Nancy Silverton, Pizzeria Mozza: My Career in Five Dishes
Nancy Silverton has been serving sun-soaked cuisine in LA for years. Now she’s set up shop in London – a homecoming of sorts for the Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Here are five dishes that define her style
Over the last half-decade or so, London has had its fair share of new openings from international chefs looking to expand their presence to the English capital. And while plenty of them have been greeted with cynicism, every now and again there's a project from a chef whose profile and footprint in food makes London restaurant goers sit up and take notice.
When the chef in question is Nancy Silverton, the latter definitely applies. Having perfected her brand of sunny, Italian-accented Los Angeles cuisine a decade and a half ago – first at Osteria Mozza, then Pizzeria Mozza, both of which won huge acclaim, before adding Chi Spacca along with a few more casual offerings – she's just opened her first London outpost in partnership with the Treehouse London hotel in Fitzrovia.
"It was an opportunity. That's the honest answer," says Silverton when asked how the opening of London's Pizzeria Mozza came about.
"I love London – part of my history is that I went to the Cordon Bleu school here, and I've always had my eye on it. I had actually talked to a few other companies about the opportunity and it just never worked out." But in this case, it did – and the early signs, and reviews, are that London is all the better for it.
The upshot is that the capital has gained not simply another high-profile, internationally renowned chef, but one that can genuinely be said to have had a profound effect on food culture.
Her career is too expansive and nuanced to cover succinctly here (yet beautifully summed up in her episode of Netflix's Chef's Table), but suffice to say that from founding the iconic La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles and ushering in an artisanal bread revolution in the 1990s, to becoming a headline-grabbing sensation in US food press for her work in the kitchens of Spago, Campanile and more (and winning a few James Beard awards in the process) Silverton and her obsessive devotion to producing food of the utmost quality have become a defining feature of the US food landscape at the top level.
Despite experience at some era-defining restaurants earlier in her career and 15 years of the Mozza restaurants to call on, Silverton's dishes tend to be based more on her travels than anything else. Her first trip to Italy, decades ago, made her fall in love with the regional cuisines of the country, and – as you'll see in her five dishes – it's a constant well of inspiration now.
The menu at her Los Angeles pizzeria tells the story of Silverton – her inspiration, her travels through Italy, her approach to cuisine.
And, as she says, "we're not trying to reinvent, or to bring in a new concept; we are literally picking up our pizza menu and bringing it across the Atlantic."
That means that eating at Pizzeria Mozza on Langham Place is as close as you can get to eating at Pizzeria Mozza on North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles without actually going there. Which, in these times especially, seems like a bit of escapism we could all do with.
Nancy's chopped salad
"There was a restaurant in Los Angeles called La Scala Boutique, and when I was old enough to go out and eat on my own with friends I used to love going there and getting their chopped salad. It was made with a lot of the same ingredients that are in ours. Not to the same quality – there would be out-of-season tomatoes and canned chickpeas and things like that – but that flavour. In the old-school pizzerias in Los Angeles or in America, it was one of the things that would oftentimes just be dropped on your table. They called it an antipasti platter, and it had green onions, pepperoncini and other things, so it's that kind of flavour. But this chopped salad at La Scala Boutique was one of the first salads that I had where all the ingredients melded together because of the size, and I really liked that. I either like salads layered or just chopped up so everything melds together, and that's what this is. We have radicchio and iceberg; we cook our chickpeas with a lot of flavour; we put in aged provolone and a very well-sourced fennel salami; and we finish it with wild oregano, off the branch. I think it gives a really good idea of what Pizzeria Mozza is – simple flavour combinations, nothing that's going to make you say 'Wow, how did they think of that?' or 'How did they make that?' Nothing's manipulated. But I think what you're going to walk away with is that your mouth is going to be very happy after eating here."
Bufala and anchovy antipasti
"I was always of the mindset that cheese and fish don't go together, but there's a little deli in Rome that I love called Roscioli – their restaurant is good – but the star of their menu and what they have at the deli is the way that they procure their ingredients, whether it's their cheeses or their vinegars, oils – whatever it is, it's always the best of the best. And they have these anchovies – we don't have the same brand, but we source from the same region – they're Spanish, from the Cantabrian sea, and they're better anchovies than I've had anywhere. And they serve this bufala and anchovy dish that I really really love, the combination. My inspiration doesn't usually come from me, it usually comes from food that I've eaten somewhere and I want to make again, and that's an example of it."
"In designing the menu for the pizzeria in Los Angeles almost 15 years ago, and asking myself what people would expect to find in a pizzeria menu, the one thing everybody thinks about – not only in a pizzeria, but when they think of Italian food at that level – is a caprese salad. And the problem is they want a caprese 365 days a year, and a caprese is not delicious 365 days a year – there's a short window, six weeks in the summer, where the tomatoes are great – but I wanted to be able to avoid people coming in and saying 'Where's the caprese?' So I thought about taking those small tomatoes on the vine – which are available year-round from a hot house to anywhere in the world – roasting them, concentrating the sweetness, and making it useable to my standards year-round. And then instead of pairing it with traditional mozzarella, we do it with burrata; instead of basil leaves we have pesto. So it's our little twist on it. When you open a new restaurant, people ask 'What are your signature dishes?' I don't know what my signature dishes are, because it's the customers that let you know. But this Mozza caprese has definitely become one that defines what Mozza is: super flavourful, super simple, colourful but definitely restrained. And I think that's what our food is about."
Fennel sausage pizza
"I have a little house in Umbria, a very modest little place, and five minutes away is a pizzeria called Pellicano. They have about 75 varieties of pizza that you can order – they're large pizzas with a very thin crust – but one of their flavour combinations that I ate very early on was a panna pizza with salsicce. Everything there is flavoured with fennel, so it was a fennel sausage pizza on a cream base. At the time I didn't really understand what that could be, because I only knew pizza to have mozzarella or fontina, or varieties of that, and I see this pizza that has panna as the base, and I'm thinking 'I know panna means cream, but how is that possible?' It took me about five years of eating this pizza to get the courage to say 'So, what's with the panna?' They said 'It's cream,' I said 'I know it's cream – bring me some!' So they brought me this bowl of whipped cream. And that's really what the base is – the way it stays on the crust itself is they whip it and then they smear it. That was a pizza that I absolutely wanted, that combination. We added some spring onions and other things to it, but it was just about the combination of this panna and sausage that I really liked for my pizzeria."
"There were lots of things we needed to check off, in coming up with the menu for the pizzeria, and the dessert category in particular: very simple to plate, which this is; one where the components wouldn't need to be made every day; we wanted an Italian name to the dessert, so 'pudding', which in America pudding is given to that texture of soft, spoonable dessert – and then it has such a beautiful name, butterscotch budino. Right before we opened and we started to do the menu for our pizzeria, the pastry chef that I was bringing over also from Campanile was helping out at another restaurant, and they did a butterscotch pudding. We thought that working with that would be a great dessert for our pizzeria. So we took it, added some caramel and some salt, and then paired it with, I think, a very sophisticated pairing, which is this pine nut and rosemary cookie. It's very small but it gives it the crunch that you need to have that textural difference with something as soft as a pudding, but also the flavour of that rosemary and pine nut really takes this one-note dessert and brings it to a level of complexity."