"My role here is as the queen mother," she says. "I give dishes a final touch and stamp of approval."
"My signature dish is the butterscotch budino," she says. "It's a pudding with caramel sauce, sea salt and whipped cream."
"When I'm in the back, everyone in the restaurant is a celebrity. We're analyzing every single dish."
In the five years since Osteria Mozza opened, the L.A. restaurant-known for its handmade pastas and its "mozzarella bar"-has become a foodie destination, ranking high on Bon Appetit magazine's list of toughest reservations to land in the country. It's also a magnet for Hollywood A-listers, including Christina Aguilera
and Jake Gyllenhaal
. "It's flattering when celebrities come in to have a great meal, not just to be seen," says Nancy Silverton, 57, who co-owns Osteria and its neighboring sister restaurant Pizzeria Mozza with renowned chef Mario Batali. The Italian eateries have even gotten the presidential seal of approval-the staff has cooked for the First Lady three times and catered an Obama fund-raiser. "Making steak for Obama and pizza for Michelle was a highlight," says executive chef Matt Molina, 34. "She loves the pizza and usually gets the one with the margherita topping."
Another Mozza milestone: This year three of its chefs-Silverton, Molina, and pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez, 37-were nominated for James Beard awards, the Oscar of the food world. But even with all the laurels, Silverton-who once worked alongside Wolfgang Puck as a pastry chef at Spago-strives to execute the advice she received from Batali. "He said Mozza should embrace Italian tradition and technique, then personalize it," she says. "We want to be a Los Angeles experience that tastes like you're in Italy."
Mozza's Classic Pasta
PASTA CACIO E PEPE
¾ lb. dry bavette (narrow ribbon) or linguine pasta
½ cup plus 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper, plus more to taste
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente.
2. During last minute of cooking, remove 1½ cups pasta cooking water and reserve.
3. Heat ½ cup olive oil, pepper and ½ cup pasta cooking water in a skillet.
4. Drain pasta (do not rinse) and immediately add to pan; cook, stirring, 2 minutes, adding remaining pasta water by the quarter cupful if necessary to prevent sticking. Turn off heat and let rest 1 minute.
5. Add cheeses, stirring and shaking the pan until a sauce forms.
6. Drizzle remaining oil over pasta, toss to coat and divide among 4 plates, swirling pasta in center of plate. Garnish with additional cheese if desired.
Recipe adapted from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño