Silvia Barban was born and raised in Northern Italy where she learned to combine the region’s rich cuisine —butter, cheese and olive oil — with the fresh tastes of her mother’s southern Calabrian heritage.
From “E.Maggia” Stresa culinary school, Barban began to find her way in the kitchen of the Maestro of Italian cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi. She worked as a pastry chef, learning to cook modern and traditional dessert for Giancarlo Perbellini, and later moving into the kitchen as chef de partie. In 2012, she made the move to New York for the opening of Giovanni Rana Pastificio e Cucina. She was originally meant to be a part of a three-month consulting team, but stayed on as sous chef, relishing the opportunity to work in Manhattan. After two years, Barban received an offer to become executive chef at Aita in Brooklyn, and has directed the restaurant using fresh local produce to create traditional and modern Italian dishes from her native Italian heart. Barban is currently the Executive Chef and co-owner of LaRina Pastificio & Vino, a pasta focus restaurant in the heart of Fort Greene. In 2016, she competed in Season 14 of Bravo’s TOP CHEF.
We caught up with Silvia when she stopped into Edmonton to get to know her better and see what’s cooking with Switzerland Cheeses!
Question: What is it about New York that keeps you there? How does the city inspire you as a chef?
Answer: It’s a melting pot. I love learning every day from each person and each soul that surrounds me. Everyone is so different and unique in New York, and it’s full of individuals who you can learn so much from. Also, the infinite opportunity that the city provides. There are so many talented chefs and restaurateurs here, utilizing different flavours and products. This place keeps my mind rolling with each day each different dish I try.
Q: When you came to the U.S. from Italy, how old were you and why did you make the move?
A: I came to the U.S. when I was 23 years old. I made a move because I wanted adventure and to bring my culture to and food to the U.S. I was excited about learning from new people, new chefs and starting a new life in a new country!
Q: What kinds of dishes did you grow up learning to make?
A: I grew up learning making pasta, pizzoccheri is one of my favourite dishes to prepare. My Grandma taught me about polenta and my aunt from Calabria taught me about Arancini and fish preparation.
Q: When you visit home, what are your favourite things to do? Things to eat? Ingredients to buy?
A: When I visit home I love going to see the farms around my little village. I like to go to see animals, to forage mushrooms or whatever is in season, I like staying in nature and also visiting the traditional and local spots I love, as well as nearby Michelin restaurants. I always go to my old boss Giancarlo Perbellini’s in Verona, a city that will forever stay in my heart.
Q: Who taught you to be personally passionate about food and culture?
A: It was my aunt — she instilled such love and adoration of food in me because the lessons were taught to me with fun and love. It made the process of learning about food enjoyable and ultimately I think it’s that family connection to cuisine which has inspired me to keep going.
Q: How vital is cheese to your menu?
A: Cheese is essential, I love cheese! I always try to have tons of available varieties of cheese from cow to sheep or buffalo to choose from, because sometimes people aren’t able to eat cow’s milk cheese and also because I love the tart taste of one cheese for some dishes, vs the sweet tastes that happen when other types of milk are in play.
Q: What are your favourite Switzerland Cheeses to cook with and why?
A: Raclette is one of my favourite cheeses. I worked in Montana for a summer season and fell in love with that melting cheese! I also enjoy Tete De Moine, I like the taste and let’s face it, it’s fun to play with. Formaggio D’alpe is also one that I really like.
Q: What unique traits do Swiss cheeses have from those around other parts of the globe?
A: I think the cheeses in Switzerland are different from others because of the way the animals are treated and what they are eating. It’s a beautiful process; the cows are eating free-range natural grass, it makes for healthy fatty dairy. As well, the temperature where the animals are living is lower than some places, so the cheese is more nutty and flavourful in the end.
Q: Tell us, what’s the perfect combo of cheeses to include on a cheese plate?
A: Perfect combo? Try mixing fresh and sour flavours, such as a soft sheep or goat cheese — semisoft, fruity with grassy and nutty intense flavours such as Switzerland cheese made from the best cow’s milk on the planet.