Last fall I attended a small event to celebrate the launch of a new product, at a friend's kitchen design showroom in Old Greenwich, Connecticut that was being catered by Chef Silvia Baldini's catering company, Strawberry and Sage. As I began to photograph the event and the food prepared by Chef Silvia, the chef and I struck up a conversation and seemed to hit it off immediately. Perhaps it was my European upbringing that somehow related to her passionate Italian side. Perhaps it is because we were born just 15 days apart. (I'm not telling you who's older!) Perhaps it was kismet. It's funny how some things happen... but I digress...
We met out for coffee a couple of times and she confided in me a few secrets and tricks that she has brewing up her chef's coat sleeve. One secret I'm allowed to divulge is that she will be appearing on the Food Network's series Chopped on March 31st at 10:00pm.
To listen to Silvia's story is to be inspired. Inspired by a woman who seizes every opportunity and chance that life tosses her way. Inspired by her perseverance and her determination, and of course her accomplishments. Over the times we've gotten together we've talked about our childhoods, careers and our roles as mothers. It would be both accurate to say that Silvia is somewhat of a feminist. She wants it all - a full life, career and family, while understanding the need to put family first. As she strives to realize her hopes and dreams, she does so very methodically, in careful and deliberate steps. She does this with all her careers. Yes, she had a life before she became a chef.
After studying classical studies in Italy then earning a degree in architecture from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Silvia entered the advertising world. For many years she led a successful career as an award-winning art director at world renowned advertising agencies.
Silvia had always dreamed of becoming a chef and so she went back to school and graduated from Cornell and French Culinary Institute in New York City with a degree in restaurant management. From there she went to London where she continued her culinary education earning a Cuisine Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu, graduating at the top of her class.
Upon graduating, Silvia accepted a position as a chef at the Ritz, and quickly moved up the ranks. After staging at several prestigious European Michelin star restaurants, Silvia started her own events and catering company called Strawberry and Sage - a creative food group that serves as an outlet for her real passion, food. This venture allows her to expand her own culinary horizons, combining them with her passion for design and artistic talents honed during her nearly 20 years in advertising. Strawberry and Sage offers catering and food preparation for select clients, event management, strategic partnerships in the food and media industry, cooking instruction, menu development, recipe development, writing and testing; photography and food styling; cookbook and media consulting including TV, digital, and social media; and restaurant and kitchen consultations.
To these achievements Silvia will add one more as she will be a contestant on Chopped, the Food Network’s hit series. On March 31st at 10 pm, she will go head-to head with three chefs who are challenged to prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert in 30 minutes while using unconventional ingredients from a mystery basket. The end result is of course a secret!
We spoke a bit about the show and the pressure of the clock and the high stakes competition. I asked her if she was nervous, and she told me that she was, but very much believes in taking chances. “When I was cast for Chopped on the Food Network, I was nervous and scared, but I decided to just go for it.” She told me that “Once I walked into the Chopped kitchen, I relaxed, stuck with recipes I knew by heart, and presented all my food beautifully.”
For those of you familiar with this hit show, you know that rock solid composure, steely nerves, and the ability to draw on extensive experience cooking with a wide variety of ingredients, flavorings, and techniques are essential to success in the high-pressure Chopped kitchen. “I kept thinking: Turn on the stove, think ahead, keep it simple and beautiful. Don’t be scared to take a little risk and don’t get distracted by Judge Marc Murphy talking to me in Italian!” says Silvia, a native of Turin.
Chopped's “Fake Cake, Real Stakes” episode will premiere on Tuesday, March 31. Join Host Ted Allen and Judges Maneet Chauhan, Marc Murphy, and Chris Santos to see how Chef Silvia fared in the competition. It is a great fake out, when all the basket ingredients are in disguise. The duplicitous ingredients lead to trouble for all, and even more potential for trickery lurks in the pantry. You should absolutely expect to see Chef Silvia sharpen her knives, her skills and rise to the task.
“I had a good time doing what I love on Chopped: cooking chic, comfort food with passion” says Chef Silvia. “The day of the show I ended up having a blast. I cooked for 12 hours straight and my love for cooking and experience in the kitchen came through.”
Silvia felt it was important to represent the female chefs on Chopped, as well as all the women who cook at home for themselves and their families. “It’s a bit of a boy’s club out there and I feel this should be the year women break some rules” says Silvia. (And I tend to agree with her!)
With Chopped behind her, Chef Silvia looks forward to continuing to build and grow Strawberry and Sage and her food career. In addition to cooking for clients and events, Silvia is currently working on segments for TV appearances, a series of food-based lectures based on her love of sharing chic, comfort food, as well as cook book based on her philosophy; when you share food with friends, family and your community it will undeniably taste better and make you happier.
So how did she do? I don't know either. She wouldn't tell me a thing. I promise! Like me, you'll just have to watch and stay tuned!