Q+A with executive chef Sebastian La Rocca of the Hilton Columbus Downtown

We sat down with executive chef Sebastian La Rocca to learn about FYR, Stories on High, and Spark, the three new restaurant concepts that he oversees at the Hilton Columbus Downtown.

Hilton FYR June 30, 2022

Chef Sebastian La Rocca incorporates his Latin background into his dishes. | Photo by Ryan Benyi Photography

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Some amazing new restaurant concepts have come along with the opening of the Hilton Columbus Downtown. We sat down with Sebastian La Rocca, the executive chef of the Hilton concepts FYR, Stories on High, and Spark, to learn more.

What’s your background as a chef?

My main inspiration always was my grandmother. I always got inspired when I was a kid around her cooking and helping her cooking. Then when I was growing up, I always enjoyed to cook with friends. So in the last year of school, I decided I wanted to explore my creativity. I’m a really creative person and I need to be always doing something. And I realized that with the kitchen, I’d be able to do a lot of stuff and actually the cuisine for me was a passport for traveling around the world. So the kitchen opened the doors to be traveling and learning new skills, new people, new areas.

What places has cooking taken you?

I am orignially from Buenos Aires. Then I moved to New York, then after New York, Miami. I’ve been in Ecuador, Chile, Brazil. I came back to Buenos Aires. Then 16 years ago, I moved to Costa Rica. After that I moved to London for six years and after that moved back to Costa Rica for nine years.

How has travel impacted you as a chef?

This journey was amazing. Being able to travel around the world, learn about different cultures, different ingredients, different way to cook, picking up different techniques. It made me who I am today. I believe as a chef it’s really important to be listening and using all your senses, tasting, watching, and traveling to you train yourself. The more you know, more you travel, the more understanding you have of the food. For me, food is culture. That’s the bottom line.

How did you end up in Columbus?

I used to own three different restaurants with three different concepts. The United States for me was always a cycle that never was closed. I worked in different restaurants in Florida, but I never closed the cycle with United States. I thought I still needed to do something else there. When I got this offer about Columbus, Ohio, to be honest with you, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been in Columbus. I never been in Ohio before.

Do you like it in Columbus?

We love it. This is a small big city. I came with my wife to see what’s going on in Columbus, and we thought it was a beautiful city. A small, big city, with everything to offer you. The people are super friendly, nice people. And then we started to say, okay, what else? And as a chef, I think Columbus is starting to bloom in the culinary space.

So there are a lot of young guys and different, interesting chefs that are coming in the city at the moment. Amish suppliers offer you amazing products here. Like the first time I tried corn here, I said, “Wow. The flavor is amazing.” And then I started to find all these Amish farm guys and I said, okay, it’s a great opportunity to be growing products.

FYR grills

The use of fire and smoke is incorporated into every dish on the menu at FYR. | Photo by CBUStoday

How did the restaurant concepts at the Hilton come to life?

Chris Coffin is the general manager and Doug Bowman is our director of food and beverage. When we sat down and we talked about what they wanted achieve, what the goals were, he said they were looking for someone who really wants to own the restaurant, be the face, and embrace what we’re doing here.

I’m South American, so when they told me the fire concept, I thought, “This is what I have done for the last 10-15 years of my career.” I moved my whole family and my whole life to Columbus, because this project was about the people. Chris and Doug, they have big hearts and so far they are two of the coolest people I have met in this business.

Can you tell us about FYR?

FYR is about celebrating the fire, of course. We have an open kitchen where we have seven different techniques of cooking with open fires between the oven and the grill. It’s about my roots and being proud to be South American. The main inspiration come in Argentina. But then I used ingredients from the whole South and Central America. So you’re gonna have amazing stuff like ceviche with lot of different ingredients.

We want to bring real Latin food to Columbus, Ohio. For me, it’s about: I make my own cuisine about my memories, my experiences, my childhood. It’s about being proud of my DNA and being Latino. I want the people to come here, try something different, and get out of their comfort zone. And when you get a steak, you get a different type of steak and a different way to prep it. Being different is our superpower.

CBUStoday Stories on High.png

Overlook High Street + all of Columbus at Stories on High. | Photo via Hilton Columbus Downtown

What about Stories on High, the tallest rooftop bar in the city?

Upstairs we are a bar with food, when downstairs we are a restaurant with amazing drinks. Upstairs has an amazing cocktail program with a tapas-size menu. Upstairs is about American-Asian fusion. So I took some of the classic American dishes and remade them and tweaked them with the Asian ingredients. Asian cuisine was one of my first loves. Creating that menu was a lot of fun.

FYR is about: come enjoy your dinner, have fun around the fires, get amazing drinks. And upstairs is more of an amazing bar with a great view, great vibe. And get small tapas when you’re sharing your drinks with your friends.

What is Spark?

Spark is our lobby bar and it’s an extension of FYR. It’s more of a bar concept than restaurant concept.

What are some menu recommendations?

If it’s your first time at FYR, you have to try the wood oven-roasted tomato made with panela honey and goat cheese. Upstairs, try the chicken hearts or our beef sliders with waygu.

Tomato FYR

The wood oven roasted tomato is served with panela honey, goat cheese, charred onions, and sumac. | Photo by CBUStoday

How have the restaurants taken off?

Here we are, a year after moving here. Stories On High opened a month ago and we’ve received two awards. Seven months ago, we opened FYR where we have five awards. We are ranked one of the top restaurants in the city. And I was honored to be ranked one of the top chefs in the city as well. More important for me, besides awards, is being what we envisioned. Being able to make it. That’s my main motivation. To make dreams come true.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

We don’t sell food, we sell the experience. To be as comfortable as possible I always recommend making a reservation. FYR reservations here. Stories on High reservations here.

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