Paula DaSilva Talks Brazilian Cuisine, South Florida, and Hell’s Kitchen

by Culinary Spelunker / May 25, 2015 /
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Cooked, then pureed black beans seeped with onion and garlic then thickened with a handful of manioc flour are the main ingredients giving tutu de feijão its trademark consistency and rich, brownish hue. Growing up, the dish was a favorite of Paula DaSilva, a native of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil, whose parents came to the United States when she was seven. DaSilva remembers her mother would add roasted pork, vegetables, and fried egg to the top of the mounded, creamy beans.

DaSilva grew up in the kitchen. Her parents opened Brazilian restaurants in South Florida, where DaSilva helped prepared her native favorites, like feijoada. After high school, DaSilva attended culinary school before working through the ranks of South Florida’s top restaurants. Today, she’s the executive chef of 3030 Ocean, an upscale seafood haven that’s anchored in the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa.

Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa

 

Below, DaSilva shares with Wandering Educators some of her insights on Brazilian cooking compared to South Florida cuisine along with insights on her stint as a finalist on Hell’s Kitchen. (Edited from an interview with DaSilva)

What are some of the most typical spices used in Brazilian cooking?

In the region I come from in the southwest, it’s pretty basic. We use fresh herbs like bay leaves and salt and pepper—it’s a lot lighter, the cuisine down there. When you get to Northern Brazil there’s much more of an African influence, with ingredients like palm and coconut oils and coconut milk. The flavors are much more intense - almost like New Orleans cuisine. Where I’m from, the flavors are more comparable to Florida.

 

What are some of your favorite Brazilian dishes?

I have so many but definitely feijoada. My mom would make it every Saturday. I also like Feijão tropeiro. It’s very typical from the region where I’m from. The dish has beans prepared with collard greens and eggs.

 

And how does that differ from South Florida cooking?

That’s a tough question—it really depends. You can find so many different types of cuisine here. I would say, though, there’s a distinct Spanish influence. You can’t go anywhere here, especially Miami, without finding some type of Latin ceviche or empanadas. And there’s a strong Cuban influence, too. I think what I see in common with all of them is fresh seafood, since that’s what we have so much of here in South Florida.

Grilled swordfish at 3030 Ocean, Fort Lauderdale

 

In 2009, you spent six weeks on Hell’s Kitchen, where you were the runner up—what did you learn?

To be honest, I didn’t really learn anything about cooking from Hell’s Kitchen—you either know what you’re doing or you don’t. What I did learn was more about pushing myself to a high level of expectations and intensity. But I wouldn’t want home cooks to be under those types of conditions—it’d be too stressful.

 

Your food has been described as soulful - what does that mean for you?

I know it sounds cliché, but I really do cook from the heart and my soul. I like to prepare the kind of food that I want to eat—there’s nothing pretentious about it. I apply a lot of technique and there’s a lot of care about of it. I take care of the ingredients, whether it’s sauteing and pureeing them--all of that preparation is important to stay true to that ingredient. Really, there’s a lot of passion behind it.

Crispy Pork Belly Tacos - 3030 Ocean, Ft Lauderdale

 

What’s your favorite dish on the 3030 Ocean menu?

That’s like asking, ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ I guess if I had to chose one I’d say the Crisp Pork Belly Tacos.  It took awhile for people to take a liking to it, but now it’s definitely a favorite. I add fresh kimchee and lime aioli.

Of course, we have fantastic seafood but one of our more underrated dishes is our chicken. We have a whole process for curing it and then roasting it so that it comes out super juicy and crispy. It has a Brazilian flare to it, too, with rice grits and chorizo to the side along with a black bean puree.

Sunset view from 3030 Ocean, Fort Lauderdale

 

How did your parents inspire you to try new dishes?

I was ten years old when they opened their first restaurant. Working in the restaurant, I was exposed to a lot of different types of cuts of meat and vegetables.
But we served all Brazilian food and we rarely went out to eat, so it wasn’t until later that I learned to like other types of food. My mother always cooked things until they were well done. We rarely ate anything raw. I really had to work to acquire a taste for that. It took me years to even consider eating raw fish. But I’m grateful for the experience of seeing how to run a restaurant—it wasn’t easy, but it gave me a strong work ethic.

 

Laughing Bird Shrimp Ceviche

4 Servings
 
Ingredients
1 lb. laughing bird or other small shrimp, peeled
½ European cucumber sliced into very thin rounds
½ small red onion, sliced very thin julienne
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribs removed, sliced very thin
1 small peach, halved and sliced thin
1 sweet pepper, sliced in very thin julienne about 1-inch long
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. hot chili paste
1 tbsp. ginger vinegar (or white vinegar)
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
2 limes
½ cup dried Peruvian cancha corn kernels (optional)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
 
Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt until it tastes like seawater. Add the shrimp to the water and cook for 1 minute, then drain and shock the shrimp with ice water to prevent them from over cooking. When cool, drain the shrimp well and pat dry with paper towels.
In a large bowl, combine the vegetables, cumin, chili paste, vinegar, and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss everything to combine. Season to taste with salt. Allow to marinate at least 30 minutes.
For the corn, heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and cover the pot so they don’t fly out. Shake the pot and cook until they stop popping and are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from pot onto a paper towel-lined plate and season well with salt. To finish, juice the limes into the ceviche mix and adjust seasoning if necessary. Toss with toasted cancha corn just before serving. 

 

 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough, except Chef photo courtesy and copyright Paula DaSilva