Humans of RE: Mr. Alfredo Silva, RE’s Head Chef, on his culinary adventures
April 9, 2021
Mr. Alfredo Silva is the current head chef at Ransom Everglades, and he works hard to ensure the safety and quality of food served for lunch. He determines what the students eat for lunch, and he uses his creativity to provide a wide range of options served in the cafeteria. He has studied many different types of cooking, and he uses that experience at Ransom Everglades.
I recently spoke with Mr. Silva in person at school for 25 minutes. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we spoke about his cooking experience, where he learned how to cook, and what inspires him at Ransom Everglades. We also touched on what he does at Ransom Everglades and what he would like to see change.
Did you grow up in Miami?
No. I was born in Colombia. In Barranquilla, that is a part of the coast. There are three big cities, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marca. I was born in Barranquilla, where Shakira was born. My wife is from Medellin, and my two kids were born here in Miami. I was born and raised in Colombia until I was seventeen, and then I moved to the States in 1994, to Utah.
Did you first get interested in cooking in Colombia?
Listen, my cooking has always been there. When I was a kid, I grew up in Colombia, and you kind of always stick your nose where you are not supposed to. But I was that kind of guy. I was always in the kitchen. I was always looking. I like to eat. My mom and dad used to cook, and I used to help them a lot. When I came to the states, my necessity to eat my food was my big priority. Instead of eating out burgers and things like that, I would go back home and start learning how to cook. I started cooking, looking, searching for books and things like that. Doing my own research, doing my own things, and that’s how I kind of started to like more of the cooking part. And after that, I started working in the kitchen when I was very young.
Were you working in a kitchen or restaurant when you were younger, or was that after you moved?
When I got here, and I moved to Utah, I started cooking in a pizza place in a little city in Utah by BYU. It was a nice small pizza place that had been there, this was in 1995 or 1996, and back then, it was already 54 years in business. So it was a very recognized little restaurant buffet for the families in Utah. I worked there for a while, pizza, doing calzones, all these kinds of things, and then I moved to another pizza place next to the BYU dorms. And after that, just little restaurants here and there trying to learn a little bit of everything. I ended up cooking for the Marriott Hotel in Utah. I was in Utah for nine years.
Did you do any formal research or schooling on cooking?
When I moved to Utah, I went to college. So I went to UVU, and I learned how to do hospitality. I did hospitality, and then I worked a little bit on the hotel part, but I didn’t like the hotel part. I liked the restaurant part. Because cooking was there for me. At UVU, they have a culinary school. I did three years of culinary school. I graduated with a bachelor’s associate over there. I did cooking, baking, all the French cuisine, all the Italian cuisine.
What was your favorite type of cooking?
In culinary school, they teach you a lot of French cuisine. They had classes from Italian cuisine and also Thai cuisine, and I liked that a lot. And of course, my Spanish is my strongest.
What information that you learned working in restaurants do you use every day at RE?
When I moved here to Miami, I started working in executive dining. I learned a lot there because they always wanted me to do something new. I was very creative in doing things for them. If you look at the menus of what I do every day or what they look like, that’s what is helping me here, because I was so creative back then, and it created a lot of information for me. Now I am bringing it up to RE. My menus are creative.
How does being a restaurant chef compare to being the head chef at RE?
The good thing about working at Ransom is that you are always with the kids. With a customer, you are talking all the time, not only in the back of the kitchen. You cook, you come out, you guys enjoy what I make every day, and I have more time to look at that. When you are in the kitchen, you don’t have time for that. I’m always here, always with the students, and I like it better than a restaurant, so much better.
What are some guidelines you follow to maintain a healthy diet for the students?
We follow guidelines from the company that I work for, Sage. When I do the menus, they need to be approved first by one of my first bosses. Then, after that, they need to go to a registered nutritionist. They have to look at it and make sure that everything is in place for a complete meal for you guys.
What is one thing you would like to happen in the RE cafeteria?
I want you guys to talk to me much more. I would like all the students to talk to me and tell me what you guys want, what you prefer. If I am covering all the angles, all the things you guys like to eat every day. You guys eat here every day, it’s like your second home. So I have to make sure that you guys enjoy being here. My priority right now in the cafeteria is serving the food safe.
What is your favorite part of working in the RE cafeteria?
You guys. The students are my favorite part. I have been working with Sage for the last twelve years, with Ransom seven. If you guys like what I do, then I am happy. I think that if they like it, it’s because it is good. You guys have been everywhere.
What are your work hours?
I wake up at 4 in the morning. I get ready and get here at 5:45 – 6 in the morning and usually leave by 3-3:30 pm. My staff leave earlier. If I have an event, I have to stay until 9 pm.
What do you do between when you get to RE and when lunch is served?
First of all, the day before, I print the recipes for the next day, we sit down and talk about them. We look at what we have and what we need. We usually go over the vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. [The next day] We go over the menu again. I look at everything, and if something is ready, I taste it. Then I go back to my office and start working on my paperwork. I have to check my emails. I start working on my orders for the next day. I go back to the kitchen and check again. Then we start filling out the production records. We always record what we do, what we make.
What is the funniest thing that you have seen in the cafeteria?
When you guys start to sneak out. Like two weeks ago, I had some chips in the back, and all the seniors snuck inside the back and started grabbing all the chips. So I said, come on guys, if you need something, you ask me first. It was funny, you know. You guys are great. You make me laugh all the time. But I need you guys to communicate with me a little more.