Paula DaSilva just celebrated 30 years since she came to the U.S. from Brazil, but her home country, a land most known for its soccer stars and samba, never traveled far from her heart, especially around the holiday time.
“Typically it is customary to celebrate Christmas Eve- it’s sort of our really big holiday there. So Christmas Eve is a huge party of food and a smorgasbord of all kinds of stuff.”
Trust her on that. Her parents were owners of three successful Brazilian restaurants, the first in Boston, the second two in Florida, so they know a thing or two about celebrating with delectable food.
“Both of them were really good cooks. They weren’t classically trained chefs or anything like that, so, I learned a lot from them and spending time in the kitchen, as a young child and then going into my teenage years.”
That smorgasbord she was talking about? It sounds like what your first buffet after entering the pearly gates of Heaven should look like.
“My mom would make pretty much all the typical Southeastern [Brazilian] food. So, Feijão Tropeiro (a black bean or red bean dish done with yucca flour, collard greens, eggs, and bacon), then she’d roast pork loin. She’d do Tutu, which is a black bean puree and mixed yucca flour. Collard greens was always a staple…potato salad…and there was roasted lamb and roasted chicken. A little bit of everything for everyone. Always rice! There’s always some sort of rice, either a white rice or a Greek rice, Arroz à Grega, which is mixed with tomato paste, peas and vegetables.”
DaSilva lists these all in quick succession barely stopping for air.
“It was just,” she lets out a hearty laugh, “A LOT of stuff! If you didn’t find anything that you’d like to eat, you really are having a problem!”
Family and friends would gather and no one would be allowed to eat until midnight.
“It was a really cherished time. It was all about family. All about friends. No work at all. There were three times a year my parents would ever close the restaurant and it was Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Good Friday.”
The following day they’d have leftovers as more people would come over.
“It was just family time and that was also my parent’s wedding anniversary, the 25th, yeah! Almost fifty years ago, when they got married, that was the only day that they had a priest and church! It was either that or, they had to wait however many months to get married,” she laughs, “until the next service was happening.”
DaSilva still celebrates the holidays with her family. She appreciates the time spent together.
“There’s so many few holidays that I’m able to be with them, and, especially in the beginning of my career. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough where I am able to break away but there were many, many many years where I would show up, literally, at the last hour after I finished dinner service at 10 o’clock I would leave and change and go there. Now I am fortunate enough that I have a great team and great people under me.”
That team she is talking about will be helping her launch her latest endeavor, Artisan Beach House. It is slated to open mid-January, and DaSilva plans on letting her culinary heritage shine.
“I’m going to do something that reminds me of my upbringing and my mom used to make for me. I’m not going to be shy about that.”
Her menu, which she calls “globally inspired” will feature several Brazilian-influenced dishes.
“Bolinho de bacalhau, salty cod fritters, is something that we’ll see on there. It’s eaten at a lot of parties as an appetizer, as a welcoming thing. They’ll be several versions of different dishes. For instance, a seafood stew, which is Moqueca de Peixe. Also, I love to do egg. Like, a classic and typical dish eaten there is a steak with an egg on top, or beans with an egg on top, which you see that with the cassoulet that we have which is a French dish, but, I like to put an egg on top of that. I’ll be a little more forward with some of those things.”
New Times asks what her favorite Christmas dish is and there is a long pause.
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“Feijão Tropeiro, because we never failed to have this at our special dinners and it always brings me back to my childhood memories. That is sort of like a tedious dish to make, so my mother would only make it when it was special. Um…that, and potato salad. Potato salad for me, is like…I love potato salad! And the roasted pork butt with the crispy skin is just…some of my favorite things.”
It does seem hard to just choose one.
“I’m fortunate because I have a lot of great cooks in my family! The downside is that I am also a control freak, so, somehow, I’ll always end up in the kitchen checking in the oven or trying something. I can’t help myself, but I end up there anyway!”