Chef Silvia Barban, born and raised in Northern Italy, arrived in NYC nearly five years ago. What she's bringing with her is not only the rich expertise of Italian cuisine, but also a passion to elevate the already high standard food scene of NYC. Although it started as a temporary gig for Chelsea Market's Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, it quickly turned into something more permanent. Now she co-owns and is the executive chef at one of the most popular and authentic Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, LaRina. Last year, Barban became a cooking inspiration amongst viewers and food lovers as a contestant on Top Chef Season 14, letting her heritage shine through in each meal she prepared. Her exit on the show might have came too early, but she's well on her way to building an impressive career, making her a winner in her own right.
Why did you begin cooking? What sparked your interest?
As a child, I was so hyper that my grandma calmed me down with two things: wine and water (at the age of 6) or by making me help her with cooking. She was an amazing cook and the one that was keeping the family [together] through food. Unfortunately, she passed away when I was 9 with stomach cancer, and at that moment I realize that I would be the one who will keep the family together. I will be the one who will make people happy through food because that's what she taught me. So after many years, here I am still trying to make her proud of me.
How has moving to Brooklyn affected your cooking, or inspired you in any way?
Moving to Brooklyn was a long ride, but it influenced a lot in the way I think and cook. You know, like being able to go to the farmer's market and using seasonal produce. In Italy, I learned the base, and I keep those with me. Certainly here, my style of cooking changed a lot but I think also the fact to be challenged every day by many other restaurants is a big thing, where in Italy there is less competition. Also here you have to fight for good products meanwhile in Italy you forget sometimes how everything is so tasteful!
There are tons of male chefs in this industry, what advantage or disadvantage do you see in being a female chef?
Being a female chef is very challenging, it's always been like this in my life. Here in NYC is better but in Italy, I probably worked with just one female chef in all my experience. I mean we knew already that we are all the same level or maybe better [lol], but we need to fight for it anyway. To be put in the same level of work as other male chefs, or even more. In addition to that, when you are an immigrant female chef.
To add to that, being a chef makes for a tough life. You start the day early and get out late, how do you keep yourself going?
You just keep focusing and never forget your goal! As a chef, you feel very competitive. So you never look back or feel satisfied, [you] always look for more, we are always hungry to have a new adventure, new dishes, new creations, new emotions. In the spare time, to recharge my self, being in the pasture and have fun with a glass of wine in my hands!
Creating a menu is probably one of the hardest parts, where do you get your cooking inspiration?
Indeed, I m doing this right now. Inspiration can start from a memory, emotion or even something that you are eating. Sometimes we struggle to have a new idea, and maybe wake up in the middle of the night with one [idea], or simply tying a beautiful product can be the start for a new item.
Being on top chef season 14 must a be a great experience, what did you learn from the show?
I learned a lot of things, but the most important was to believe in myself and keep fighting for what I love. I also think my way of cooing and seeing things changed as well being natural influences to the other chef and listening to their experiences.
Do you plan to go back to Bravo's Top Chef?
I would love to do it again!
What’s getting you excited lately?
Always food, but I also love traveling. I love to travel and find new places, different food, different air to breath.
If you HAD TO pick a meal from a fast food chain, what would it be and why?
I honestly don't go to eat fast food. The last time was probably Shake Shack a few years ago. I had this portobello mushroom burger that was delicious, but just because I had to! Actually, a chain back in Italy has this amazing sandwich with cold rustichella that just makes me hungry right now thinking about it.