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Nancy Silverton Talks Square Pizza and Sustaining Her Food Empire
Restaurants & Bars

Nancy Silverton Talks Square Pizza and Sustaining Her Food Empire

Ryan Hynes
Published 6 months ago

Does anyone actually prefer square pizza? According to world-renowned pizza chef Nancy Silverton, the square might be the truer take.

“That’s more of what I’m more familiar with in Rome—street pizza that is not round and is sold by the weight,” she says.

In March, Silverton helped to launch Triple Beam Pizza, a fast-casual spot in Highland Park where you pay by the pound. The open air, pay-at-the-register spot is the farthest east Silverton has ventured (if you don’t count Singapore), and marks an entry into fast casual.

“It’s for eating enough for a meal or just stopping by and getting a small square for a snack,” she explains.

When I asked an employee of Triple Beam Pizza how it felt to be working in one of Nancy Silverton’s restaurants, she beamed, “It’s a pleasure!” Before she could return to cutting my pizza with scissors, she corrected, almost in a whisper, “The standards are higher here than anywhere I’ve ever worked.”

She likely meant the quality of the food. Silverton, a James Beard Award-winning chef, has quite possibly the most honored perspective on pizza in Los Angeles; so yeah, you learn a lot by handling her dough. Non-cooks have been schooled too by Silverton’s episode of “Chef’s Table.” It’s hard to unsee shots of her power-walking dirt roads in Rome, wearing sunglasses, curling pink dumbbells, and brainstorming the perfect chemistry of pizza to bring back to Beverly Boulevard.

In a chat about current ventures, Silverton reminisces about the “obsession” required to develop restaurants and the joy she now gets by helping others do the same.

“At Spago, Campanile, La Brea Bakery, and even early stages of Mozza, (development) consumed me...for the good or the bad. But now, it’s great to see those who are hungry follow that path. I love to support them and give them the tools to make that path successful. That’s probably the most exciting facet to what I do now.”

Triple Beam is led by Matt Molina, one of Silverton’s former opening chefs at Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, and a cook at Campanile. Like Pizzeria Mozza, Triple Beam’s pie is considered Roman-style, but its ingredients are notably more complex.

“In the some of the places you go to in Rome, the varieties might just be a simple tomato pizza…maybe a potato in there, maybe a zucchini,” she describes, which is a stark contrast to Triple Beam’s most recent debut, a spicy pancetta with caramelized onions, fontina, mozzarella, and jalapeños.

And yes, they cut it with something called a Scizza, which, I must say, is a perfect housewarming gift for almost anyone.

Silverton is the midst of negotiations to bring a well-known Italian chef to the states. She notes that another Roman chef, Gabriele Bonchi, already brought his pies to Chicago. Baked in a sheet pan, his provides a deeper slice for Chi-town, a coincidence that charms Silverton once she realizes it.

But all the Roman influence makes you wonder if inspiration moves in the other direction—if Silverton’s decades of dough-rolling in Los Angeles has inspired in the international community. What do they get from us?

Silverton thinks the common denominator in L.A. and its restaurants continues to be the way food is sourced.

“It can be a cliché albeit a positive cliché…but people in L.A. are very concerned with where their food comes from. Customers have more respect for restaurants that take the time to source in a local and knowledgeable manner.”

For decades, Silverton maintains, Californian cuisine was unique in its resources. Farmers market culture provided local chefs the ingredients they desired. But if you were deep in a city on the East Coast, for example, deliveries of the perfect ingredients might have been a bit harder to come by. That’s changing across the country, however, due to increased competition for locally-sourced materials.

“A lot of larger produce companies, out of necessity, do a lot of (resourcing) for you now. They’ll have whole farmer’s market availability in their profiles, which makes it a lot easier.”

For some of Mozza’s produce Silverton engages a sourcing agent who goes by the name, “The Forager”. The Forager drives her big truck every week to San Francisco. She shops for materials that are unavailable in Hollywood or Santa Monica markets.

“With all the microclimates throughout California, there’s a lot that we can’t get that is grown further north,” explains Silverton. The Forager then delivers her bounty to Mozza on Mondays and Fridays, which Silverton describes as always being, “a big treat.”

Getting ingredients to Highland Park is no trouble. The gentrified community, where some shop owners have seen rents increase over 250%, has had an influx in trendy dining. HomeState, the home for breakfast tacos in Los Feliz, opened its second location along a trending strip of Figueroa Street last month. At the same time, Vivian Ku opened Joy, a fast-casual Taiwanese spot with similar offerings to that of Ku’s Silver Lake staple, Pine and Crane.

When pressed on whether she recognizes a West-to-East shift in her own food empire, she delicately concedes, “not consciously.” Choosing a location is a less “straight and narrow” process than that. It’s more about partnerships, and what type of restaurant a certain space can accommodate.

“For example, when I opened the pizzeria on Highland, it actually wasn’t a pizzeria I was looking to open...but the building we found had a pizzeria…and the rest is history.”

In fact, Triple Beam’s Highland Park location had been owned for four years already. It teams up with Highland Park Wine, a new wine outlet from Randy and April Clement, who own Silver Lake Wine. They had dreamed of a pizza-wine-coffee combo when they grabbed the space. The trio will be completed soon. Coffee will soon be provided by Go Get ‘Em Tiger, in a tempting three-course of chardonnay, potato and truffle pizza, and a late-night cappuccino.

Perhaps such a melding of great tastes and styles, all in a new neighborhood, is exactly how a city like Los Angeles contributes to global cuisine.

“Throughout Italy, food, for the most part, is regional…you go to Bologna and you’re eating food from Emilia-Romagna,” Silverton says. “In L.A., there are so many talented cooks in a wide range of cuisines…this is the biggest melting pot anywhere in the variety of food, not only to eat, but chefs and cooks to learn from.”

May the sprawl of Silverton continue to expand.

About the Author

Ryan Hynes

Let's look at the dessert menu but then go somewhere else. Formerly BuzzFeed, AOL, and NBCUniversal.