Nancy Silverton Talks MasterChef Legends And How To Be A Judge - Exclusive Interview

When Nancy Silverton whips up pastas, breads, or pizzas, diners take notice. Silverton has helped redefine the role of carbs across America thanks to her work with Wolfgang Puck and through her restaurants, like LA's Pizzeria Mozza or Osteria Mozza (via Nancy Silverton). Over the course of her career, Silverton received the mantle of Best Chef from Food and Wine Magazine, received a James Beard award in 2014, and has published multiple cookbooks that has made pasta and bread making so much easier for any home baker.

The chef now claims the title as one of Los Angeles' most long-standing prominent culinary creators and has gone on to transform the way diners approach humble Italian comfort food (via LA Magazine). Silverton graced the current season of "MasterChef: Legends" with her skill and prowess, and in her upcoming episode, taught a masterclass to the contestants on how to make homemade Orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and garlic (via LA Weekly). Mashed had the exclusive chance to sit down with Silverton and discuss "MasterChef," learn what to look for in the best pasta, and what home bakers should consider when they want to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

Nancy Silverton looks back on MasterChef before the pandemic

What were you hoping to see this time around on "MasterChef: Legends"?

You'd have to remember that it was over a year and a half ago that I did the show. And so, my memory is certainly very, very vague. And, that memory is also compounded by all of the chatter of, "I wonder if this COVID is really going to turn into something?" And then two days later that production was shut down, and everybody went home.

So, it's great that it was finished and that it's going to air. I certainly remember that it was a pasta challenge. I remember that we all had our favorites and I don't even remember who that favorite was right now. I had a good time, especially working with my partner. Joe Bastianich is, even though we're partners, we never sort of stand side by side and really focused in and kind of judged something together. And, I always learn so much with him about Italian food and especially pasta, putting together our restaurant, which was about 15 years ago. Well, 15 years ago it was a pizzeria, which doesn't have pasta, but about 14 years ago, when it was the Osteria, I learned so much about pasta and pasta making and what makes a great pasta from Joe. So, it was fun to be next to him.

Nancy Silverton's secret to the best pasta

When it comes to making really great pasta, what are some of the things you look for?

You know, there's not that many things, as long as you are the one that's making a pasta that follows the essentials. And, I think the essentials in a pasta dish are, well, number one is that the noodle is the star.

So, forget everything else. That noodle is the star. And, you see that, time after time in Italian restaurants for sure. And so, using that noodle as a start, it's not a vehicle. Clean out your refrigerator ... pasta is the star and the sauce needs to compliment the shape. So, the shape dictates what that sauce should be, whether it's a butter sauce with a fresh noodle, or whether it's a sauce, like a Ragu that needs to get caught up in the long strands or whether it's a chunky sauce that needs to get caught in the folds and the divots of a pasta, but it all matters. It all matters. And, it's so obvious in the finished product ... And then, I think the third thing that's just so important is the relationship or the amount of sauce to noodle.

That is, I think those three keys are what people don't really stick to when they make a pasta. And therefore, it's not that easy to eat or judge a successful positive dish.

Nancy Silverton dishes on what it takes to judge up and coming chefs

When it comes to judging someone else's dish, what's the hardest aspect of judging for you?

For me, and why I might not be a great judge, is that immediately, I want to turn something negative, say a bad dish, into something positive. So, I don't want to just get on there and say, "Wow, that's bad. That sucks." You know, I want to start from something sort of positive. Like it was a great idea, however, or, a certain element or ingredient was so well-chosen. And, I love the idea of using that ingredient ... because I mean, when I don't like the judging, I don't want to hurt somebody's feelings. Cooking is so personal and certainly, in those competitions, the competitors put so much of themselves into what they're doing that to just shut them down, I feel terrible. Sometimes the show itself or the host is looking for tears, and I don't want to make somebody cry.

I imagine that the challenges you faced are also probably different between your experience on "MasterChef" a year ago and your judging experience on "Top Chef." Were those experiences different for you or were they pretty close?

Well, they're all different because there's a whole different set of dynamics, right? And, that's what makes the show I've judged on "MasterChef." I did MasterChef kids (this would be "MasterChef Junior"). I know, and I think I've done two or three "MasterChefs." And I think that Gordon is a terrific, terrific host. And, I really enjoy working with him not only because I think he cares, but I think he's so knowledgeable. And, that's what really matters is to give, to take these contestants who are working so hard and have them leave the show with learning something. And, I think that Gordon provides that. And, that's what makes that show so successful and why it has been on for so many years.

Making memories with Gordon Ramsay and dealing with the pandemic

Do you have any particular memories that stand out when you interacted with chef Ramsay?

Well, I think that somehow he got this bad boy persona, right? And he's not a bad boy. And so, I think the first time I did a show with him, I was really afraid, and afraid that he would yell at me or afraid of being, yeah, I just was afraid of his personality and he's tough, but he's tough because he is a chef. And he has high expectations and he has high demands. It's not that he's a host that doesn't know what he's talking about. He knows how hard it is and what it takes. And, I always learned from him.

The sourdough craze took off [during the beginning of the pandemic]. How did you feel about that? And were you sitting back thinking, "Oh, people should be doing bread like this instead of like this?"

No, I'll tell you, I thought that I understood why it became a thing, because I think that it was something that everybody sort of put on their bucket list. Like one day I'm going to learn, I'm going to take the challenge of making a loaf of sourdough bread. And, their life was full of excuses. They just didn't have the time. And when they finally got to time, I think there were enough people out there that thought, "Look, I'm going to make the best of this bad situation. And, I'm finally going to learn how to make them." And I think I would have done the same. I think I would have taken that challenge. Now, I didn't bake any bread during the pandemic.

How Nancy Silverton spent the pandemic

I did cook a lot more than I usually do at home. So, that was my challenge to myself, but I really understood it. And, I got so many pictures from people that were so proud of what they made, it was really good. And, I think that's the memory. If the memory of this awful year and a half could be uplifted by people's memories, but I got to learn how to make sourdough bread, then everything has a happy ending.

Do you have any baking tips for home bakers?

I'll tell you something. One thing is a tip that one doesn't always think about. It's probably all cooking. It's not just baking, but I'll say it was only baking only because I'm just starting a new baking book. And, one of the tips that I'm going to get is don't bake. If you're not in the mood, and that's the same thing, or you don't have the time, same thing with cooking a meal. ... If you're not in the mood and you don't have the time, don't do it because it's not going to be enjoyable. And, what you make is not going to taste good ... happy cooks, make happy food.

Make sure to catch Silverton's signature pasta challenge on "MasterChef: Legends" Wednesday night, July 14, on Fox and make sure to give her restaurants a visit next time you find yourself in Los Angeles.