2015 Boston Rising Star Chef John daSilva of Spoke

2015 Boston Rising Star Chef John daSilva of Spoke
March 2015

Originally from Gloucester, Massachusetts, John daSilva knew he wanted to cook professionally as a teenager. After graduating from high school, he went straight into the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont, to study cooking techniques and tradition.

DaSilva continued his training at The Boarding House Restaurant on Nantucket Island, spending the next four years as sous chef under Executive Chef Erin Zircher—a period he still considers a defining experience, opening his eyes to all corners of the Mediterranean, and teaching him how to lead a kitchen.

It was a lesson that would serve him well when he moved back to Boston in 2008, working his way up the ranks of Barbara Lynch’s flagship, No. 9 Park and eventually becoming executive sous chef. In the meantime, he was named one of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” for Boston. But the real chance to lead came after daSilva spent a six month sabbatical working on a friend’s 10-acre farm in Concord. The immediacy of contact with local product inspired a fresh passion in him, a passion daSilva brings daily to the kitchen of Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville.

Interview with Chef John daSilva of Spoke

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
John daSilva:
I started in kitchens at 13 in Gloucester. My mom was a waitress, dad was a cook, sister was washing dishes—I wanted some of that. I washed dishes, made salads, shucked oysters, worked as a fry cook, and got to sauté all before culinary school. I did Nantucket for four years—I worked at the Boarding House—and I’ve been in Boston for five.

CH: Who's your mentor?
Erin Zircher. She worked for Ana Sortun, and I worked with Erin for four years. 

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
I would say I’m friendly with area chefs. I play on Highland Kitchen’s softball team. I was recruited from other restaurants for our own team this year. 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Getting people to change the way they look at food. We still get people who have this perception that our food is expensive; but there’s nothing over $18 on the menu; that and the small kitchen.

CH: How did you go from the kitchen at No. 9 Park to the kitchen at Spoke?
Between gigs, I would go to Dave’s Fresh Pasta, in Sommerville, and saw they were working on this project, looking for support from the community, so I worked as a chef there. A big red flag there was the size of the kitchen. Then I helped open Erin’s restaurant, Cru, on Nantucket and realized, if I could bust out 100 covers per weekend in a 90-sq-foot kitchen, there was no reason I couldn’t make food in this closet.

CH: What's your five year plan?
We are actively looking for the next project. It’s hard with so many new places opening.

CH: What’s your cooking philosophy?
We’re offering everything in small plates. Coming from No. 9 Park, I wanted to offer people something similar to a tasting menu, even if they’re sharing and it’s a casual vibe. If we’re talking about style, the best way to describe my cuisine is American—in that it doesn’t have a style. As my career has progressed, I’ve learned to break down rigid walls that young chefs are handed in culinary school. We blend Italian, French, and North African, but we like to have fun with classic American and New England as well.