Chef Nancy Silverton remakes herself after reportedly losing money in a Ponzi scheme

by Olivia DeWolfe
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 23, 2011

Nancy Silverton's loaf of artisan bread.Nancy Silverton's childhood was not steeped in gourmet food like some of her contemporaries. Her culinary arts story started at 18 after she took a job at the vegetarian kitchen in her college dormitory to be closer to a boy she had a crush on, according to a November 2010 L.A. Times Magazine piece called "Second Course." A meat-eater who liked TV dinners and going to Denny's restaurant, Silverton was surprised to discover that she had an amazing palate and that cooking was what she wanted to do with her life.

After dropping out of her liberal arts classes, she attended London's Le Cordon Bleu culinary degree program, according to a biography posted on the Cuisine de France website. Though she earned only average marks, the desserts she made at Michael's in Santa Monica after graduating inspired up-and-coming chef Wolfgang Puck to offer her a job in his new restaurant Spago.

After seven years working under Puck, she opened Campanile on La Brea with her husband Mark Peel (Spago's chef de cuisine). An instinctual decision to make fresh bread for her customers prompted Silverton to delve into the art of artisan baking. Despite predictions that it was impossible to make great bread with the flour and water available in America, she went back to culinary school for a baking intensive program and spent the next six months perfecting her loaves with the creation of her own sourdough starter. Le Brea Bakery was born, which some credit as the force behind the American Bread Revolution.

Eleven years later, Silverton and Peel sold Le Brea for 55 million dollars, according to the L.A. Times Magazine piece. After a divorce, Silverton and partners opened Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, perfect showcases for her simple, big-flavored food.

If it weren't for her intense love of food, Silverton could have given up when she lost all of her hard-earned fortune in a Ponzi scheme in late 2008, according to the "Second Course" piece. According to the article, she lost $5 million that she had invested with Bernie Madoff.

Despite this, Silverton is still doing what she does best: creating delicious food and successful venues. According to the L.A. Times piece, she's opening a second Pizzeria Mozza in Singapore in December 2011 and possibly a third and fourth in Newport Beach and San Diego.

At 56, Silverton still consults for La Brea Bakery, which sells bread in 17 countries, and she is working on her eighth cookbook. Other possibilities for Silverton's future projects include her own cooking show and a quick-serve Italian eatery at Los Angeles International Airport.

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