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Small Business | SMALL-BUSINESS REPORT

She's always cooking up ideas

March 14, 2007|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

After revolutionizing our appreciation of artisan bread at her La Brea Bakery and earning awards for her pastry at Campanile restaurant, Nancy Silverton has turned her skills to America's favorite food: pizza.

She opened Pizzeria Mozza in the fall with celebrity chef Mario Batali and other partners to rave reviews. Diners pack the tables at the Highland Avenue eatery seven days a week, savoring the rustic, rich flavors of her pizzas.

"I always wanted the excuse to figure out how to make a decent pizza," said Silverton, working in the relative quiet of the pre-lunch rush at the Hollywood-area restaurant last week.

In May, she will launch a sister restaurant next door, Osteria Mozza, which will feature a mozzarella bar inspired by a restaurant in Rome. Also on her plate: the debut later this month of her seventh cookbook, "A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals With Ingredients From Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes," written with Carolynn Carreno.

The accomplished chef and small-business owner opened the acclaimed Campanile in 1989 with chef Mark Peel, her husband at the time, and business partner Manfred Krankl.

When she couldn't find an acceptable loaf for the restaurant, she spent thousands of hours working to perfect her sourdough and then opened the tiny La Brea Bakery in the same building as Campanile.

Her culinary accomplishments and business successes -- she and her former partners sold La Brea Bakery for more than $70 million to an Irish food conglomerate, IAWS Group of Dublin -- have earned the hardworking chef the Leadership Award and the Woman Business Owner of the Year Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. of Women Business Owners. Silverton will accept the awards at the group's 21st annual Leadership & Legacy awards luncheon Friday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. More than 1,000 people will attend the event that also will honor other local women for their achievements. For more information, visit www.nawbola.org.

It also will be the one of the few lunch hours that Silverton will miss at the restaurant, where she usually works daily double shifts, although she has just started to take off Sunday and Monday nights.

"I haven't quite made the leap to do a whole day off," Silverton said.

She also is still involved with La Brea Bakery, which now distributes its breads in eight countries, touring the world as a spokeswoman and serving as a recipe consultant.

We spoke with the busy entrepreneur about her new venture and her plans.

Had you heard of the National Assn. of Women Business Owners before you were nominated for their award?

No. It's sort of ironic that I was given that award, only because I think my businesses have been successful because I've had successful businesspeople behind me. I don't have a big aptitude for business. I'm quite honest about that.

Is your involvement in your new restaurant different from your roles at La Brea Bakery and Campanile?

I think that it is, in the sense that when I started Campanile and La Brea Bakery my role was very defined: that I would be in charge of the bread for La Brea Bakery and the pastry department at Campanile. What I'm doing right now is more as an owner that is overseeing everything, but not as hands-on in the execution.

You are making pizzas.

I am finishing, seasoning the pizzas every day, helping to formulate the menu. But I'm not executing every item as I did when I started the bakery, as I did when I started the desserts at Campanile.

Was it a big leap from legendary baker to pizza and antipasti master?

The jump was not necessarily a hands-on jump. So in the bakery, at the beginning I created every recipe. For pastry, I created every single dessert at the beginning. But I am not hands-on in the execution of every one.

What drove you to this kind of food?

When I decided to leave Campanile, I knew that I would start another restaurant because a restaurant environment is sort of my home -- it's my life, you know. My idea was borrowed from a restaurant I saw in Rome where the focal point was a mozzarella bar. I've always loved restaurants that are focused as opposed to restaurants that don't have a focal point. As I looked for locations, I found this space. It was natural for a mozzarella bar with its huge, high ceiling. But next door was a pizzeria and I had always wanted to have a pizzeria. That was very similar to my experience to starting La Brea Bakery: I wanted to be able to create and make a great loaf of bread. So it was something always in the back of my mind.

How did your new cookbook, "A Twist of the Wrist," evolve?

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