Executive Chef Sebastian La Rocca shares his story as Hilton readies to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. This period is observed in the U.S. as an opportunity to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic citizens from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Sebastian La Rocca, executive chef at Hilton Columbus Downtown, has a lot to celebrate this month. La Rocca, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was tapped earlier this year to “cook up” three new food and beverage dining concepts as part of the hotel’s major expansion, with the new tower debuting later this month.
La Rocca’s love for cooking began when he was just 6 years old, finding inspiration in his grandmother’s cooking. What started out as tasty fun with family, later translated into a career with La Rocca training in London alongside famed chefs like Jamie Oliver and Michael Roux. He later migrated to Costa Rica, where he hosted “Sabores,” a popular cooking show, and ran several accolade-gathering restaurants of his own.
He joined Hilton earlier this year to lead the opening of FYR, Stories on High, and Spark at Hilton Columbus Downtown. According to La Rocca, his Argentinian background and his international training have played a great influence on the menus found in each one.
“For a chef, it’s key to travel and taste all types of food and cultures,” he said. “Food is culture. When you try food of a specific place, you understand and learn. I always say if you want to know me, try my food. Food speaks about us, about our feeling, and our lives—it speaks about our roots. That experience influences 100% of my food. I’m a nomad. I cook with my heart and I love to express myself by the food. I want our guests to have a true experience.”
"I cook with my heart and I love to express myself by the food. I want our guests to have a true experience."
La Rocca had a great time envisioning what these new restaurants’ menus and overall dining experiences would be like. To him, opening a new restaurant from scratch takes imagination and teamwork.
“It all starts with a dream or a vision,” he said. “Then, we need it to materialize and that’s the fun part. We focus on the vision and [then] work on different tasks at the same time, like kitchen design, décor, menu, uniforms, staffing, marketing, procurement, etc. We have long days and really intense months, but it’s so gratifying to see the final product come to life after months of hard work–it’s teamwork. For me, each opening is unique, not only for the place or people, but it’s a new concept…a new baby that is born and to see a dream come true is my main motivator.”
In addition to the menu, it’s all about the experience of dining.
“As a chef, I believe that we don’t just “sell” food–we offer an experience,” he said. “We want our guests to have a true experience from the moment they arrive through our doors, and that includes all sorts of different elements from music, to lighting, service, food and ingredients we use, and our staff’s vibe. All of this combined is going to create memories for our guests–and that’s our primary focus.”