A Meat Lover’s Delight: The first Chi Spacca opens in Saudi

A Meat Lover’s Delight: The first Chi Spacca opens in Saudi

Get to know American celebrity chef Nancy Silverton, co-owner of the latest restaurant taking Riyadh by storm
26 May 23
Nancy Silverton

Michelin-starred Nancy Silverton has expanded her restaurant empire across continents, authored several cookbooks, and built a successful brand.

Her latest feat? Transporting her famed Italian restaurant, Chi Spacca, to VIA Riyadh. Amazed by the city’s changing cultural landscape, Silverton feels it is a melting pot of new cultures and cuisines.

“Saudis want more international cuisine, and that’s why I am here. I have opened restaurants in Mexico, London, and Singapore, and I’m finding it easier to find ingredients and tools in Riyadh than there. So, it shows there is a demand,” she says.

Looking Back

Silverton discovered her love of (and talent for) gastronomy thanks to landing a job during college. “Growing up in LA, I didn't cook, and I was not interested in food. When I was 18 or 19, I worked in the dormitory kitchen and that’s when I became interested. It’s not like I ever cooked with my mother or grandmother like kids do today,” she says.

The seeds of Silverton’s romance with food were only strengthened and nurtured when she became a restaurateur. Between being a pastry chef at Spago and setting up her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, she began to wear various hats and her world gradually shifted to more savoury creations.

"Saudis want more international cuisine, and that's why I am here."

Nancy Silverton in conversation with LIST

A Soft Spot for Farmers’ Markets

Although the culinary whiz spent her formative years in LA, a popular food haven, Italy has also highly influenced her. Silverton takes inspiration from Tuscany and Umbria. However, to suit the revolving menu’s needs, she looks to local farmers’ markets as well.

“I love going to different countries and visiting the farmers’ markets. I cannot be inspired or write a menu without holding, smelling, touching, and tasting the ingredients. My inspiration does not come from the mind but from the touch, taste, and soul,” she says, ecstatic about her visit to Riyadh’s market.

Explaining the day’s specials, inspired by the fresh produce she picked up there, she declares: “Vegetables are my favourite thing to eat, much more than anything else. So, I’m always for beautiful leeks, fennels, and peppers. I’m the vegetable and salad champion of the menu.”

Some spices found in Saudi cuisine have enticed her too. “I love the dried lime, cumin, coriander, and oregano. I can smell it and see it in all the packaging,” she says, hoping to try more local food on her next visit.

Sourdough and Soul Food

Silverton’s culinary contribution is even more valuable because she helped put sourdough and artisan bread on the global map.

“Well, I was one of the early pioneers given too much credit. But it is true I was one of the few bakers who elevated sourdough-style bread,” the visionary says.

The James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef Award winner likes to stay connected to her origins. She started her career working under Spago’s Wolfgang Puck, and now their restaurants are rubbing shoulders at VIA Riyadh. Despite her independent success, Silverton maintains a strong relationship with her influential first employer.

She has carved a niche and continues to flourish. Even amidst the latest molecular gastronomy fad, she stands tall as a soulful chef, or cook, as she likes to be called. She loves to make homemade-type food – with vegetables, of course – and names the humble pancotto a favourite.  

Handpicking a Signature Dish  

A love of exploring authentic cuisines has resulted in a long travel list, but for now Silverton is focusing on Chi Spacca and its menu. The generously seasoned grilled dishes, must-try cured meats, and fresh salads all help add to its popularity.  

“If it’s not the best, it’s not on the menu,” she says and sighs while attempting to pick just one best dish. “If you are a steak person, the pepper steak is the best. It’s not a classic one – most people talk about pepper steak with a peppercorn sauce, but ours is a more modest one. It’s made of charred green onions, whole lemon segments, and lots of crushed black pepper, olive oil, and chives. It’s a generous portion that’s quite substantial, and you would have to make friends to eat it.”

I guess it’s time to phone our chums and try out what the extensive menu has to offer. Riyadh may be blessed with a slew of meat-centric eateries, but with Silverton adding tasty vegetables and salads to the mix, Chi Spacca is perfect for those who love a healthy twist.