Chef profile: Nancy Silverton

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

Nancy Silverton by Tom CaltabianoWinning the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef award in the USA is much like winning the Chef Award at the Cateys in the UK. It’s a very big deal. The award is limited to an elite club of chefs who have truly made a lasting impact on their country’s culinary industry. So it’s refreshing to see that Nancy Silverton, chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant group Mozza, takes her recent award with a pinch of salt. “It’s funny because it’s not like the Olympics where you can really measure somebody’s performance. Sometimes I think it’s really arbitrary,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have won, of course. But it’s not like it has gone to my head or I thought: ‘Yes! Now I’ve finally made it.’ I have been in this business for a very long time and I think that’s probably part of why I won.”

With a career spanning more than 35 years, Silverton is only the fourth woman in the 25-year history of what are often called the Oscars of Food to win Outstanding Chef – the others were Alice Waters (1992), Lidia Bastianich (2002) and Judy Rodgers (2004). But even this achievement doesn’t seem to faze her much either. “Of course, it’s great but there just are fewer women than men running kitchens,” she insists. “What’s more interesting is that I am the first pastry chef to win it. Awards are not generally given to pastry chefs. Even in a large restaurant with a pastry department, those who run it are very rarely recognised.”

As far as pastry is concerned, Silverton is now widely considered the doyenne of her craft in the USA. Through her now iconic Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery, which both
opened in Los Angeles in 1989, she helped redefine the culture of bread baking in the country, and won the inaugural James Beard Foundation’s Pastry Chef of the Year award in 1990. This year, La Brea, which Silverton sold in 2001, remaining a consultant, celebrates its 25th anniversary and is one of the largest sellers of fresh bread in the USA, supplying grocery stores and restaurants nationwide. Silverton has published numerous books over the years and now runs the successful Mozza restaurant group together with partners, Joe Bastianich and acclaimed New York restaurateur Mario Batali, with outlets in California and Singapore.

PUT OFF BY PASTRY

But being a pastry chef wasn’t always Silverton’s chosen profession. After dropping out of college to pursue a restaurant career, she went to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu in 1977, which put her off her now beloved craft. “It was very different back then,” she recalls. “Ingredients weren’t great: a lot of stuff was frozen, a lot came from a can, nothing was seasonal or fresh and it was all about technique. “I didn’t do very well there and my worst subject was always pastry and they were kind of instrumental in my initial dislike of that part of the kitchen. They were so strict and every time I would question things – do I really have to put seven eggs in this, what if it’s too eggy? – I was always met with a stern ‘No!’ Pastry really scared me at first because there seemed to be no room for variation.”

Returning to Los Angeles, Silverton was hellbent on working at Michael McCarty’s acclaimed Santa Monica restaurant Michael’s, but to her dismay the only position available was as assistant pastry chef. In the hope of being moved, she took the job but under the tutelage of Jimmy Brinkley discovered that pastry didn’t have to be boring. “I was sold,” she beams, thinking back. “I was so lucky to work with such a young, genius pastry chef, who hardly ever measured anything. We made all these fun, interesting desserts and it was a real turning point for me.”

In 1980 she decided to embrace pastry and went to France to study at the École Lenôtre, run by famous French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, to hone her skills. On returning to
LA, she helped Wolfgang Puck to open Spago as executive pastry chef. “Spago had such a big national presence,” she says. “Everyone was talking about it. At that time LA was the place for restaurants.” After working at Spago for a few years and a short stint in New York, in 1989 together with ex-husband Mark Peel and partner Manfred Krankl she opened La Brea Bakery and six months later the Campanile restaurant adjacentto it. “It was a lot of juggling and looking back there were a lot of hard times,” she recalls. “I would work at the bakery from midnight to 8am, then sleep for three hours, work a little, nap a little, go back to do desserts at Campanile – it was crazy.”

But the hard work paid off and both bakery and restaurant became Los Angeles institutions for years to come. With authentic artisan bread noticeably absent in the USA at the time, Silverton began teaching herself the art of sourdough bread baking. She developed a baguette, rosemary olive oil loaf, olive bread, country white, whole wheat and dark Normandy rye. “There really wasn’t much going on with bakeries at that time. There were a handful in San Francisco and New York, but that was it,” she says.

Two years after opening La Brea, she moved the bakery to a much larger, fully staffed commercial site and split it off as a business separate from Campanile. “It became clear that the bakery could really be something,” she says. “My partner had the foresight to separate the two businesses because we knew one day someone would want to buy it.” That day came in 2001, when La Brea was sold to investors in a deal quoted as anywhere between $56m and $68.5m. Silverton continued to work at Campanile until 2005, when she split from ex-husband Mark Peel. Two years later she opened Mozza.

ONE-WOMAN MOZZARELLA BAR

Osteria Interior(1)

The inspiration for Mozza was a lunch that she served to famous San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower, who told her about Obicà, a mozzarella bar in Rome. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do in LA: find a tiny little space and run a mozzarella bar where I’d do everything myself.

She was backed by Batali, who had long rejected the idea of investing in a restaurant in Los Angeles, where “nobody eats after 9pm and everyone’s on a diet”, but who loved the
mozzarella bar idea and immediately came on board. Looking for the perfect site they found one that happened to have a pizzeria attached. And so the idea of opening a pizzeria as well as a mozzarella bar was born.

“We immediately split all of our ideas. In the pizzeria, it’s all about the pizza: we have salads and antipasti, but they’re on the side. In the osteria, it’s more about the pasta. We have a very traditional way of looking at this. Pasta is done so poorly in this country, so we really want to be as close to Italy as we can.” The menu includes garganelli with ragu bolognese; ricotta and egg ravioli with browned butter; corzetti stampati with eggplant, olives and fresh ricotta; orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard; and tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. Then there’s the mozzarella: burrata is served with Tsar Nicoulai caviar; with leeks and fett’unta; with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto; or with bacon marinated escarole and caramelised shallots. Bufala mozzarella comes smoked with prosciutto di Parma; with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade and caperberry relish; or with jumbo asparagus, sieved egg and bottarga.

Her pizza meanwhile is widely considered among California’s best. “It’s not Neapolitan, nor is it Chicago or New York-style,” she says. “It’s a mix between the pizza bianca sold
around Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and [Phoenix chef] Chris Bianco’s pizza.” The dough rests 36 hours before being used, and includes rye flour and some malt, giving a crust both spongy and softly chewy inside with a crispy crunch on the outside.

Pizzeria Mozza has since expanded to Newport Beach and San Diego, and the Mozza trio opened an osteria and pizzeria at the 2,500- room Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in
2010. Silverton says they are planning to open a few more osteria/pizzeria outlets in Asia.

After 30-odd years in the industry, where does she continue to draw inspiration from? “The world of food really inspires me, whether it’s an ingredient or something I eat,” she says. “But my way of cooking has never really changed. I have always been very interested in fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have never been interested in manipulating food or cooking with toys. My philosophy is that when you compose a dish you have to have the ability to edit it. I’ve always been an editor and I know intuitively when a dish is lacking or when the lily is being gilded. You’ve got to have that balance.”

Road trip through the American South: From Nashville to New Orleans

It’s been a long time dream of mine to travel through the American South. With its rich, albeit chequered history, amazing wealth of music, lush countryside and, of course, the delicious Southern cuisine, it’s a place whose magic has always had a special appeal.
With just a week off yet so much to see the hard part was to come up with an itinerary. But, looking on the map, a road trip from Nashville to New Orleans, travelling along America’s Music Highway, seemed like the perfect introduction to the South.
So we booked a muscle car, loaded a Spotify soundtrack, and hit the road. Starting in the city of Country, we headed south into the Blues delta and Rock and Roll heartland, and finished up our journey more than 500 miles later in the hometown of Jazz.
Here’s a little summary of our mini road trip.

Nashville_TNTwo nights in Nashville
Nashville is a small city with a huge reputation. Over the past decade or so, it has evolved beyond a music mecca to become one of the USA’s fastest growing cities, with a thriving economy, booming cultural scene, and a fantastic food industry, too. We stay in trendy East Nashville with its gorgeous architecture. We check out Music Row and Downtown visit the historic Ryman Auditorium, which, once the Union Gospel Tabernacle, became a performance space in the early 20th century and went on to host everyone from Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton and the iconic Grand Ole Opry radio show, as well as the likes of Sheryl Crow or Mumford and Sons in more recent years. We run out of time to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum and fail to get into the iconic Bluebird Café, where the queue lines the block. Instead we indulge in Southern delights at some of Nashville’s top restaurants – Lockeland Table, Pinewood Social and Merchants (see my mini guide to Nashville restaurants) – and watch live music at the bars on Lower Broadway and the Printers Alley. Nashville is a city that has it all: music, culture, great food and friendly residents.

gracelandOne night in Memphis
Driving 200 miles on Interstate 40 we get to Memphis, the capital city of Tennessee. It’s a big contrast to upmarket Nashville and feels a lot more edgy and real. Graceland is the first stop on our list. Initial impressions remind us of Disneyland but once inside the house, we’re quickly drawn into Elvis Presley’s world. His home is far more modest than we expect yet his spirit remains and we are touched by his unwavering support for the Memphis community. Next up: Sun Studio, where music legends like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded in the 1950s. The tour guide’s overenthusiasm is annoying but the history of the place is palpable. Our two restaurants of choice – Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous and the Majestic Grille – are both closed so we end up at McEwen’s before watching live blues at some of Beale Street’s famous bars, including the Rum Boogie Café.

Yazoo CItyMississippi Delta
Heading south into Mississippi, we take Highway 61, the Blues Highway, which parallels the majestic Mississippi River, which is magical. En route to Natchez, we stop at Yazoo City and Vicksburg, a gorgeous, historic town epitomising Southern heritage and culture at its best. In Natchez we have fried catfish po’boys for lunch at Magnolia Grill, overlooking the river. We visit a cotton plantation but are disappointed by the lack of acknowledgement of slavery as the tour guide only talks about the rich, white family who resided in the palatial home. We carry on through the lush, green countryside wishing we could drive on forever.

New Orleans
As we cross the border into Louisiana, the heavens open. We have three nights in New Orleans and spend these exploring the French Quarter, where we get lost in the history and romance of the city’s oldest area, with the fabled wrought-iron railings of its balconies, its cobblestone corridors and secret courtyard gardens. There’s live music everywhere: in the streets and at all of the bars, restaurants and cafés. We love the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street. The heat and humidity is draining. We visit above-ground cemeteries, ride a streetcar to the beautiful Garden District, catch a steamboat up the Mississippi River and go on a swamp tour to feed alligators marshmallows. We tuck into the famous beignets at the touristy Café du Monde, eat the best fried chicken at Cochon, endure shrimp and grits for breakfast and pig out on muffuletta sandwiches for lunch. Nawlins is a beautiful, happy place but there is poverty and sorrow too. Hours after we leave, nine people are shot on Bourbon Street.

Beneath the Whites: Ori Menashe

Ori Menashe by Sierra Prescott

Ori Menashe is the chef-owner of Bestia, one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated restaurants, which has won numerous awards, including Zagat’s Best Newcomer in 2014. Located in the Arts District in Downtown, he runs Bestia together with his wife, pastry chef Genevieve Gergis. The duo serve up an Italian-influenced menu of rustic dishes, with an emphasis on both seasonality and nose-to-tail cooking.


What’s your earliest food memory?

When I was 14, we went on a family holiday to Switzerland and when we crossed the border to Italy we went to this farm for lunch, where we I had a mushroom pizza that was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. Back in Israel or the US, where I grew up, I got so used to Pizza Hut or Dominoes, I had no idea that pizza could taste so good. It was that moment that I was first drawn to Italian food.

What’s your favourite smell?
The smell of my wife.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
A Georgian dish called Hingali, which my grandmother used to make. It’s a dumpling made with ground beef, lots of black pepper and garlic and it goes really well with vodka.

What’s your favourite cookbook and why?
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. It really made me understand the process of bread making, which I now love.

What do you never cook without?
Olive oil.

What’s the worst thing people can do to food?
Overcook it.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever gone wrong during service?
We had a fire in the kitchen at Bestia, when the hood of the wood fired oven caught light. It stank the whole restaurant out and we had to throw all the food away and close the restaurant for a day. We had so many angry customers after that who had lost their reservation. We had to push the next night’s service to 450 covers, which was really stressful, and send out loads of free food to make it up to everyone.

When are you happiest?
I’m really happy right now. I almost gave up cooking a few years ago because I felt like I was going to burn out. I took a break and went travelling and rediscovered my love of cooking and I’m so happy to be where I am right now.

What makes you sad?
I don’t get to spend enough time with my wife.

What do you most dislike about yourself?
I’m never 100% satisfied with what I do. In some ways that’s a good thing because it pushes me to always get better but in some ways it’s also a bad thing because when something goes wrong during service it really affects me in a bad way.

What would your superpower be?
Mind reading.

What’s the most disgusting or weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I once ate a wild crow, which my friends and I shot while we were out hunting. It had a funky taste to it but it wasn’t terrible. I’d definitely have it again.

Where did you have your best meal this year?
Toturaku in Los Angeles. It’s a restaurant you have to be invited to and they only serve 20 people at a time. They specialise in all this raw meat and it’s the most unusual but amazing place. It’s a really great experience and totally different to anywhere else in LA.

If there was one restaurant you wish you’d opened, which would it be?
There is a restaurant called Diana in Nazareth in Israel, which does exactly the kind of simple Middle Eastern food I love. If ever I wanted to take a step back from life, I’d love to run or even just work there.

Follow Ori Menashe on Twitter @bestiaDTLA

Three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura wins the White Guide’s Global Gastronomy Award

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura is to be awarded the prestigious White Guide’s Global Gastronomy Award this year.

The White Guide is Sweden’s leading restaurant guide, which presents ‘the very best, the trendiest, the cosiest, the coolest, the most romantic and the most culturally exotic restaurants’. Its Global Gastronomy Award is given to an international food creator, who has become a role model and source of inspiration in contemporary gastronomy.

Bottura, who runs Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which is currently ranked third in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, joins an elite group of chefs who have won the award since its inception in 2007. Previous winners include Ferran Adrià (El Bulli); Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s); Fergus Henderson (St John); René Redzepi (Noma); Alain Passard (L`Arpège); David Chang (Momofuko); and Gaston Acurio (Astrid y Gaston).

The White Guide’s jury said it recognised Bottura for continuously reinventing one of the world’s most beloved cuisines and elevating it to new amplitudes for senses and minds to explore and enjoy.

“In constant dialogue with a rich but conservative tradition, Massimo Bottura has developed a dazzling culinary artistry, covering a broad range of expressions from the seemingly simplistic to the intellectually complex,” the jury said.

“Re-engineering what a meal could and should be all about – bridging history with future, North with South, technology with legend and culture with environment, all with an artist’s sensitivity and passion – he has been a major force in evolving the gastronomy of Italy from a standstill backwater to the bubbling melting pot of great traditions and talented innovation it is today.”

The Global Gastronomy Award will be presented to  Bottura at the White Guide Gala in Stockholm on 3 March 2014.

Massimo Bottura – Beneath the Whites

Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park tops 2013 Sunday Times Food List

holly nov 08Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in Devon has been named the best restaurant in Britain by the Sunday Times.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant has topped the 2013 Sunday Times Food List, which ranks the best 100 restaurants in Britain. It is run by Michael Caines, one of just seven Relais & Châteaux Grands Chefs du Monde in the UK, who lost his right arm in a car accident in the 1990s but soon returned to the kitchen, his passion and drive undiminished.

Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park has reclaimed the first place in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List, having previously topped it in 2010 and come second last year. It beat last year’s winner Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, which is placed second this year.

The Sunday Times Food List – published in full today – ranks Britain’s top 100 restaurants by the quality of their food. It is compiled together with the Harden’s restaurant guide and based on 80,000 reports from 9,000 regular diners 2,000 of which are Sunday Times readers.

In third place is the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill-in-Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, where Frances Atkins is head chef. She is one of just a handful of female chefs to be included in the list – the second highest ranking is Angela Hartnett at Murano in London, in 46th position – while the Yorke Arms is the only Yorkshire restaurant to be featured in the top 100.

In fourth place is the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, Cornwall, with Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh taking fifth position as the second Scottish restaurant in the top five. In sixth place is the list’s highest re-entry, Fraiche in Oxton, Cheshire, which was last included in 2011.

le manoirRaymond Blanc’s iconic Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons (pictured) is in seventh place, while in eighth place is London’s only representative in the top 10, Brett Graham’s the Ledbury in Notting Hill. Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham complete the top 10.

London is home to 51 restaurants in the Sunday Times Food List, with Edinburgh having the second most with four. However, London only has four restaurants in the top 20: Le Gavroche (15), One-o-One (16) and Pied à Terre (17). Birmingham is the next best represented English city, with three entries: Simpsons (28), Purnell’s (56) and Lasan (91), while only one Manchester restaurant makes the top 100: Simon Rogan’s the French (68).

All but one restaurant in the top 20 (One-o-One) are Michelin-starred, with seven of the top 10 restaurants holding two stars.

In terms of different cuisines, 26 of the restaurants in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List serve French food, down from 30 in 2012, while modern British cooking now accounts for 39 of the restaurants, compared to 34 last year. The third most popular cuisine is Japanese, with nine restaurants, the highest ranked of which is the Shiori in London (30).

TomSellersThere are 20 new entries to the list this year, including Story in Bermondsey, whose 26-year-old head chef Tom Sellers (pictured) is one of the youngest in the top 100. There are also 10 re-entries, including the Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Surrey (26), and Read’s in Faversham, Kent (41).

Editor of the Sunday Times Food List, Karen Robinson, said: “The Food List is essential reading for food lovers. It’s a fantastic achievement for chefs to make it into our top 100, because our scores are based on the opinions of thousands of diners, mostly spending their own money. This makes the Food List an unbiased and definitive guide to the finest restaurants in the country.”

The Top 20 restaurants in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List:

1. Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park, Devon
2. Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Perthshire
3. The Yorke Arms, Yorkshire
4. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall
5. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh
6. Fraiche, Cheshire
7. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire
8. The Ledbury, London
9. L’Enclume, Cumbria
10. Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms, Nottingham
11. The Kitchin, Edinburgh
12. The Fat Duck, Berkshire
13. Mr Underhill’s, Shropshire
14. The Waterside Inn, Berkshire
15. Le Gavroche, London
16. One-o-One, London
17. Pied à Terre, London
18. Midsummer House, Cambridge
19. Drake’s, Surrey
20. Hambleton Hall, Midlands

The full Sunday Times Food List is also available online.

New York’s Shake Shack hits Covent Garden

Shake ShackLast night was the opening party of Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s eagerly awaited burger joint in Covent Garden.

A glorious summer evening saw London’s foodie community descend on the old Market Building to tuck into burgers, flat dogs, fries and shakes. Everyone was there from chefs including Angela Hartnett (Murano) and Francesco Mazzei (L’Anima) to rock’n’roll restaurateurs Russell Norman and Richard Beatty (Polpo), Trevor Gulliver (St John) and a host of journalists, PRs and bloggers. There was a live band playing, the beer and wine was flowing and the whole thing had a real festival atmosphere to it – something that doesn’t happen often in London.

Shake Shack, which officially opened its doors this morning at 10am, is modelled on the original in New York, which first launched in Madison Square Park in 2004. It is the first London outpost of Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns and operates some of New York City’s most celebrated restaurants.

Shake Shack Covent Garden offers outdoor seating both on South Row and inside the glass atrium in the Market Building, as well as an upstairs dining room inside for the colder months.

The menu features all the classics, including the signature ShackBurger, SmokeShack; ‘Shroom Burger and Shack-cago Dog. Meanwhile the flat-top dog section features a London-only Cumberland Sausage handmade by Sillfield Farm using rare breed pork from Cumbria, as well as the ShackMeister Sausage (Cumberland pork sausage topped with cheese sauce and crispy ShackMeister Ale-marinated shallots).

Shake Shack’s famous concretes of frozen custard include London-only concoctions such as the Union Shack (chocolate custard, St. John Bakery chocolate hazelnut brownie, fudge sauce, paul.a.young chocolate chunks and sea salt); and the Drury Lane Jam (vanilla custard, local strawberry jam, St. John Bakery brown sugar biscuit and fresh banana).

It’s strange to think that the opening of a burger joint could create such a huge buzz but last night’s opening couldn’t have been more festive. I managed to eat two burgers, a hot dog and a portion of fries. And as delicious as it all was, I think I’m burgered out for the foreseeable future.

James Petrie, aka Jockey, resigns from the Fat Duck

James PetrieJames Petrie, head of creative development at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, has left the company after more than a decade.

The Scottish chef, who is widely known as Jockey and has worked with Blumenthal for 11 years, announced his departure on Twitter this morning.

“After 11 great years working with Heston Blumenthal, I have decided the time has come to move on to explore other opportunities,” he said.

“[I’m] looking forward to many new food adventures ahead.”

Petrie joined the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck as head pastry chef in 2002 and became head of creative development in 2007. He previously worked at the The Inn at Little Washington.