Meet Malyna Si, the only female chef at the helm of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Florida

“I had no interest in being in the kitchen as a kid or even as a young adult.” That’s a bit of a surprise statement from Malyna Si, who was just promoted to chef at Capa Restaurant, Four Seasons Resort Orlando’s dazzling rooftop and star-studded restaurant at Walt Disney World® Resort after working five years as as deputy head. (Also note: she is the only woman to run a Michelin restaurant in the state of Florida.)

Although Si didn’t start cooking professionally until after college — when she honed her knife skills and mastered sauces as a cook — she grew up surrounded by all kinds of food thanks to her mother. Vietnamese, Chinese and Laotian and her Cambodian father. She remembers, from a very young age, helping her family with time-consuming tasks like pounding kroeung (Cambodian mirepoix) into the mortar and pestle, indulging in a fiery and spicy larb, and taking great pride in doing as much as possible to scratch. She explains: “Although unintentional, I came to see this understanding of my heritage as an advantage as I began to navigate different cuisines throughout my career.”

Here, Si shares why she loves working with Four Seasons, her cooking philosophy and her favorite dishes at Capa.

Katie Chang: Congratulations on your recent promotion. What do you like about working at Capa and at Four Seasons?

Whether: I love my team. We share the same passion for food and for making people happy through it. Everyone really comes together around that sense of camaraderie, a passion for standards, and celebrating everyone’s ideas. What I like about working for Four Seasons is that they share my vision of the restaurant. They fully facilitate this vision and do not want to compromise on quality. I am empowered to seek out the best for the restaurant and am fully responsible for the operation.

How would you describe your culinary philosophy?

Whether: I seek a balance of flavor and texture, supported by the highest quality ingredients. I am constantly experimenting so that I can provide the best result when our customers order the items. I like to research and find unique or rare ingredients. I like the look of someone trying something for the first time; it is as if they had learned an entirely new word. The language of cooking is vast, and I enjoy being the one providing someone with new information about specific ingredients. Knowledge of cooking is all about exposure, and tastes are made with the discovery of well-prepared ingredients.

How do you develop new recipes?

Whether: I have been fortunate to build strong relationships with several Central Florida vendors. These people often contact me to try something new or seasonal. Sometimes I go to the grocery store on my days off aimlessly, wandering the aisles until something catches my eye. My dishes are often born out of a focus on unique ingredients. From there, I think of the interplay between humidity, acidity and temperature. I think deeply about the whole experience. No two palaces are the same; the variability and volatility of creating a dish is what excites me the most.

For new visitors to Capa: what dishes would you recommend?

Whether: Pan Con Tomate represents what Spanish cuisine is all about, showcasing beautiful ingredients in their natural state. What sets ours apart is the home-baked bread that’s brushed with butter, then grilled on our wood-fired grill. The 40-year-old sherry vinegar offers a deeply sweet acidity with local Roma tomatoes. Finely grated fresh raw garlic gives a punchy flavor without overpowering the dish.

I am also very proud of the Platinum Wagyu X line that we offer from Fort Davis, TX for our Short Rib. No one else in Central Florida uses Platinum, their highest quality, in Central Florida. This short rib is incredibly rich like its Japanese counterpart, but tailored to the American palate with real beef flavor. It’s fork tender and braised with Spanish rioja. The accompanying sauce is made from the braising liquid and mashed mirepoix. Our guests who appreciate a truly rich experience will go so far as to add a canot à marrow or a portion of foie gras.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.