An Interview with Chef Silvia Baldini
Our contributor and honey expert, C. Marina Marchese, sat down with Chef Silvia Baldini to discuss her new cookbook.
9:00 AM EST on November 28, 2023
When I met Chef Silvia Baldini back in 2015, she had a secret. She confided in me that she would be a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped, then her lips were sealed. A few months later, the news broke that she won with her signature Canederli, a bread dumpling which is a regional specialty of northeast Italy. Since then, Silvia has successfully blossomed into a culinary entrepreneur. Now her first cookbook has been released, Les Dames d'Escoffier New York Cookbook, Stirring the Pot. I sat down with Silvia, on behalf of Appetito magazine, to discuss her background, her new book and more.
Tell us about your background in Italy, about Turin, memories of family meals or cooking with a grandparent.
I grew up in my beloved city of Turin in northern Italy. Nestled in the region of Piedmont, Turin has a rich history, distinctive architecture, and breathtaking views of the snowy Alps. Known for its quiet and elegant affluence and as a car-business hub. Turin offers charming shops and a culinary scene featuring world known local products and gorgeous patisseries. Turin holds a special place in the world of chocolate, being the birthplace of Giandujia, a delectable blend of chocolate and hazelnuts that gave rise to the beloved Nutella. Additionally, it introduced the concept of the aperitif. The surrounding areas are renowned for white truffles, agnolotti, and some of Italy's most notable wines.
Often referred to as the "little Paris," due to its baroque architecture and stunning piazzas, Turin provides a vibrant city life. The nearby Alps offer a quick escape for skiing. My deep passion lies in hiking, skiing, and the culinary treasures of the Italian mountains. During my childhood, I spent summers and fall weekends exploring the mountains with my family, “foraging” for mushrooms, chestnuts, and wild berries. My cooking reflects the traditions of the mountains, and I dedicate time to researching and crafting recipes with ingredients from the Alps and the Dolomites. It's in these moments that I truly feel at home.
How did you go from Madison Avenue art director to chef?
I graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and then moved to New York to work in advertising. I had an award-winning career as an art director on Madison Avenue and in Chicago. I worked at some of the most prestigious advertising agencies. For 10 years, I was the only woman partner in a boutique agency, and I produced TV and print campaigns for clients like Gatorade, Match.com, AT&T, and Donna Karan. I always had a huge passion for food, cooking, writing, and design. In my mid-thirties I took a plunge, left advertising and decided to follow my passion for cooking. This led me to pursue culinary training at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC, a Master’s in Restaurant Management at Cornell, and a degree at Le Cordon Bleu in London. I held positions in Michelin-starred kitchens, and I worked as a cook and a chef in London, NYC, and Connecticut restaurants, including the Ritz and Ottolenghi for five years.
How did the experience on Chopped shape your perspective on food and the book?
I was invited to appear on Chopped, the award-winning Food Network show, in my early days as a chef. It was a really fun experience and a memory I will always cherish. I won, and this gave me a great boost and visibility in the industry. I have since then grown a lot, and I have been lucky to have had a very successful career that spans from authoring books to working with global food companies interested in thinking outside the box and developing AI, educational and culinary platforms. I collaborate with LG Electronics to advance the development of smart recipes with artificial intelligence technology. I’m also a passionate speaker, and I enjoy showcasing products, foods, and stories from my beloved Italian mountains regions.
How did the Les Dames d’Escoffier book come about?
Les Dames d'Escoffier New York (LDNY) is an unparalleled collective of forward-thinking and successful female leaders in all sectors of the food, beverage, and hospitality industries. Its mission is to advance and support aspiring professional women in food and beverage, as well as to champion critical industry issues. LDNY’s vision is guided by three objectives: Education, Advocacy, and Philanthropy. I’m a proud Member of Les Dames Escoffier NY, and I have served on the board.
I love writing and developing recipes. My work has appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Parents Magazine, Saveur, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and La Cucina Italiana. It has also been featured in Forbes, Tech Crunch and Entrepreneurial Chef. I had just authored a very beautiful book, Room at The Table. Recipes from the Heart, and I enjoy developing, designing, and writing anthologies that mix famous chefs and real-people recipes. These are book with a purpose, and they benefit causes that are dear to me. So, I decided to put together a book for Les Dames NY, and I’m really proud of the results. Proceeds from sales benefit Les Dames d’Escoffier New York’s Scholarship Fund.
I curate 76 family recipes alongside wine pairings from Pascaline Lepeltier, MOF. There’s a dedication by Lidia Bastianich to LDNY founder Carol Brock and a foreword by Carla Hall. They organize Stirring the Pot into eight user-friendly and easy-to-follow chapters: “Breakfast,” “Appetizers and Salads,” “Soups,” “Pasta, Noodles and Grains,” “Mains,” “Sides,” “Desserts,” and “Cocktails.” This book includes recipes for every occasion and every skill level. I share some of their own family favorite recipes, but the bulk of the recipes were contributed by other Dames.
How did your previous art director experience enter into this book?
My immense passion for design, photography, and typography has become the driving force behind my creative pursuits. Taking on the challenge of designing my own books allows me to immerse myself in a process that I find deeply fulfilling. Working closely with photographers is a collaborative journey that I particularly enjoy, as it adds a layer of visual storytelling to my projects. Drawing from my background as an art director, I find that it provides me with a unique perspective, aiding in the visualization of books and print projects. This synergy between my creative interests and professional experience enhances my ability to bring ideas to life in a visually compelling and cohesive manner, turning each project into a labor of love and artistic expression.
What can readers expect from the book?
"Stirring the Pot" is a collection that prides itself on simplicity and being approachable in its recipes, offering a glimpse into the heart of family cooking. The initial concept was to showcase everyday dishes, drawing from cherished family recipes. However, recognizing the culinary diversity within Les Dames, some of whom are seasoned chefs, led to the inclusion of more intricate recipes. These dishes, while more challenging, are undeniably beautiful and add a touch of excitement to special occasions. Take, for instance, Melissa Rodriguez's dressings—a delightful addition that elevates any dish. Similarly, Pascaline Lepeltier's wine pairings not only complement the book but also serve as a wellspring of inspiration, adding a layer of sophistication and enjoyment to the culinary journey within these pages. It's a harmonious blend of simplicity and complexity, ensuring there's something for every palate and occasion.
What are you doing when you’re not writing?
I'm a nature enthusiast with a penchant for exploration. As a dedicated walker, hiker and skier, I find solace in the great outdoors, often taking long walks to discover the hidden treasures that nature has to offer, whether they be wildflowers, herbs, or any other wonders along the way. Additionally, I have a keen appreciation for photography and typography, with a particular fondness for the vintage allure of old Italian signage from the 1940s and '50s.
What is your favorite Italian meal or restaurant memory?
One of my favorite stories to share is the Grapefruit Crudo Story (it’s on page 78 of the book). It's a narrative intertwined with flavors and memories, a dish that holds a special place in my heart. Yet, what I truly cherish is sitting with my family back home, surrounded by a sense of communion and simplicity. Our gatherings are filled with laughter, jokes, and a constant exchange of anecdotes that have become the fabric of our shared history. Strikingly, in these moments, the food takes a back seat, becoming a backdrop to the warmth and joy of familial connection. It's a reminder that, beyond the culinary delights, the essence of these gatherings lies in the stories we tell and the bonds we strengthen, creating joy and shared experiences that enrich our lives.
Because I am your beekeeping/honey-friend, I must ask your favorite honey and way to prepare/eat it?
Marina, your honey is truly exceptional. I can't get enough of your Acacia Honey — its versatility, sweetness, and fragrant notes make it stand out. I find it perfect for pairing with various cheeses, creating a delightful harmony of flavors. Moreover, drizzling it over cooked peaches and plums adds a natural sweetness that elevates the fruit's taste. I've even discovered a new favorite way to enjoy it – in my tea. The subtle hints of the Acacia Honey complement the tea beautifully. And let me tell you about the pancake experience – your honey is the secret ingredient in my sticky bourbon syrup. It adds a rich depth of flavor that takes my pancakes to a whole new level. Thank you for providing such a delightful and versatile honey that has become a staple in my kitchen!
Any last word or things you would like us to know about you and your work?
Cooking has always been a profound passion of mine, a creative outlet that allows me to blend flavors and experiment with various culinary techniques. Surprisingly, my love for mountain life has become an integral part of who I am. Despite considering myself a city person, the tranquility and serenity of nature have a way of grounding me. I am fortunate to have found a career that aligns with my passion for cooking. Working in an environment that excites me every day is truly a blessing. Moreover, the joy I experience when giving back to my community and sharing my culinary knowledge adds an extra layer of fulfillment to my life. I feel lucky I have created a life that is not only professionally satisfying but personally enriching.
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