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Nancy Silverton, Sandwich Hero

Alison Tozzi Liu

Alison Tozzi Liu

August 05, 2014


“One of the great American arts,” wrote James Beard, “is the art of sandwichmaking.” Were he alive today, Beard would be happy to find that one of his favorite culinary mediums is thriving. And he’d probably thank Nancy Silverton.

In the late 1990s Silverton, already well known for her work at La Brea Bakery and inspired by the abundance and creativity of the sandwiches she ate on a trip to Italy, started dedicating Thursday nights to sandwiches at Campanile, the seminal, high-end Los Angeles restaurant that she opened with chef Mark Peel.       

“I had always loved a great sandwich,” says Silverton. “But the trip to Italy was eye-opening. It was like, ‘Wow! Here is this great thing that nobody is doing in this country.’”

After returning to the States, Silverton launched the weekly sandwich night at Campanile. It was one of the first times that a four-star, award-winning chef had lavished so much attention on the humble sandwich—and diners couldn’t get enough.

“When you eat with your hands, you talk with your hands. It’s so much more lighthearted,” Silverton explains. Other chefs took notice, and soon sandwiches were appearing on menus across the country. “It was like I gave the food world a green light to bring sandwiches into fine dining.”

In the roughly two decades since, we have welcomed the trend of acclaimed chefs elevating the sandwich. In the early aughts, New Yorkers clamored for Daniel Boulud’s foie gras–stuffed DB burger, which is still on the menu at DB Bistro Moderne in New York City and Miami, followed by inventive bites like Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero’s uni panini at Tía Pol. Today, at restaurants around the country, sandwiches are no longer relegated to the lunch menu.

As Silverton says, “Perfection in a handheld bite. Where else can you get that?”  

Nancy Silverton’s Simple Steps to a Great Sandwich

Of course, Silverton has some dos and don’ts when it comes to making sandwiches. Here, some of her tips, with examples of combinations you can find in her definitive book on the subject, Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book.

Edit yourself. “A sandwich should be satisfying, but with a closed-face sandwich, too many ingredients can get lost.”
Try: a French baguette with prosciutto and butter.

Don’t skimp on the condiments. “A great sandwich should be juicy. A wetter sandwich is better than a dryer sandwich.”
Try:  a fried oyster sandwich with rémoulade, served on a hot dog bun.

Be balanced. “The proportion of bread to filling is important. The bread should be pretty equal to the filling.”
Try:  a P.L.T. (pancetta, lettuce, and tomato) on sourdough bread with lemon aïoli.

Think holistically. “The success of a sandwich is in the sum of its parts. The whole package has to work.”
Try: a classic grilled cheese with Gruyère on white or whole wheat sourdough bread.

Alison Tozzi Liu is editorial director at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.