MEET THE CHEF: SILVIA DE ANTONIO
Before Silvia became a world-traveled chef, she was a little girl in her mother’s kitchen with a big passion for food. Eventually, that passion grew into an obsession and she launched a career as a chef. Having grown up in Spain, the influence of the Mediterranean is evident in Silvia’s culinary philosophy. Now, as the Chief Culinary Officer for The Fresh Diet, she infuses healthy dishes with rich, global flavors for a fresh, unique dining experience. We sat down with Silvia to talk about her background in cooking, her most memorable meals, her inspiration for the new summer menu and so much more.
- You’ve traveled all over the world, embracing different cultures and food customs. How has that influenced your culinary philosophy?
When you travel, it helps you grow. You can read about different foods from different places but as a chef, you don’t really learn until you immerse yourself in the culture. When you can see the food like a local, you’re able to translate those local ingredients into new dishes. Take tomatoes, for example. Tomatoes are tomatoes everywhere, but their taste will vary depending on the seeds, the soil and what you top them with. Add basil and it’ll take you to Italy. Add cilantro and it’ll take you to Mexico. Add mint, it’ll take you to Greece or the Middle East. When I’m cooking, the ingredients I have on hand will guide me in a certain direction.
- What ethnic foods do you think are underrated right now?
Ethiopian, Moroccan and Portuguese. They’re a lot of really great, rich flavors in those cultures.
- What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
This could be a very long list! I’d have to say my go-to ingredients are olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, eggs, avocado, tomato, potato, chickpeas, and pasta.
- What inspired the new summer menu?
To be honest, the inspiration came from a number of places. I try to keep up with food trends and develop dishes around things I see popping up in the industry. The first thing I do is study and analyze the trends to see what our menu needs to set it apart. At the same time, I try to maintain a sense of familiarity so our customers feel comfortable. I play with flavors, colors and textures and then I put them into place. Some meals happen by accident, others are inspired by things I’ve grown up with, like my Romesco Sauce from Cataluña.
- There’s a big Mediterranean influence on the new menu. Can you elaborate?
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy and monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, avocados and fish—all heart healthy ingredients that promotes longevity. It’s not that Mediterranean dishes are especially complicated or require a special technique. At its core, it’s about deriving deep flavor from simple ingredients prepared simply. To achieve this in our new summer menu, we’re pairing seasonal fruits and vegetables to give the meals a full, fresh flavor.
- How does your work for The Fresh Diet differ from your previous experiences?
Well, like most chefs, I always consider flavors first. And then I figure out how to adapt it within our nutritional parameters. Working at The Fresh Diet keeps nutrition and health in the front of my mind, so I play with things like texture to make meals feel fresh and exciting.
- There’s often a negative connotation with “diet food” as being bland and unsatisfying. How do your menus go beyond that idea to offer rich, flavorful meals without sacrificing nutritional value?
It’s all about knowing how to use your ingredients. Experimenting with cooking techniques, spices and food combinations can have a huge impact on flavor. People often hear the word ‘fat’ and run away, but there are a lot of healthy fats than can be used in place of bad fats that will add a lot of flavor. You don’t have to give up Italian just because you’re on a diet. You just have to understand that eating Italian doesn’t always mean having a heaping bowl of pasta loaded with cheese—there’s so much more to the culture than that. Especially with the Mediterranean diet, the philosophy is all about using local flavors and fresh ingredients to get the most out of your dishes.
- Which talent would you most like to have that you don’t possess?
I wish I had a knack for music—I love to sing! But, trust me, I’m much better at cooking than I am at singing.
- Do you have any quirks that your team teases you about?
Not that I’m aware of… but give it time!
- What can we always find in your kitchen at home on any given day?
My kitchen is always stocked with fresh vegetables and fruits. They’re so versatile and can be used in meals or eaten as snacks.
- If you could change one big misconception about food, what would it be?
Oh, that’s easy—that fats are bad. Fats are not bad. Bad fats are bad. But there are so many great heart-healthy and cholesterol-lowering fats. I also wish people would stop thinking that vegetarian diets are protein deficient. Beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, and soy are all wonderful sources of protein.
- How do you get your kids excited about healthy food?
I let them participate in the whole process, from buying the ingredients to cooking the meal and, in some cases, planting or harvesting from local farms. I combine healthy food with things I know they like. For kids, it’s not just about the end result. Sometimes, we turn it in into a game—like juicing with different fruits and vegetables and trying to guess what color it will be.
- Are you craving any foods in particular right now?
Bacalao Pil Pil—a traditional dish from the Basque Country that’s well known all over Spain.
- What is the most memorable meal you’ve had in your life?
It was at Sushi Kaji in Toronto. To this day, it’s the best sushi I’ve ever eaten in my life. The chef selects all his fish and it’s flown in that same morning from Australia or Japan. The flavors are incredible and are all very different from one another. And the presentation is beautiful.
- What’s the most memorable meal you’ve cooked in your life?
It was in a friend’s country house the day after their daughter’s wedding. There were people from all over and the star of the meal was the Lobster Paella. They’re still craving another one.
- What’s at the top of your bucket list? What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish in life?
To visit the 7 Wonders of the world.
- What’s your favorite holiday for food?
- Has there ever been an ingredient or dish that proved especially challenging to master?
Pad Thai noodles. Finding the right rice noodles is an important part of it, as well as the tamarind sauce.
- Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new meals?
It’s like a cocktail…a little here, a little there. Past experience, diversity, current trends and how I’m feeling that day all play a big role, as well.
- What do you want to be your legacy?
I want to help people understand the importance good food should have in their lives. How eating healthy and nutritious food doesn’t mean giving up the pleasure of enjoying a meal. I focus a lot on combining different culinary cultures and I hope my work will help people appreciate diversity as something that’s positive and enriching.
So to help you navigate any sticky situations—like avoiding those bowls of chips and sugary cocktails—try these simple recipes from Chef Silvia de Antonio for your next party.