident in my cooking, I’m more relaxed. I like things simpler now, not overcomplicating things anymore.”
DaSilva describes her cooking today as being more rustic but with bold flavors, a concept she’s hoping to unveil in 2015 with the new incarnation of 3030 Ocean. In the meantime, she and the Marriott owners are continuing to tweak the new concept and find the financial backing for it.
“Fort Lauderdale hasn’t seen a restaurant like the one I’m proposing,” DaSilva teases. “I feel like there’s a lot more I can offer as a chef and to the guests here.”
Until then, the city will just have to wait.