With her pink short hair, bright smile, and magnetic attitude, Italian chef Barbara Pollastrini is capable of delighting both the palate and the eye by preparing the tastiest recipes of the traditional Italian cuisine.
She lives in Hollywood, in a cozy apartment with blue walls and full of decorative objects that help cheer up her fast-paced routine. Talking in front of an authentic espresso with whipped cream, Barbara describes herself as “A dreamer in love with love, which is in everything I do: I could never cook something that I wouldn’t eat. Passion is the key ingredient.”
Inspired by her mother, who trained her since a young age, she studied at the prestigious international school Le Cordon Bleu and also obtained a diploma as a cuisine teacher. Soon after, Barbara opened an acclaimed cooking school and catering service in Rome, Italy.
So why did you decide to move to Los Angeles?
Living in the United States has always been my dream, until ten years ago I was offered the opportunity and started working my way up from the very bottom as the kitchen hand of a food stylist. In time and with modesty, I was able to prove my worth and my skills. Thanks to a fortunate encounter with a French artist, I obtained a part time job as a private chef as well as my first reference letter, which made much easier to find better positions. Among others, I worked for the owners of Guess fashion brand, the producer of the famous TV series Friends Marta Kauffman, the TV shows American Idol and The Voice, celebrities the likes of Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, and Alessandro Cajrati Crivelli. Both my reputation and client portfolio were constantly growing. At some point I even founded my own “pop-up restaurant” Barbyla’s Secret Dinner, hosting Italian-themed social dinners at my place.
Being a female chef in a foreign country has been more an asset or an inconvenience for you?
In the U.S. nothing is for free, I had to fight against the spaghetti with meatballs and chicken parmigiana for a few years in the beginning. At that time, it was very hard to be recognized and appreciated for the authentic, traditional Italian recipes that I wanted to introduce in the local culinary culture. Only recently the attention towards healthy food has become popular. Also, as you said, female chefs are uncommon but this helped me bring out my best in order to succeed, becoming more self-confident, competitive, and even aggressive if needed.
How would you describe your cooking style in just a few words?
It is extremely simple, almost minimalist, and based on one main ingredient that I combine with a few others. Of course, all of them must rigorously be high quality products. Americans particularly love eggplant parmigiana and veal roll, which I prepare just like my mother used to do: cooked in wine and stuffed with secret delicacies. Simple indeed.
As a private chef you have worked all over Los Angeles, from Bel Air to Beverly Hills, from Hollywood to Malibu. But what does a private chef do exactly?
The dining table is probably the most important opportunity of daily interaction within a family, and a healthy nutrition is now considered as a priority here in California. A private chef makes it more pleasant and balanced for the whole family, and at the same time he/she is also a friend and a confidant.
How important is the way you present your food?
My food compositions are quite formal in terms of aesthetics: their beauty, refined taste, and elegance enhance the flavors and whet the appetite. A great meal is like a work of art: it must please the eye, as well as the nose and palate. I come from the Mediterranean, where eating is the best part of the day, to be looked forward to and enjoyed as a sacred ritual.
Have you ever worked for the Hollywood movie industry?
Sure! I was lucky enough to be hired as a food stylist in several productions, such as He’s just not that into you, starring Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck, The Muppets with Amy Adams, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig, Star Trek, The Hunger Games and the TV series Luck featuring Dustin Hoffmann – who is a real Latin lover and fond of the Italian cuisine. Once I asked him about his favorite food and he said, “How can I answer this? You could have as well asked me which is the best part of a woman’s body. I love all Italian food!”
How does the food on set compare to standard craft?
Usually the dishes that we see in movies aren’t real, because they would easily deteriorate under the spotlight and great quantities would be needed for each scene. Nevertheless, I don’t like to cook fake food and used to prepare real, tasty dishes that were often eaten or taken home by the filmmakers and their cast.
Cooking TV shows have recently become very popular. Would you be interested in participating in one of them?
I actually would, and soon there will be interesting news in this regard…so stay tuned! But most importantly, I am planning to write an original and autobiographical cookbook to reveal more about Hollywood’s tastes as well as my personal experience as a private chef.