From corporate cog to ‘Chopped’ Champion

Silvia Baldini. Photographs courtesy J. Shotti.
This New Canaan chef discusses her path from the advertising world to a “Chopped” championship.

For Silvia Baldini, the love of cooking began at a young age. Born and raised in Turin, Italy, Baldini says she was always interested in the culinary world.

“I grew up under my grandma’s table,” she recalls.

Despite that lifelong passion, her cooking skills were always a hobby, something she’d use at home or during vacations to feed large groups of friends and family.

“I always enjoyed it,” she says, but she never considered putting those skills to use professionally.

Baldini’s family moved to California when she was 17 years old, and she soon applied to and was accepted into the prestigious ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. After graduation, she moved to New York City, landed a job as an art director and went on to work in high-profile firms like J. Walter Thompson. She worked her way up in the industry to become a partner at the marketing and advertising agency Hanft Raboy and Partners.

“It was very exciting,” she said.

Still, by the time she reached her mid-30s, Baldini was ready for a change.

“I was exhausted all the time,” says the mother of two. “The older I got, I just worked nonstop, and I just needed a little break.”

After mulling the decision with her husband, Baldini decided to make a dramatic career change. She began taking night classes at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan and earned her degree in restaurant management.

“I just went for it,” she says. “I jumped in.”

Later, she and her family relocated to London, where she eventually enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu. From there, her career included stints at Michelin-star kitchens in Europe and with the Ritz-Carlton company in London. 

“It gave me so much energy and I loved what I was doing,” she says. 

Eventually, the family returned to the U.S. and settled in New Canaan.

“We were looking for a place that was good for the family. We looked around a lot and ended up coming here. There’s so much space and it’s beautiful,” she says. “From a cook’s point of view, it’s such a beautiful farmland and people forget that.”

While still living in London, Baldini launched catering company Strawberry and Sage, a business she brought with her when she returned stateside.

“The more and more I grew my business, the more I found my niche,” she says.

Though the food and advertising industries may seem wildly different on the surface, Baldini says there are many parallels between the two.

“Both are high stress. You have to think on your feet. You have to present yourself and kind of put yourself out there for criticism. Things happen and you have to manage that stress.”

Baldini’s stress management was put to the test in 2015 when she was cast on the cooking competition show “Chopped.” During that appearance, Baldini’s Balsamic Strawberry Soup and Sweet Canederli not only won her both the top spot and $10,000, but also the high praise of judge and celebrity chef Chris Santos, who called it “one of the most delicious desserts” he’d ever tasted on the series.

“It was absolutely exhilarating,” she says. “It’s a high-stress situation, and then you’re being judged by these high-quality chefs. It was quite stressful, but it really helped me get to the next level in my career.”

Since that time, Baldini has appeared on other Food Network programs, including “Chopped Champions.” She’s also recently partnered with subscription box company FabFitFun to produce a series of cooking and wellness videos. Other appearances range from CNN to “The Dr. Oz Show.”

“That is something I enjoy,” she says. “I enjoy the television and a little bit of the craziness.” 

Her work and recipes have been featured in publications like Readers Digest, the Jamie Oliver food revolution blog and The James Beard blog. She has also partnered with Real Eats, a company that delivers healthy, chef-prepared meals to subscribers’ homes.

Baldini at work.

“You don’t have to be a chef,” she says. “You can still eat beautiful cooking.”

In June, Baldini hosted the launch of SMEG appliances at New Canaan’s Caravan Curated Home, which marks the marriage of two of her favorite brands.

“I love Caravan,” she says. “They carry this incredible selection of cooking things and now they will carry SMEG, which are these beautiful Italian appliances.”

As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Baldini is also in the throes of launching a new company, The Secret Ingredient Girls. She says the new e-commerce site, which offers a range of olive oils and other pantry items, will focus on wellness and wholesome ingredients.

“We spend so much time injecting Botox or going to the gym,” she says. “If we eat well, we can really take care of our bodies. I think we don’t talk enough about that.”

For decades, Baldini has thrived in high-stakes, male-dominated industries in both the advertising and culinary worlds. So, does she have any advice for those who hope to do the same?

“You need to be a tank,” she says. “You have to grow a thick skin. People will always have opinions and judge you, but you have to move on and not even listen to them.”

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