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Chef Nancy Silverton talks Mozza, La Brea Bakery bread and restaurants after lockdown
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Kristen Loken’s new book “Food People (Are the Best People)” is an homage to the California food and beverage industry. Loken traveled the state, connecting with industry pros and focusing on how they’ve managed the pandemic, summer wildfires, and more over the past year.

“Crisis breeds creativity, and connections make us all feel better, no matter what we’re going through,” says the storyteller-photographer, who crafts photo and word portraits of 129 chefs and restaurateurs, farmers, winemakers, bakers and others who keep the state’s food chain moving. The $35 book, published by Acorn Press, will direct 15 percent of its sales to benefit No Kid Hungry. It’s available for purchase at

Sharing their thoughts are a number of celebrities, among them Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos and Los Angeles chef-baker-author Nancy Silverton.

Silverton, 66, co-founded the renowned Campanile in Los Angeles (1989-2012), and singlehandedly founded the 31-year-old landmark La Brea Bakery, which was sold in 2001. Her baking artistry is credited with popularizing artisan and sourdough breads throughout the U.S.

Silverton’s restaurants at the intersection of Melrose and Highland avenues – known as the Mozzaplex – have been called among the greatest Italian restaurants in LA. The Michelin Guide-California awarded a star to Osteria Mozza (the only Italian restaurant in LA to hold one), a Plate award to the meat-centric Chi Spacca, and a Bib Gourmand award to Pizzeria Mozza.

Silverton has written a library of cookbooks and has a pantry full of awards, including four from the James Beard Foundation, Outstanding Chef among them. Surprisingly, she is somewhat taken aback by the accolades she has garnered over her career. “I don’t feel comfortable being put on a pedestal,” says Silverton, a classically trained chef who calls herself “a cook.”

She was profiled in 2017 on the Netflix documentary series “Chef’s Table,” but didn’t watch it, she says. “I’ve always had issues with listening to myself in interviews and watching myself on television.”

Last March, she had been providing meals and supplies to restaurant workers when she tested positive for coronavirus. She quarantined at home for two weeks, closing her restaurant operation and feeling like she’d “let everybody down.” She was mostly asymptomatic and spent her time binging on TV cooking shows, vintage game shows and classic movies (“Casablanca” was her favorite). “I got through it ‘with a little help from my friends’ and by taking it hour by hour,” she says in “Food People.”

Silverton spoke to us about the future of restaurants, the challenges of baking bread and her favorite thing to eat. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The new model at Mozzaplex is takeout, pickup and delivery. How has that changed the menus and styles of cooking? 

A: We’ve been through a number of closures and reopening and at one point turned the parking lot into an outdoor dining room. [With the to-go model] we needed to reinvent not only how we packaged our food, but we had to be sure we only put dishes on the menus that lend themselves to traveling, and I’ve personally tested every item. What we’re packing up is just as good at room temperature as it is coming out of the oven. But don’t reheat it, that will dry it out.

Q: You’re one of the most celebrated chef-bakers in California, yet you’ve said, “I don’t feel that I’m innovative.” 

A: I see a lot of chefs out there who lead us down paths of their creativity, while I base my menus on what I crave. I’m inspired by food I’ve eaten and flavor combinations I’ve seen or read about. All I do is take dishes that have already been done, bring them into my world and personalize them according to my creativity. Not that I’ve invented something that’s never been done before.

Q Are you still hands-on in your kitchens?

A: I am. I was just now doing hand-pulled bread crumbs for 200 pasta kits we’ll be packing. That’s 50 loaves of bread. Yesterday I was elbows-deep in potato gratin to go in 400 packaged meals. I try to keep my hands as busy as possible because that’s when I feel the best. It’s what got me into cooking in the beginning. My grandmother used to say I should have been a sculptor.

Q: What’s the crowning achievement of your career?

A: I feel like at all times there is something I am obsessed with, and I have to figure it out. That’s what fuels me. The process of coming up with bread for La Brea Bakery was the achievement that was the most painful and challenging, and my most rewarding. Mainly because there weren’t the breadmaking cookbooks or classes available like now, or bakers to talk to. I was pretty much on my own and self-teaching.

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