The Eden Roc Renaissance Miami Beach has cut a classic figure on the Collins Avenue skyline since 1956, through the Rat Pack heyday and a recent resurrection. Today, the property’s gaining heat in lots of ways—namely its $220 million renovation and the addition of executive chef Paula DaSilva, who helms farm-to-table restaurant 1500°.
Growing up in South Florida, DaSilva’s childhood memories include helping out in the kitchens of her family’s Brazilian restaurants. She went on to study culinary arts at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, then worked with talented chef and author Dean James Max at 3030 Ocean, and eventually sparred with Gordon Ramsay on the popular culinary competition show Hell’s Kitchen.
Now, at age 32, she turns up the heat with a specialized Montague broiler she helped design, perfecting the art of the steak seared at—you guessed it—1500 degrees. DaSilva took a break from the broiler to sit down and give us the not-so-skinny.
You’ve come a long way from peeling garlic in your parents’ restaurants. How does it feel? PAULA DASILVA: My favorite memories growing up are from time spent there, in the basement, doing prep work with my grandmother. To be honest, 20 years later I’m still peeling garlic and vegetables! But it’s important to know all aspects of the restaurant to be successful. And coming here to 1500° gave me a good feeling in my gut.
Your family’s establishments were Brazilian. What types of ingredients were prevalent in the dishes served there? PD: The typical ingredients in a Brazilian kitchen are coconut milk, palm oil and dendê oil [a slightly spicy and nutty oil extracted from palm fruit].
Did your exposure to Brazilian cuisine influence what you prepared on Hell’s Kitchen? PD: I climbed the culinary ladder with the “shut mouth and learn” philosophy. Working with my family—and also the decade I spent with Dean Max—gave me what I needed to deal with Hell’s Kitchen.
What did you take away from the experience? PD: Gordon taught me that you can set your standards higher than you think.
Tell me what it’s like to prepare food for reality TV. PD: Being in a reality-TV kitchen is nothing like being in your own kitchen. You are totally out of your environment, unfamiliar with the surroundings and always watching the clock. A lot of your time is spent looking for the ingredients you need and fighting for space to prepare your food.
The bar and lounge at 1500°
Where do you think the Miami food scene is headed? PD: I think it’s ever-changing and evolving, and still fighting to get on the culinary map. I personally think Michael Schwartz [Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink], Cindy Hutson [Ortanique on the Mile] and Timon Balloo [Sugarcane] are raising the bar and putting out really good food.
1500° has generated plenty of buzz. What’s your approach to the menu? PD: My philosophy is to let the food shine without too many bells and whistles, and use fresh, seasonal items with a majority sourced locally. Since the menu changes daily and is printed in-house, we take advantage of the freshest ingredients available to us each day.
Pan-seared Maine scallops
Tell me about your most popular dishes. PD: The pork-belly tacos, Brussels sprouts croquettes, prime steak pichana [a Brazilian-style cut of beef] and whole fried yellowtail snapper are our best sellers. The sides are as important as the entrées, and I think my creativity really shines with the creamed spinach, duck-fat fries and Vidalia onion stuffed with creamy potato gratin.
Has it been a challenge finding the right local purveyors for the products you use at 1500°? PD: I use many of the same vendors that I used during my decade at 3030 Ocean, and I spend a lot of time meeting with local farmers and fishermen to source the best ingredients available.
Does your Brazilian background influence your menu? PD: Of course there are little nuances, but we don’t want to get bogged down with pedigree. We plan to excel in rustic as well as haute cuisine, so that we can appeal to visitors and locals alike—whether you’re a foodie tourist on a Miami culinary excursion or a local looking for an exquisite meal in a gorgeous setting.
Tell me about your on-site garden. PD: Not only does it allow us to make use of the freshest produce possible, but it’s fun and engaging for both my team and the guests. The garden is small enough to tend to ourselves, but large enough to allow us to get creative with the menu each day.
What’s your favorite kitchen gadget? PD: My Vita-Prep blender, because it’s superpowerful and makes the best purées and dressings really quickly.
What would your last meal be? PD: Roasted chicken, rice and beans with hot sauce.