Chef Nancy Silverton parlayed considerable experience at now-iconic Los Angeles restaurants like Michael’s and Spago (on the Sunset Strip) to grow into a formidable restaurateur. She was instrumental in turning La Brea Bakery into a national brand, co-founded the late great Campanile and now co-owns a burgeoning Mozza Restaurant Group empire with business partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Mozza has left an indelible culinary mark on Los Angeles, Newport Beach and Singapore, and there’s a San Diego pizzeria in the works. Silverton participated in the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival for the third straight year, which is where I interviewed her in full for the first time.
Was it a given that you would become a chef for a living, or did you consider any other careers?
I never considered any other careers. Well, I shouldn’t say that. In my senior yearbook, we were all asked what we were going to be when we grow up, and I said a lawyer. My father was a lawyer and I thought maybe I would be a lawyer. Other than that, I found my calling in my first year in college, cooking in the college dormitory. It was a moment I’ll never forget because it actually was an epiphany. I was cooking in the dorms in a stainless steel kitchen, cooking vegetarian food for the vegetarian members of the dormitory, and I remember this lightbulb going off and thinking, “Oh, wait, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I feel very lucky because there are so few people that find what they’re meant to do in life and therefore are satisfied with their life and never think they’ll go to work, which is negative. I wake up every day and do what I am meant to do. More than just the restaurants, more than just the cooking, it’s the hospitality, that feeling.
Where was it that you went to school?
I went to school at Sonoma State College in Northern California.
What did you major in when you were there?
I entered the college as a political science major and I quickly left that. Within Sonoma State, there was a very small little independent college within it called the Hutchins School, and it was Liberal Arts.
How much more can you take on?
What I take on is very gradual. When I look at what I have, it’s like an empire. I have three restaurants on the corner of Melrose & Highland. I have two restaurants in Singapore, side by side, one restaurant in Newport Beach, and in the fall we’re opening another restaurant in San Diego. So that’s quite a lot, but they’re being done very gradually and I have a huge competent infrastructure. It’s not just me. When I was lucky enough to decide to pair up with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, with that partnership came a whole back office from New York that is so supportive. I never would have done anything like this on my own.
What does a dish have to be for you to serve it at one of your restaurants, and how would that differ just on the corner of Melrose & Highland, between restaurants?