50 Women Game Changers in Food: Nancy Silverton (Week 23)

In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Week 23 brings us to Nancy SilvertonNancy Silverton- laBrea bakeryNancy Silverton was born in 1954 in Los Angeles. She attended Sonoma State University and was majoring in political science when she decided she wanted to be a chef. She dropped out of Sonoma State & attended Le Cordon Bleu in London & then Ecole Lenotre Culinary Institute in France.

Once returning to the United States, her first job as a chef was as the pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. In 1989, she & her husband opened Campanile, where she worked as the head pastry chef, and in the adjoining space to the restaurant, they opened La Brea Bakery. Both ventures were incredibly successful, and in 1991 she was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef award. She was working constantly, sleeping little & became frazzled. In 1992, she and one of her business partners turned the bakery into a larger, fully staffed, commercial bakery, and she took a step back & her role became mostly an advisory one. In 2001, she sold the bakery to an investment group, and made around $5 million in profits… which she lost when she invested with Bernard Madoff.

In 2007, she collaborated with Mario Batali & opened Osteria Mozza, and Italian restaurant, and Pizzeria Mozza (once again in an adjoining space). Both were widely praised, and new locations continue to pop up.

In 2014, she was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s highest honor: Outstanding Chef Award.

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Since one of the reasons I’m doing this project it to challenge myself in the kitchen, I decided to give myself the ultimate challenge: making croissants.

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And it was an epic failure. I’m not sure where I went wrong, or what happened, but I was so disappointed I actually cried. And the croissants I made, as well as the dough I hadn’t baked yet, went immediately into the trash.

The first problem that I had was with the yeast. It didn’t froth up as much as I thought it should. So, I dumped it & started over. It frothed up some, still not as much as I wanted it to, but I went with it.  The second problem was the butter. After the second round of folds, the butter started appearing in chunks throughout the dough. By the fourth set of folds, the dough had huge, dime sized chunks of butter all through out the dough. I had already come this far, so even though I had doubts I kept going.

Once I baked them, they didn’t rise as much as I had hoped, but they looked croissant-ish, so I was hopeful. One bite and my hopes were dashed. They weren’t light or flaky, or anything else that a good croissant should be. And beyond the issues with the texture, they had no flavor.

2015-06-07 00.10.30So… yeah. Epic fair. I’m glad I tried making them, but I won’t do it again. Even if they had been amazing, I doubt I would make them again. They were a heck of a lot of work, and the croissants from Sam’s Club are pretty damned delicious.


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