Aaron Allen, Executive Chef at Silas Creative Kitchen + Cocktails is leading the charge of one of my favorite new restaurants.
This is truly an exceptional restaurant that has found life in the historic inn which was consumed by a fire in 2019. The inn and restaurant were made new again thanks to owner Midmark Corp., a major employer which manufactures dental, medical and veterinary technology and equipment, headquartered in Versailles.
The 30-room boutique hotel offers the opportunity for a destination staycation with a remarkable and stunningly appointed restaurant that offers a dining experience worth seeking out.
Grilled wagyu pastrami with a fig glaze, caramelized confit cabbage, horseradish maple cream, and cast iron milk bread; a crispy pork belly with a corn pancake, apple butter, arugula, mustard cream, fried sage; and a honey lacquered rohan pan seared duck breast with foie gras gougere, leg confit, roasted squash, creamy cabbage cesar, cranberry are examples of some of the elevated fine dining dishes that can be enjoyed.
Allen, who started his cooking career in the kitchen at Rue Dumaine, sat down to answer some questions about the fantastic dishes he is conjuring up on plates at Silas.
What is your culinary background?
Primarily farm to table, hyper seasonal/hyper local, sustainably sourced creative cuisine with a European influence. I’ve worked for numerous James Beard, Forbes five star, and Michelin star chefs and restaurants all with an eye on seasonally inspired elevated cooking. I’ve traveled the country working for the best chefs/restaurants with the goal of learning and honing my craft.
What is your story of becoming a chef - what has been your training, your work and how did you end up ultimately at Silas?
I’ve always been obsessed with food and the culinary arts. I used to watch the Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child on PBS with my dad when I was a boy. I worked in busy lunch kitchens in high school and ended up working with James Beard chef Anne Kearney at Rue Dumaine for around five years. I took my first sous chef role at the only five star restaurant in Texas, The Inn at Dos Brisas, working with chef Zack Ladwig who worked with Gordon Ramsey, David Bouley, and Paul Leibrandt, all Michelin pedigree chefs. I held my first CDC role at Nemacolin, Pennsylvania then I moved to New York City and took a sous chef role working for Daniel Boulud in Manhattan at his acclaimed 3 star flagship Restaurant Daniel. After New York I took a few of my first executive chef roles in Pennsylvania eventually taking a role as the Executive Chef at the Hotel Covington near Cincinnati.
I left there post COVID and jumped at the chance to oversee operations at Silas and Hotel Versailles. The role enticed me for many reasons. First of all the focus on quality and detail being the first priority and having the opportunity to build a team from scratch to design a regional cuisine to put Versailles on the map as a destination point for excellent food. Also our restaurant has its own farm, Sycamore Bridge, an 85-acre organic farm that grows around 85 varietals and an estimated 2,500 pounds of food per year. My chefs and I work closely with our farm team in crop planning for the growing season. The area is also rich with local purveyors and we partner with as many as possible to support local business and aggressively represent this area’s terroir. We source our Berkshire pork and black angus prime beef from Winner’s Meats, our egg’s from Weaver’s eggs, our poultry from King’s Brother’s poultry, the majority of our flower and grain from Bear’s Mill (a 200 year-old water-powered mill — one of the last of its kind in the Ohio), as well as J&R Veggies and other local farmers. During the growing season we are almost 100% locally driven.
When did you serve your first meal as a chef, where was it, what was it and what was the inspiration?
The first meal I served as a chef was a three-course prix fixe menu I did with Anne Kearney. The first course was a house smoked salmon with crème fraiche. The second course was a pan seared ballotine (roulade) of Ed Hill chicken with a pork sausage stuffing, sauteed morels, grilled local asparagus, charred and raw wild ramps, and a chicken just fortified with chardonnay. And third course was a simple assortment of sables (a French cookie/biscuit), fresh berries and a citrus curd. Anne gave her cooks and chefs the opportunity to design and execute their own menu as a learning experience and a chance to flex their creativity. This is a practice I’ve taken to my kitchens as well for the teams I mentor. The inspiration was a celebration of spring and the ingredients often associated with it.
How did you arrive at Silas and how have you helped guide the concept since you’ve been there?
I joined Midmark who owns the Hotel and restaurant one year prior to the opening to hire and train the team and oversee the opening. We are finishing our second year so we’re approaching my third year with the company. Jack Olshan (managing director) and I have worked together at two different properties and he was helpful in my recruitment. I think he knew I would be a good fit considering my background for this project and I think he was right. Our concept was guided by the goal of creating a highly specialized and locally driven hospitality program that would develop into a destination spot for elevated cuisine, and a comfortable luxury experience within the rooms and hotel side. As the restaurant sources the majority from local partners the hotel and rooms echo this model. The room amenities are also sourced locally and are unlike anything you’ll find in the Midwest. We offer a tasting menu at Silas which has become very popular. This is a six course menu of smaller portions for guests to experience a wider breadth of our menu moving from lighter to heavier and changes with the seasons. This is something you can find in New York or Chicago but not Ohio.
What is your philosophy of cooking and food?
First and foremost the food has to be delicious and craveable. This is what drew me to food at a young age and I think the single most important element when feeding people. Outside of this, my philosophy of food is driven greatly by the chefs and restaurants I’ve worked with. From the earliest days with Chef Anne I learned to partner with the local community and design a cuisine with the best possible local ingredients. So locality and seasonality is where I start when writing menus. I look at what is growing and will grow and start to build dishes around that. When I joined Silas I developed a close relationship with Katie Bensman, our lead farmer. Instead of writing menus around what I wanted I asked Katie what the farm would be producing during the seasons and wrote my menus around that. So working more in unison with nature. The dishes at Silas change every 2-4 weeks as the product and seasonality does. I believe highly in collaboration and have such a talented team of chefs/cooks who work to make it happen every day. I also like food to be playful. I think it’s fun to play with traditional roles and flip them around. A red pepper sorbet with Elk carpaccio or a rosemary Madeline with grilled pork for example.
How would you describe Silas to someone that is unfamiliar?
I would describe Silas as an elevated farm to table restaurant. We work to offer elevation as well as familiar and simply delicious dishes for all kinds of people and varying degrees of preference. I never want someone to come in and feel alienated by our menu. We draw a great bar crowd and have the best burger money can buy.
What food, dishes, cooking styles would you say you specialize in?
At this point I’ve cooked a bit of everything. I’ve worked to develop delicious flavors with more simple preparations recently. I think when you’re young you feel like more ingredients and complexity equate to better food but it does not. You really have to know who you are and what you want to say with food before you can define your voice on the plate. I’ll always reach for French techniques and classic flavor profiles of Provance, Burgundy, and Normandy. I try to see our local seasonal ingredients through this framework. I’m very interested in minimalism with food for this reason and Asian cooking speaks to me as well. Showcasing the ingredient is something you hear a lot, but not easy to accomplish. I think (Chef) Marco Pierre White said “Mother nature is the real artist, we’re just the cook”
What are your signature and best selling menu items at Silas?
Our chicken schnitzel with sun dried tomato aioli, a saute of wild mushrooms, cabbage and winter squash, anchovy butter, golden raisin vinaigrette and fried capers ($28) is one of our best selling dishes, and our pan seared Asian Sea Bass with blue corn polenta cake, cajun cream, fennel and tomato pickle, winter citrus and local arugula salad ($36) is another.
What dishes on the menu best showcase you as a chef?
First, the grilled Maine lobster with saffron mussel wine, smoked mussels, white bean puree, honey crisp apple and puffed rice. Second, our grilled Wagyu New York strip with roasted mushrooms, sesame emulsion, and a relish of slow roasted garlic, tomato confit, and pickled Hon shimeji mushrooms. Third, roasted trio of duck glazed in lavender honey, with roasted kabocha squash, creamy cabbage Cesar, brown sugar cranberries, and duck jus.
DAYTON EATS runs Sundays in the Life & Arts section of the Dayton Daily News and features the latest on menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and food adventures. Contact Contributing Writer Alexis Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GO
What: Silas Creative Kitchen + Cocktails
Where: 21 W. Main St., Versailles
Coming up: They are planning a Thanksgiving buffet on Thanksgiving, a Christmas brunch on Dec. 23 and a New Years Eve blow out that they promise is not to be missed.
More info: 937-526-3020 or https://www.hotelversaillesohio.com/silas-creative-kitchen
Follow the chef: @silascreativekitchen/@alskyallen1 on Instagram
WHAT A DEAL
Hotel Versailles will be offering an exclusive deal for Black Friday and Cyber Monday with all gift card sales on those two days being “Buy $100, get $20 Free.” Incentives are also planned for January, February and March with all guest room reservations booked (prepaid, non-cancellable) offered at a discounted rate of $149 per night (some exclusions, like Valentine’s Day, apply).