Life transported Silvia Colloca from a Hollywood movie set to Sydney’s sandy beaches. But, as she tells Genevieve Gannon, it was in her culinary inheritance where she found solace and success.
Success, solace and cooking
Silvia Colloca is carving off generous slices of ciambella, dropping crumbs and pieces of dried berries onto the un nished wood dining table as she describes the provenance of the cake, which her nonna Irene used to bake back home in Italy.
“The recipe has been passed on so many times and it’s been altered so many times and it still works and it’s still a family favourite,” she says. As she cuts and serves, Silvia explains her own version of the pinwheel-shaped tea cake is drizzled with lemon icing and decorated with freeze-dried strawberries, embellishments her forebears would have thought were “very fancy”.
The recipe has travelled all the way from Abruzzo in Italy to the sunlit home on Sydney’s northern beaches that she shares with husband, the actor Richard Roxburgh, and their three children – Raphael, 11, Miro, eight, and Luna, 18 months.
“Some of the recipes really have travelled,” she continues, pausing a moment to brush back a long hank of shiny hair. “Say, I make a recipe that originated in Italy and there’s someone from Syria saying: ‘My gosh, we make something exactly like that only we add saffron and honey.’ You can see that we really all come from this very simple place in the food culture and we have created this global narrative that joins us all together. I nd that really beautiful.”
Like any Italian worth their sea salt, Silvia talks with her hands, and she talks a lot. The conversation lurches from opera to acting to marriage and children to the calamitous trial and error of being a self-taught cook (“I am an expert on things that go wrong!”). It’s a passion that suffused the food blog she started in 2010, and helped propel it from a loose collection of recipes in the tradition of cucina povera – peasant cooking – into four cookbooks and two television series. Despite the zeal Silvia brings to her baking and braising, the success of her foray into food still takes her breath away.
“I think what people have connected with over the past seven years is the message that the food is an excuse to create connections with other people, and to open up the conversation and have a deeper contemplation about what it actually is to be human and alive,” she says in an attempt to explain the attraction.
On more than one occasion, and much to her chagrin, Silvia has been described as an antipodean Nigella Lawson. At a glance, it’s not hard to see why. They’re both raven-haired cooks whose love of butter, ricotta