The chef-owner of Osteria Mozza tells us what kept her busy during the lockdown and how her Cal-Italian restaurant found its way back to the city
When Osteria Mozza reopened its doors at Hilton Singapore Orchard last month, loyal fans were ecstatic that they didn’t have to fly to Los Angeles for a taste of its unique brand of Cal-Italian cuisine where the season’s best harvest reigns supreme. No one could be happier about its comeback than chef-owner Nancy Silverton, who flew to the city for the restaurant’s grand reopening last month.
It was her first trip back to Singapore since the Covid-19 pandemic started more two years ago, and Silverton, who was dressed in her signature colourful dress, braided hair and big specs, told us during the interview that it was such a privilege to be travelling again. Like many of us, she also couldn’t travel at the height of the pandemic and spent most of her time quarantined in her Los Angeles home. While many of us got into sourdough making, she also baked her way through American classics—loaves that she had never made before.
During this period, talks about Osteria Mozza reopening at its new home started. So, we chatted with Silverton to find out what kept her busy and how her much-loved Cal-Italian restaurant made its way back to Singapore.
Tell us what the past two and a half years have been like for you?
Nancy Silverton (NS): It was honestly exhausting, but I feel like all of us chefs and restaurateurs tried to find the benefits we could take away from the pandemic. It’s not like we beat the pandemic, but we found other ways to adjust.
We were all in the same predicament and had to deal with specific restrictions from the government—no tableside service, servers couldn’t interact with diners (when dining out was allowed), and we needed to produce disposable menus. Once we were allowed to reopen, finding staff who wanted to remain in the industry was challenging.
What kept you busy during this difficult period?
NS: During the lockdown, I got this opportunity to cook 350 meals a day for restaurant workers who were out of work. That was great because I didn’t have the downtime as soon as everything got shut down. At the same time, I was doing something meaningful instead of being stagnant.
Why do you think sourdough making became an obsession during the lockdown?
NS: All these people probably got obsessed with sourdough because for so many years, they thought they would love to learn how to make a loaf of bread but didn’t have time. Then, the pandemic happened, and they had the time to take on that challenge.
I also took on the challenge myself, but what I did was bake my way through American classics. These were baked items that I never really made before, which I will feature in my new cookbook. It will be released in the fall of next year.
Any other hobbies you picked up apart from baking?
NS: Another thing I did was to watch 120 old movies that I had never watched before.
How did the idea of bringing Osteria Mozza back to Singapore come about?
NS: A good friend of mine who I worked with at Marina Bay Sands joined Hilton Singapore Orchard and is in now charge of property development worldwide. The management told him that they were building a restaurant and the inspiration was Osteria Mozza, and his initial thought was, “Why create Osteria Mozza when we can bring back the original restaurant?”. That was how it happened.
The turnaround to reopen this restaurant was pretty quick. This space was already conceived to be an Italian restaurant, so I didn’t work on this project for more than two years.
In case you missed it: 5 Tips to Achieve the Perfect Sourdough Loaf
But the new restaurant looks different from the Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles.
NS: Yes, and I think it’s much better. When we first opened Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands, it was made to look like our restaurant in Los Angeles. So the osteria and pizzeria were 100 per cent based on our Los Angeles outlet. But, it’s very hard to duplicate something because it will always appear as a newer, less soulful incarnation of the original.
Our current restaurant design looks very family-friendly. There is an aesthetic about it that makes you feel like you’re in Singapore, and the beautiful herb garden in the alfresco area is a nice touch. Honestly, I didn’t have any input in the design, but I’m happy and thrilled that we were handed such a beautiful restaurant.
What’s on the current menu?
NS: We’ve brought back some of our classic pastas and other signature dishes, but those who are looking forward to revisiting Osteria Mozza will find newer items that we have back in our Los Angeles menu. I didn’t want to open with the same menu… it would have felt tired. Our pizzas will return to once we resume lunch service.
It helps that 80 per cent of our staff from the previous outlet are back, including our executive chef Peter Birks. It makes the transition easier.
Any other new experiences we can expect from the new Osteria Mozza?
NS: We now have an open kitchen and a mozzarella bar, as well as an alfresco area surrounded by a beautiful herb garden.
I have also changed the dessert menu to be more focused on gelatos. I love gelatos and it’s much easier from an economic standpoint.
Will you be offering any local-inspired flavours soon, perhaps a durian gelato?
NS: We’ll stick to the classics because this is still an Italian place. But we’ll pay attention to the flavours that our diners seem to gravitate to.
But what hasn’t changed in the new Osteria Mozza?
NS: Our commitment to great food and great service.