WILLIAMSBURG — Those who find themselves dining in at Casa Pearl will more than likely have their food prepped by the local restaurant’s Sous-Chef Ileana D’Silva.
The talented and energetic 24-year-old chef from Gloucester, born and raised, has been making a name for herself within The Edge District’s food scene. It was recently revealed on Casa Pearl’s Facebook page that Ileana is one of the chefs featured on the new season of the well-known reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.” The first episode premiered on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. on Fox.
During the filming of the show in Los Angeles, Ileana pitted her culinary skills against several Michelin-starred chefs from all over the country. And, of course, she had the opportunity to meet, interact with, and get yelled at by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
“He was an intense guy,” said Ileana jokingly in an interview with WYDaily. “Once you get past the star-struck part of it, and once he actually just starts yelling at you, you’re just like, ‘Oh, this is another chef,’ but in the moment it’s like, ‘Oh my god there’s this 6 foot 2-inch British chef just screaming at me.'”
Ileana found her passion in cooking at a very young age. When she was a teenager she would cook with whatever ingredients she could find in her parent’s kitchen.
“I just figured it out, and it turned into a kind of a stress release for me,” said Ileana. “One day I was at home with my dad. We didn’t have much food, and I was figuring out what to make. We had, like, a pineapple and some rice, and some shrimp, and other stuff like that. I saw something cool online where they carved out the inside of a pineapple, and they just stuffed it with fried rice. I was like ‘oh, this is fun,’ and it was pretty, and it tasted great, and it got me excited.”
Those early experiences with cooking interested Ileana to explore other kinds of dishes she could prepare at home. She also says that she was drawn to all the excitement of what the chefs in the kitchen were up to while working as a waitress at Scoots BBQ in Gloucester. Eventually, she ended up going to culinary school after graduating from high school.
Learning the ins and outs of the restaurant industry led her to cross paths with Chef Mikey Maksimowicz, owner of Casa Pearl.
“I met up with Mikey when I was working at the first restaurant that I was ever at, Merrior, owned by Rappahannock Oyster Company,” said Ileana. “So I was working there for a summer. I was the only one there who really wanted to cook. I didn’t have a whole lot of great people around me, and so I kind of got pushed up the brigade sooner than I should have. Like people were getting fired, and some people just stopped showing up, and they were just like, ‘Hey, you’re 19, you actually want to be here, and you actually want to be doing this. You seem to know what you’re doing. So, here you go, run the kitchen.'”
“Mikey was actually working for a different restaurant in the company at the time, but they sent him to me at my restaurant because I didn’t have anyone else to help me,” added Ileana. “So he came and helped me on July Fourth week, in I think 2017 or ’18. Then we worked together for a little while, and he mentioned that he was opening a restaurant and I was joking with him and asked, ‘Hey are you guys hiring?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah!’ And he just kind of reeled me in from there.”
She’s been with Casa Pearl acting as its sous-chef since 2020. About a year later, around the beginning of October of 2021, she was contacted by a television producer on social media, and the long process of interviews to be on “Hell’s Kitchen” began. Ileana says that she actually didn’t even know she was going to be on the show until about 10 days before she was supposed to leave to go film episodes.
It’s an experience that the local chef will never forget.
“It’s just as intense if not more,” said Ileana. “I mean you get thrown into a kitchen with 18 other strangers and they give you 40 minutes and they’re like, ‘alright, well, go ahead!’ I was thinking, ‘okay cool, they’ll probably give us like a walk-through, give us a tour, show us where everything is, no, they just throw you in. There was a moment where I felt like, man, I feel like a fish out of water. Like, this is crazy, I’ve worked at three restaurants in my life. I was competing with some of the best chefs that I’ve ever met. Easily. They were so young and so humble too. Just super kind people.”
Those who want to catch Ileana on the show can watch “Hell’s Kitchen” on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
“Just get excited because there’s going to be a lot of drama, a lot of laughs, a lot of cries, and it’s going to be a really fun season,” Ileana said.
The local chef has advice for young people who may be interested in entering the culinary world and the local food scene.
“Put yourself out there. Take any and every opportunity that you can. Don’t just look past something, or don’t let anxiety or fear of failure or something like that get in your way. Don’t let anything get in your way. A little motto that I like to go by is ‘make it happen.'”
“Work hard, take pride in what you’re doing, and ask as many questions as possible, and just enjoy the ride,” added Ileana. “I describe it [the local food scene] as a hidden gem, there’s so much good stuff here, and there’s so much potential for us to work with. I feel like Williamsburg is definitely on the up-and-coming for great restaurants. I’m hoping that this “Hell’s Kitchen” thing will draw more people to the area, and make more people want to come out and eat here and see what we have to offer. There’s a lot of great stuff out here.”
For more information on Casa Pearl, visit its official Facebook page.