What’s Cooking

This innovative executive chef is planning some tasty new offerings at Hilton Ocala.

Even as a child, Elyssa Silva could be found in the kitchen. She followed her mom’s every move and looked forward to Sundays, when family members would watch Lydia Bastianich on television.  

“I was always interested in what was going on in the kitchen. Every single Sunday, we watched Lydia together as a family and that was my favorite thing to do during the week,” Silva offers. “I was always surrounded by food. It was the biggest part of my life.”

She recalls telling family members even back then that she wanted to own her own catering business when she grew up. 

Now, Silva has brought her innate love of food, professional education and extensive training to her new position as the executive chef at Hilton Ocala. She plans to incorporate some changes in the offerings at Arthur’s Bistro and the Market Kitchen & Bar and “make everything new and exciting. There are a lot of options in the area, and we want people to want to come here.” She describes her style of cooking as “upscale comfort.”

Short Ribs

Silva, a native of Port Jefferson Station, New York, went right from high school to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, which is famed for its culinary arts programs. She graduated with associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. While in college she worked at an intimate fine dining restaurant with a “completely scratch kitchen.”

“It was really cool food. And it was a big eye opener,” she shares. “I love that I went to culinary school, but I think you learn the most in the actual world.”

Her real-world experience includes serving as an assistant foodservice director with Genesis HealthCare, and then culinary supervisor with The Westin Boston Waterfront and banquet chef, executive sous chef and executive chef with W Hotel and Residences in Boston. 

“It was an experience going from wellness brand to luxury brand,” Silva notes. “But I wanted to grow my career.”

She learned of an opening for an executive sous chef at the Sheraton Boston and jumped at a chance to work with Executive Chef Joseph Florio. 

“It was the biggest hotel in New England and the executive chef was really well known,” she explains. “He’s my mentor. He taught me so much. He’s phenomenal.”

After about a year there, Silva saw the opening in Ocala and shares, “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. My husband wants to move to Florida. This is great.’ And then I came to visit and fell in love.”

Now that she and her husband, Rafael, along with their pets Bentley, a beagle, and cat Gato are settled in, she’s thinking ahead to the holidays. She says her favorite things to cook often depend on the time of year. 

“In winter, my favorite thing to make is braised short ribs with a truffle mashed potato and herb roasted baby carrots. It’s so filling and warming and comforting,” she offers. “I like to take classics and twist them around. I’m not a tweezer kind of chef. It shouldn’t be one bite and you spend like $500.”

Ratatouille

“At a time when competition for great dining, social gatherings and business meetings is heating up in Ocala, the Hilton Ocala has doubled down by hiring a true culinary professional to deliver fresh home cooking that is unmatched in the market,” offers General Manager Rich Larkin. “Chef Silva comes to us with 11 years of culinary experience after working for some of the finest hotels within the Boston area. We are truly lucky to have her experience and skills on our team. From the day I met her, I could see and hear her passion about her love for food and how her style of cooking separates her from the crowd.”

Silva let us in on a “little secret” dish she plans to soon be serving—Pork Belly Cinnamon Rolls.

“It’s not what you think,” she says with a hearty laugh. “You can do it as an appetizer or entrée. I will use maple smoked brown sugar cinnamon in the middle of a pork belly and roll it up like a cinnamon roll. I’ll smoke it so it gets nice and caramelized and beautiful, then serve a white cheese sauce on top. We’re going to be known for that dish for sure.”

Silva, 31, also plans to switch up offerings with the hotel’s Sunday brunch and weekly menus. For Thanksgiving, she plans to cider brine the turkeys to be served in the hotel’s eateries, so they are “nice and moist.” She highly recommends that home cooks always brine their turkeys as well.

“But just come here to eat,” she says invitingly. “You don’t have to work or do dishes, and you can impress your guests.” OS

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