For Paula DaSilva, coming in second on Hell's Kitchen was no easy feat, nor was opening a restaurant in a landmark hotel on Miami Beach, where public scrutiny is almost as brutal as Gordon Ramsay himself. Fast forward a year later and 1500° at the Eden Roc Renaissance has landed on Esquire's list of the best new restaurants of 2011 and the only Florida one to make that list. DaSilva,31, took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to discuss her winning year.
Eater: What were your initial thoughts on coming to work at a landmark hotel on Miami Beach? Did you have any preconceived notions of working in Miami as opposed to Fort Lauderdale, where you came from?
Paula DaSilva: I felt that Miami was a strong food town with lots of expectations and I was right. I had worked in Fort Lauderdale for many years and continue to live in Broward but was excited for the challenge of opening in Miami.
E: Did you have any trials and tribulations opening the restaurant? Is it easier to open a hotel restaurant than a stand alone?
PD: There were a ton. But I remember coming up with the name was a chore. As you can imagine, there was and is a whole team involved behind the scenes so agreeing on anything as a committee was tough. In fact, it wasn’t until a few weeks before we opened that we locked in on 1500°.
E: How was the opening?
PD: We did a soft opening so we got to practice and rehearse so we could get a feel for what we could expect and made sure during those first weeks that we didn’t hammer ourselves with reservations, big tables, etc. Also, we opened right before season started so we wanted to make sure we were ready.
E: Six months into the restaurant's opening what, if anything, changed?
PD: Lots of staffing changes. Rarely is the crew you open with the crew that sticks. The food improved by the six month mark and is better now than it was then. Great food is a process, not a destination. You’re growing and improving every day. Also, by the six month mark we changed from a team-oriented service style to an individual server approach, which is how we do it now. It was a fairly big change to make but it was necessary and worked out so much better.
E: What has been your biggest success this past year?
PD: Just as we hit our 1 year anniversary, we were the only Florida restaurant selected by Esquire as one of the ”Best New Restaurants in America” for 2011. Considering how many restaurants John Mariani dines at and considers for the Esquire story it’s a real honor to be among those that make the cut.
E: Your biggest failure or disappointment?
PD: The challenge of finding the right staff was a big disappointment in the beginning. I’d meet with people and they had more passion about the cookbook they wanted to sell than the art or skill in cooking. And from what I hear from other chefs it wasn’t a challenge unique to us. Miami’s a tough market and you really have to work hard to find the right people for front or back of the house.
E: What are your priorities at the restaurant right now?
PD: Improving on food and service and maintain consistency. I love doing events but I need to make sure I strike the right balance between time in the kitchen and time spent away, cooking at festivals, making appearances, etc.
E: Would you ever open another restaurant in Miami?
PD: If the right opportunity arose, absolutely.
E: Any predictions for the restaurant one year from now?
PD: I can’t predict the future but I’d love to grow the restaurant and keep improving. A few more awards couldn’t hurt. Just saying.