The Risk and Satisfying Reward of Silvia Restaurant
INSIDE+OUT is pleased to spotlight Executive Chef Doris Choi of Silvia for the latest installment in our Meet the Chef series. The brainchild of four partners with zero experience running a restaurant, Silvia launched five years ago. Though they were launching a high-end restaurant more typical of an NYC hotspot with its elegant design, eclectic menu, open kitchen and wood-fired grill, their lack of experience didn’t stop their dream and they dove in without hesitation. They had no idea if Silvia would succeed…
But it did – big time. Today, with a dedicated clientele, Silvia is a bustling restaurant.
Chef Choi excels at pairing organic, locally sourced ingredients with herbs and spices to bring about flavors that will have you savoring every delicious bite. You can’t help but fall in love with dishes like:
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE SOUP
Made with lemon-labne, crispy sunchoke, thyme, black garlic salt
Made with monkfish, shrimp, manila clam, mussel, fennel, tomato-saffron sofrito
STEELHEAD TROUT FILLET
Made with asparagus, English pea, dill & scallion basmati rice, preserved lemon sabayon
Made with roasted jalapeño-cashew crema, cilantro, pepita
MUSHROOM LENTIL PÂTÉ
Made with walnut, pickled vegetable, horseradish mustard, and charred toast (one of our favorites!)
So without further ado, let’s meet Silvia Executive Chef Doris Choi. And be sure to read our story on GoodNight (also owned by Doris and her co-partners)
Tell us about yourself. Where were you born, and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
I was born in Seoul, Korea. My family immigrated when I was three years old to NYC. Pretty much your typical New Yorker: opinionated, direct, but kind (I think).
What inspired you to become a chef, and what was your journey?
I’m surprised I made this my career; I was never interested in cooking. But I had my first child fairly young, and I didn’t know how to feed him once he started eating solids. I bought a lot of Gerber baby foods, like sweet potatoes & strained peas, and Vienna sausages from a tin, but I had no idea how to cook then. But that was the mid-90s, and there were a lot of cooking shows on TV so I watched them. So I learned the basics and became a pretty decent cook. I catered a bit and got a few good jobs as a private chef, but I wasn’t inspired to cook or do anything past that. Years later, when I went on a healthy, raw food kick, I learned the power of food. I started to appreciate real foods and real ingredients. I admit, I went over the top and became orthorexic and limited myself to only eating fruits and vegetables, a few ancient grains, and zero processed ingredients. But, it taught me how to cook and coax flavor without relying on superstars like butter or bacon.
I cook with those ingredients now, but I do so with a reverence and understanding that was lacking before. When I started incorporating meat back into my diet, I came full circle and started looking at food differently, how we are connected to it, and how humans are the only ones to cook with fire. After a long day of hunting and gathering, they would come home, light a fire, and cook over it. There was time to gaze at the fire and reflect on their day. Fire made us smarter, changed our brains, and distinguished us from animals. That’s why we have a wood-fired grill at Silvia. I wanted to share the connection between food, fire and people.
You are now the co-owner and executive chef for two hot restaurants in Woodstock, NY. Silvia opened five years ago. What are you most proud of, and did you accomplish your goals for this Woodstock hotspot?
When we opened Silvia, I had no idea what I was doing. There are still days when I feel like an imposter. But once in a while, I’ll slow down and look around me, hear the buzz, the chatter, the slightly too loud music, and all the people making merry and clinking glasses. That always fills me with awe, like, “we did this.” That feels like an accomplishment.
Tell us about your newest venture, Good Night, and how you balance running both restaurants.
I always feel like either one is suffering when I’m not there, which is not true because we have the best teams at both places, and they rock it out every single day. It’s a running joke that I’ll tell my staff: I can say I’m at GoodNight or Silvia but go home, and no one would know. It’s just guilt for not being at both places at once.
How do the two menus differ?
If Siliva were a person, she would be wearing overalls, stoking a fire and smoking chickens, and making a sauce with grilled peaches and coal oil. GoodNight would be wearing a tiara, purple nitrile gloves, picking mint, Thai Basil, and cilantro, weighing out spices in grams, and making comments thinking: do you think it’s too spicy? It could never be too spicy!
What makes a dish great, and do you have a process when creating new dishes?
A dish is great when balanced with the perfect amount of acid and fat, sweet and savory, but that would be a textbook version. I think a dish is truly remarkable when you just feel it. It evokes emotion, feeling, nostalgia, and traces of love.
Were you involved in the design of both restaurants? One of our favorite features in Silvia is the wood-fired grill and open kitchen, and we love the curves in the bar at Good Night. Did you have a say in the design?
The wood-fired grill at Silvia was a must, my way of connecting food with people. I wouldn’t have opened Silvia without it. But GoodNight was a vision that all four partners shared. We were all so tired of the year 2020, and we wanted a place that was celebratory, lush, over the top, a big FU to covid, isolation, and being away from family. Craig was able to take that vision and bring it to life. I think we were all just sounding boards for him at that point.
What’s one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about your business/restaurant?
People in our industry always comment on how overstaffed we “look.” They count the line cooks, the servers, and the bussers and ask how we can afford to hire so many people. But our system breaks down when we are understaffed, when everyone is spread too thin, or when the dishwasher walks out because it’s just too much work. It takes a village to run a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong; the entire summer felt like we were understaffed but not for the lack of trying.
How do you inspire your staff? What is your company’s “culture?”
I work alongside them, clean the walk-in, put away deliveries, do dishes, and make staff lunch. I shuck oysters during service. They know I have their back.
What do you love most about living + working in the Hudson Valley?
Hands down, working with real farms, real people, and forging real relationships.
What impact does your business have on your community?
I feel as if we have a symbiotic relationship with our community. A fair share of our employees are young adults; it is their first work experience as a busser, runner, or dishwasher. We have a good, non-toxic work environment with management that leads with patience & respect. Many come back during winter break and Summer and sometimes work their way up to a server. We also have staff that has been with us from day one which is amazing considering the high turnover rates in the restaurant industry.
What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?
Oh so many. From the local foragers to the farms, the artisans, sustainable steelhead from Hudson Valley fisheries, pasture-raised chicken, grass and finished primal beef from Greenane farms, pork from Hilltown, mushrooms from Flower Sun Ecology, Dairy from Ronnybrook, micro greens from Woodstock Microgreens, seasonal produce from Great Song Farms, Veritas, etc. There are so many amazing, hardworking people and purveyors.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your career as a Chef?
That being a chef is actually my career.
What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?
I don’t remember; I’m not that nostalgic. But I never learned to cook Korean food; my mom never taught me and I never asked to learn. But the first time I made Korean tofu stew, I was surprised at how I could balance the flavors. I thought it would be so hard, but I just tweaked it until it matched my memory of eating it growing up.
What music do you like to listen to when you cook?
Rarely listen to music. I like to hear food cooking.
What is your favorite thing to eat or cook when you’re alone or at home with your family?
Alone: I’d eat ramen with kimchi and egg, stinky tofu soup, anything in my fridge that can be a taco, or just cores of raw vegetables, celery, gem lettuce, peppers, anything crunchy. With the family, cast iron roast chicken with artichokes, peas, carrots, lemon, herbs, always a sautéed veggie, almost always a salad.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn.
I hate hiking (I’m on my feet all day, for god’s sake!). Have no patience for yoga.
Which profession would you have chosen if you had not become a chef?
I don’t know! An artist? But I would have been a starving one.
If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?
Niall, my husband and partner. If he’s working and I’m home, I’ll usually wait for him to eat together. Or if we are both working, we’ll go home and rustle up something, even if it’s nearly midnight. We rarely eat in our restaurants. And although we work together all day, it’s only during dinner, our only sit-down meal of the day, that we get to hang out. We still value that time.
What was the best dish or meal you’ve ever had and who made it?
In Greece, the lady of the house made us fried small fish with lemon, little plates of olives, cheese, and bread with grassy olive oil. It felt like I was eating a piece of the country.
What’s missing in the area that you wish we had?
Woodstock is pretty well-rounded for a small town but an Asian supermarket would be pretty awesome.
Photos: Harrison Lubin for Inside+Out Upstate NY | And Terry Dagrosa
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Read all of Inside+Out’s MEET THE CHEF SERIES
Chef Alex Napolitano | Prospect at Scribners | Hunter NY
Chef Corwin Kave | Deer Mountain Inn | Tannerville NY
Chef Clare Hussain| Runa | New Paltz NY
Chef Jesse Frederick | Butterfield Restaurant at Hasbrouck House| Stone Ridge NY
Chef Christoper Weathered | Mill & Main | Kerhonkson NY
Chef Elizabeth Steckel and Dirk Schalle | The Gunk Haus | Highland NY
Chef Wyatt Jaster | The Pines | Mount Tremper NY
Chef Richard Erickson | Blue Mountain Bistro & Bistro To Go | Kingston NY
Chef Cheryl Paff and Chef Juan Tzitzimititila | Black-Eyed Suzie’s | Kingston NY
Chef Francesco Buitoni | GioBatta Alimentari | Tivoli NY
Chef Tony Moustakes | City Winery Hudson Valley | Montgomery NY
Chef Doris Choi | Silvia | Woodstock NY
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