by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/6/17
Chef Nancy Silverton still calls her now-famous TV appearance with Julia Child her “defining moment.”
“I felt that knock on my hip, so I knew I had to hurry up,” she recalls of the 1997 “Baking With Julia” episode that she taped at the master chef’s historic Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen. The tap was Julia Child’s way of letting Ms. Silverton know it was time to wrap up her cooking segment. So the guest chef finished up her dessert dish – a crème fraiche custard brioche tart with white wine sabayon, toasted nuts and powdered sugar – and topped it off with a very hot stone fruit syrup.
|Screen grab: Baking with Julia, 7/11/97, PBS|
“She stuffed it in her mouth, and then – I see tears in her eyes! And I thought, ‘Wow – I burned her!” says Ms. Silverton.
Julia Child, instead, catches her breath, smiles and then raves. “A dessert to cry over – a triumph!” she proclaims. “The best dessert I ever tasted.”
Beyond this special moment, Ms. Silverton’s culinary career is speckled with successes. The budding gourmand who dropped out of college to pursue cooking in Europe would go on to become the first pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, a co-originator of L.A.’s Campanile and a bread-making phenom as co-founder of La Brea Bakery. She’s authored several best-selling cookbooks and twice won a James Beard Foundation award, most recently in 2014. Currently, she helms Osteria Mozza in Hollywood, a joint venture with Mario Battali and restaurateur Joseph Bastianich. And she just launched a line of gourmet gelatos and sorbets, Nancy’s Fancy. Even through several setbacks – there was that nasty experience with Bernie Madoff that cost her millions – Ms. Silverton has gained fame by elevating the American dining experience and inspiring a still-growing culinary movement.
“For my mom’s generation, food was a function of convenience – women had to get food on the table,” Ms. Silverton says during an exclusive interview this week. “Today, there are more choices, and cooking is like a culture that everyone wants to be a part of.”
But back to Julia Child.
That disarming moment when the famous chef actually wept when she tasted her food – that moment tops any accomplishment. “Reporters always ask me, ‘What’s the most remarkable or defining moment of your career?’ And it’s so special that I actually have one.”
Ms. Silverton reminisces about Julia Child’s approach to food, an authenticity that drove her impact and success. “You could tell she oved what she did,” she says. “She loved to cook and loved to eat, and that came across. She wasn’t going to change anything because of trends or fads or diets. She was confident in what she believed in and what she wanted to do. In an era when people thought of food as a chore and an obligation, Julia made cooking seem fun and enjoyable, as it is.”
It is apropos, then, that Ms. Silverton would headline this year’s Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend, a three-day culinary extravaganza that honors Julia Child and is presented by the Santa Barbara-based Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. The event, now in its fourth year, returns to Bacara this weekend, April 7-9. Tickets are available at bacaraculinaryweekend.com.
The food fete features a Grand Dinner with Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford and Bacara Executive Chef Vincent Lesage ($250); a locally-sourced wood-fire lunch with Full of Life Flatbread Chef Clark Staub ($65); a Craft Brewer’s Garden with Santa Barbara-made beer, cider, mead and cocktails $35; a slew of cooking demos and tastings ($20-$45); and a Neighborhood Market Tour highlighting local culinary hotspots, from Los Alamos to the Funk Zone ($20 kids, $50 adults). Julia Child’s great-nephew, Alex Purd’homme, will lead a discussion of his new book, The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act (Free). And the hit film Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep portraying Child, will be screened at 4pm Saturday in Bacara’s state-of-the-art theater (Free).
Ms. Silverton is teaming up with Santa Barbara Vintners to kick off the weekend with a Wine Reception ($99). The Friday evening event will take place in Bacara’s brand new oceanfront restaurant, Angel Oak, and will include a tribute to Julia Child. To pair myriad local wines, Ms. Silverton’s menu includes roasted carrots in a cumin vinaigrette, garlic-rubbed skirt steak served with Santa Maria-style beans and marinated baby peppers with tuna. A mozzarella bar – an Osteria Mozza concept that has garnered Ms. Silverton acclaim – will feature Burrata and several accompaniments, like pesto, slow-roasted tomatoes and black olive tapenade.
|Nancy's Fancy (Jason Varney photo)|
Dessert will feature Ms. Silverton’s brand new Nancy’s Fancy line. The Italian-inspired sorbetti and gelati feature flavors like roasted banana with pecan praline, spiced coffee with cocoa nibs, butterscotch budino, salted peanut butter and non-dairy coconut stracciatella. “I’m profiling flavors with a lot of punch to them,” says Ms. Silverton, “and they’re made with real fruit, not flavorings.”
Ms. Silverton is looking forward to returning to Santa Barbara this week, a getaway destination with which the Hollywood resident is very familiar. “I started making the pilgrimage up there when Julia started talking about La Super Rica,” she says, recalling the Mexican restaurant along Milpas Street that continues to reap the publicity rewards of Julia Child’s steady patronage. Today, Ms. Silverton, who was an investor in Santa Barbara’s recently-closed Hungry Cat, has several favorite local food stops, including The Lark, Wine Cask and Bob’s Well Bread. And she marvels at the epicurean evolution of Santa Barbara's neighbor communities like Buellton and Los Alamos.
“You only travel 90 miles to get there, but you feel like you’re on vacation!”
For more information on Nancy Silverton, visit Osteria Mozza LA.
Watch the PBS "Baking with Julia" episode with Julia Child, Nancy Silverton and that tear-worthy crème fraiche custard brioche tart (aired 7/11/97).