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Farmhouse Fresh

Nancy Silverton leads the food parade at Ojai Valley Inn’s latest endeavor.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Ojai Valley Inn

A star-studded lineup of chefs have helped create sizzle at the Farmhouse. From left: Suzanne Tracht, Lissa Doumani, Nancy Silverton, Hiro Sone, Elizabeth Hong, Karen and Quinn Hatfield, Mary Sue Milliken.

 

ozza restaurant maven, cookbook author and James Beard Award-winning chef (2016) Nancy Silverton is turning up the heat in the massive kitchen of The Farmhouse, the new culinary arts and special events center that debuted at the Ojai Valley Inn this past spring. 

The 20,000-square-foot events center features a modern-rustic barn-like structure with an awesome demonstration kitchen with all the bells, whistles and tools needed to put on a cooking show. It also has lovely outdoor areas and organic demonstration gardens and even a redwood table built with the help of students from the Ojai Valley School from trees scorched by the Thomas Fire. 

Silverton holds forth along with the Ojai Valley Inn’s team of talented in-house chefs and mixologists as well as local purveyors, including Ojai Olive Oil’s Philip Asquith; Adam Tolmach of the Ojai Vineyard and Tomatomania’s Scott Daigre, who is tending over the organic demonstration garden.

Silverton is perhaps best known as the queen of dough. She launched La Brea Bakery and Campanile in her native Los Angeles and has continued her reign in the food world as the owner of the award-winning Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza. Now the Ojai Valley Inn’s Farmhouse Culinary Ambassador, she is rising to the occasion. 

Food author/editor Ruth Reichl visits in September to sign her latest book during a lunch featuring her recipes. Silverton will also help Dario Cecchini butcher half a cow that will be used in events over the November 23-24 “Art of Butchering” session. Other upcoming classes include “Cooking with Truffles” and a class on making grilled cheese sandwiches with Silverton. There are several other events planned in the coming months.

How did the culinary groundbreaker get involved with the Ojai Valley Inn?

“The Inn approached me and said they were building a culinary center — it was very vague. I went up to Ojai blindly. I didn’t know what that exactly meant, whether they wanted me to consult or come up and cook or work with the existing restaurants,” she recalled.

She drove up from L.A., toured the site and the ambitious and expansive plans exceeded her expectations. Plus, they put her up for the night — she’d only been to the Inn once before, for a wedding. Understandably, she fell in love with Shangri-La. 

“The goal of the program is to help the Ojai Valley Inn become a culinary destination and put The Farmhouse on the map. The only other place of this kind is Blackberry Farm (and they do terrific job) in Tennessee. I could see how much support Ojai was giving me and participating chefs,” she said. “It’s a wonderful treat for them to come up and stay three nights at the Inn and have some spa treatments. Most events around the country are charitable — this has a lot of benefits! Plus it’s so close to L.A. and there are no airports involved, no time change, it’s very doable.”

She’s bringing in “local chefs” this first year and, if all goes well (so far, so good, many classes are sold out), she hopes to bring in chefs from further afield next year.

In April, Silverton conducted “Eat Like Phil Rosenthal and Nancy Silverton’s Friends Behind The Flame,” an event and demonstration with pals Suzanne Tracht of Jar, The Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milliken, Karen Hatfield from The Sycamore Kitchen and Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone from the now-shuttered Terra in St. Helena.

Over a recent June weekend, Silverton “Celebrated Pasta” with a Saturday lunch demo the day before a family-style Sunday pasta dinner with pastaman/Felix chef Evan Funke, who has a handmade pasta book coming out in September.

“Evan hand-rolled all of his pasta with a long wooden pin. We made a collaborative lunch with pasta appetizers and an Indian spice chicken salad. He made three courses of pasta, Osteria Mozza made one and the hotel did dessert for the dinner!” Silverton continued enthusiastically.

“I curated seven two-day events — lunch and dinner or two dinners so people can come for the weekend and do both! For our welcome event, “Lunch with Phil Rosenthal,” we showed clips from one of his shows we did in Italy and the hotel cooked a lunch inspired by different foods that Phil ate on the program.” Best known as the creator of the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, you can see Rosenthal eating around the globe on his Netflix program, Somebody Feed Phil.

Five more Silverton events are planned, including a hands-on mozzarella stretching workshop with demonstration of complimentary sauces and the aforementioned grilled cheese sandwich lunch with an Osteria Pizzeria menu utilizing the Farmhouse’s outdoor ovens. 

Silverton has an impressive career by any measure, and yet seems to find the greatest satisfaction in those she has helped along the way. “I am most proud of the amount of people I’ve mentored and what they have gone on to do.”

And what of her own culinary heroes?

“In today’s world? Jose Andres, Ruth Reichl and Alice Waters. . . . I’ve tried to be as much like Alice as I can, both in the food that I cook and the way I choose my ingredients and the thought and the importance of how we choose to eat the foods that we eat. She is a huge hero and Wolfgang Puck was a huge mentor.” 

Her ideal dinner party would more than likely take place at her vacation home in the Umbrian hilltop town of Panicale, on the outskirts of Perugia.

“Whoever is around whenever I decide to have a party are, hopefully, the lucky ones! I never plan a party around who I want at it. For the most part, when I am in the mood to have a party — mainly in Italy — it could be 20 or 75, which includes the entire village!” 

One can dream to be in Umbria when the cook is in residence and the hosting urge strikes. Closer to home, hit one of her events at The Farmhouse and partake in the party.

“I love taking the back roads on the drive from L.A.” she concluded. Other advantages? Silverton can invite her foodie friends to enjoy the valley as she basks in her temporary digs while in residence.

“They put me up in a beautiful villa that sleeps 10 and has an outdoor kitchen and gorgeous pool. It really is a vacation for me in the beautiful Ojai Valley!”

Silverton succinctly wrapped up our chat with just two words when asked her advice on life lessons learned in the kitchen: “Work hard!” 

The Farmhouse at Ojai Valley Inn
905 Country Club Road, Ojai
855.697.8780
www.ojaivalleyinn.com/farmhouse

 

The Farmhouse features open courtyards and large, flexible interior spaces. Guests cook on Viking appliances in a large kitchen that has been designed with culinary demonstrations in mind.
Courtesty Ojai Valley Inn

Culinary Ambassador Nancy Silverton.
Courtesty Ojai Valley Inn

07/01/2019

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