The Gannet Q&A

Natalia Ribbe

13th April 2016

Interview: Killian Fox

Natalia is the founder of the London hospitality website Eighty Six List, whose events highlight up-and-coming talent both front and back of house. By day, she is a freelance marketing consultant for independent restaurants that can’t shell out the big bucks for agency fees. She also works with the national charity Magic Breakfast as their restaurant fundraiser. A native of New Jersey, Natalia has lived in Maryland, Romania, Hungary, Austria and New York but now calls London home.

1. If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

That is such a difficult question. I could say it was Noma for its seamless hospitality, or the elegance I experienced when James Lowe and Elena Reygadas cooked together for The Guest Series at Lyle’s. However, I think it would have to be all the Thanksgivings I have ever had with my family. It’s consistently larger-than-life with lots of antipasti and shrimp cocktails and just too much of everything. The conversation around the table is something I yearn for when I get homesick. This past year was the first without my grandmother and it was so great to be all together to remember her while doing what we do best: eating and drinking.

Beautiful from start to finish. Thank you @lowejames @lyleslondon @e_reygadas #TheGuestSeries and a surprise dinner date with @leocarreiraa

A photo posted by Natalia Ribbe ? (@nataliaribbe) on

2. What was your favourite food when you were 10?

My mom makes the best caesar salad dressing from scratch and chicken Milanese. When my sister and I were little, we called it “favourite chicken”. To this day, when we go home we ask to have caesar salad and favourite chicken. In fact I am pretty sure they eat it when we aren’t there.

3. What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

I am a fantastic sous chef. I can’t actually cook terribly well, but if you need a prep monkey, I’m your gal.

4. What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

It would have to be chicken katsu curry. Even my fiancé Alex, who is a chef [he co-owns Hill & Szrok in east London], said it was the best one yet.

5. What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

Frank Sinatra. In my family, he is God and he just makes everything better. My grandma used to always say when I was upset, “What does Frank say? That’s life!”, and it would make the biggest problem seem small. Spotify recently added Selections from a Voice on Air (1935-1955) and I love listening to him talk and joke around – it makes me want to hang out with my mom, grandma and Frank drinking red wine.

6. What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

Parmesan. There is always a chunk of it in the fridge. Il Cudega near Netil Market have a big wheel of it and they do these incredible fluffy shavings. I love it so much that I am begging Alex to get me a West Highland terrier so I can name him Parmigiana Reggiano, Parm for short.

7. Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

A colander. I love to make pasta so it’s an essential to me, plus I think they are really beautiful as well – can a colander be beautiful?

8. What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

I am not really a cookbook kind of person, however if my mother were a cookbook than it would be food-splattered. I call her and text her for recipes ALL the time. She was the cook in the house despite my father being a chef, and I am always nagging her for tips and tricks.

9. Share a useful cooking tip.

Alex taught me to always save some of the pasta water when you strain it to add to your sauce in case it’s too thick. My sauce has never been better.

10. If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

Italian. Always and forever. I am from New Jersey and even if you’re not Italian, you’re always a little Italian by default. For me it’s everything. Pasta is easy to cook when you’re a poor student or a seasoned professional and it’s really all about using what produce is in season or around you. I love how the menu of Italy can change so much from north to south and for me it always feels like it was cooked with love and family in mind. For my wedding all I want is a big Italian feast, sharing platters and table wine and everyone just talking/yelling at each other.

11. What food do you most dislike?

Sea urchin. I just can’t get my head around it, texturally and flavour-wise. The lovely Leandro Carreira sent me some one evening at his residency in Climspon’s Arch and I tried it because it’s Leo, but I still couldn’t stomach it.

12. What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

When I was in high school my favourite way to spend a Saturday night in was to watch Pretty Woman and order Chinese food. I love the scene when the snail flies out of the tongs and she just says, “Slippery little suckers”. I am such a calamity Jane so I could sympathise…

13. Name a favourite restaurant in your neighbourhood and explain why you like it.

Dating an Englishman has meant being introduced to the world of greasy spoons. Now E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road is up there with one of my favourite places. It’s not a culinary destination by any stretch, but there is something consistent and genuine about it and the family who run it make me very happy. For lunch you’ll probably find me at Lyle’s, I love the way James [Lowe] cooks, his food is very thoughtful and the staff are perfection.

14. Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

Not being acknowledged. It was hammered in my head at an early age to make certain when you are on the floor to keep your eyes on the guests at all times. It really drives me crazy when I see customers being ignored because the staff is having a chat or just not paying attention.

15. What’s your biggest food extravagance?

Can I say all of it? I have no restraint when it comes to food and drink, I will spend more on it than anything else in my life. I just feel like it’s my education for my work and it’s also my passion.

16. Describe your average breakfast.

I work for the national charity Magic Breakfast, so I always feel guilty when I miss it, but that is often the case. I always have an Americano with cold milk and, if I remember, a bowl of porridge with lots of fruit.

Follow Natalia: Instagram | Twitter

Posted 13th April 2016

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Killian Fox

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