Five minutes with… Gaia Enria

Brummell speaks to the founder of Shoreditch’s beloved pastificio, Burro e Salvia, about James Bond, pasta workshops and her love of olives

Food and Drink 19 Oct 2020

Gaia Enria, founder of Burro e Salvia

Gaia Enria, founder of Burro e Salvia

Can you introduce us to Burro e Savlia and your vision for the restaurant?

Burro e Salvia started seven years ago in 2013. It was my way out of my previous life in marketing and PR for the food and drinks industry. I had this passion for food, and specifically for pasta, and back in 2013, fresh pasta was a rare thing in London. So my idea was to really bring the traditional concept of the pastificio, the small artisan shop selling pasta, but together with a restaurant. I thought it was a more interesting story to have the two elements together and our space in Shoreditch combines these two things very well. When you first come in to Burro e Salvia there’s the retail side of the business with a fresh counter and a pasta maker there the whole day, so that customers can really see the process, understand that it’s fresh and see all the various shapes we make. You can also buy pasta sauces and other products from the deli to cook at home.

In the second room is a small restaurant and we also host pasta-making workshops there when the restaurant isn’t open. The idea for me was using this space to create kind of like a cosy trattoria. When we fill that room we can seat up to 16 people, it’s quite a small space for London. But I wanted to create a relaxed experience because I didn’t want Burro e Salvia to become a pasta bar where you’re pushed to eat quickly. At Burro e Salvia the idea is to have super premium pasta, some nice antipasti, dessert, nice wine. I’m very passionate about low-intervention wines so there’s always a wine list that can complement the food experience.

The only thing that differentiates us from a more classic Italian restaurant is that we don’t do main courses. The idea is that you come to Burro e Salvia for the pasta and, yes, we have starters and dessert, but if you’re super hungry, perhaps you could try two pastas, so you experience more of what we do. I wanted to bring to life a contemporary approach to pasta. In Italy, a place like Burro e Salvia still usually has older women making the pasta. I wanted to show that there’s a new generation of chefs that are super passionate about fresh handmade pasta.

Burro e Salvia is known for its exquisite pasta and fun pasta making classes
Burro e Salvia is known for its exquisite pasta and fun pasta making classes

Can you tell us a bit about the pasta workshops at Burro e Salvia?

Workshops have always been to me the last element to complement the story – we make the pasta, we sell the pasta, we serve the pasta, and I thought we also needed to teach the pasta. I wanted to share the tips and the tradition. We started the workshops right from the beginning of Burro e Salvia but I would never have expected them to become so successful. In the early years we were doing a couple of days a month and now we’re doing a couple of days a week. In each of our classes a teacher guides the guests for an hour and a half; starting from scratch with eggs and flour, a wooden board, a fork and then all the tools to cut and shape the pasta. And while we teach the technical part, we also have a cultural side to the classes, telling stories about traditions or the origins of a specific shape, or a sauce that we suggest matching with that pasta.

We have three different class formats – one is simple pasta: short and long but all non-filled; then we do the filled pasta classes in which guests make three kinds of pasta. Then there’s a third format, which is one that combines simple and filled pasta, followed by either lunch or dinner. In that class, we make a simple pasta and one or two filled pastas and then customers sit and we cook it for them. We offer them a glass of wine, they choose a sauce, and we serve the two pastas they have made as lunch or dinner. So that is probably for the lazy ones who want to enjoy everything – but want us to cook it!

Do you have a favourite pasta dish that you cook at home or for yourself?

At home I try to always keep it super simple. The name of the business, Burro e Saliva, means butter and sage. If I’m at home I’d say gnocchi or tajarin, which is the very thin type of tagliatelle. I’ll prepare it simply with just butter and sage. That would be my favourite because I eat so much when I’m at work, or when I’m out trying other restaurants, that when I’m at home the simplest flavours will do for me.

What have you learned as a restaurateur and as a business owner from working through Covid-19 and lockdown?

Because I had the retail side of the business I actually survived OK, because I could work as a shop in lockdown. We added products that we wouldn’t have sold in the past, such fresh fruit and vegetables. And that way we managed to become an important resource for local people as a neighbourhood grocery store. In terms of my personal experience, I had already learned over the past few years that sometimes slowing down does a lot of good. I went back to Italy for a little while and used that time to really refocus, and to think about new ideas, plans, and new projects for the business knowing that at some point we would reopen. I never stopped thinking, and that gave me positive energy so I never felt like the world was going to end.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you and your work?

I think for my work ethic, my dad. He has always been the one giving me directions in terms of how to be in the world as a human being. I would also say some of my fondest memories are of my first boss, a woman in PR back in 1998. She was the one who taught me how to be authoritative and efficient but also charming, one of the things I appreciate the most when I look at women at work. I’ve always thought that being a beautiful charming woman, and being a great professional is the perfect combination and she taught me that in my early years.

What ingredient can you not live without, and why?

Mediterranean ingredients. All my friends would say it’s olives – Italian ones, of course, but also French or Greek. And fresh basil and tomatoes, a delicious lighter meal or snack.

Where’s your favourite place to eat in London?

Right now, I’m looking for comfort and there are two places that come to mind. Firstly, the noodle bar Koya, specifically the one in Soho, if I just want to indulge in a beautiful, warm bowl of noodles. Or if I want a more typical aperitivo – something that feeds me but it’s more about wine – my friends and suppliers Passione Vino in Shoreditch. I love to go there for a nice bottle of wine and some nibbles. At the moment it’s not really a formal restaurant I’m looking for, but a more casual, comforting experience with great produce.

What do you like to do on a day off?

In recent years days off have been rare. Normally, long walks, whether I’m in London or in Torino, both of which have beautiful parks; long walks of about a couple of hours are good for me from a health perspective and also give me time to think. I do these walks a lot when I’m in Torino with my partner. And for us, it’s a good chance to talk, to keep planning, to share thoughts about work or holidays but with a fresh mind.1

What are your other passions outside of food and wine?

One that has recently become a stronger area of interest to me is cocktails, and the whole world of mixology. After years just drinking wine, I’ve really started to appreciate cocktails. There’s an art behind mixology that is quite intriguing. Travel is another one, and definitely photography, and also interiors. At Burro e Salvia you can see that even in such a simple place there’s a lot of thought, whether it’s the paint on the walls or the choice of furniture.

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, living or dead, who would it be and why?

This is a funny one, but because I was talking about cocktails, what sprang to mind is James Bond. He is always drinking but I would be really happy to see James Bond eating. It would be good to finally see a meal and not just a martini. I’d cook him my signature pasta, agnolotti cavour, a filled pasta with meat and spinach – it’s the first pasta I learned to make when I started this long journey.