Kate Green, keeper of the keys for Nancy Silverton of the famed Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza restaurants in LA on how an unexpected part-time job gave way to a career in the culinary industry and lessons learned from her mentor. Kate is a fixture on the LA food scene and was named one of Zagat’s 30 under 30.
TA: How did you end up at Mozza?
KG: A good friend was working at the Pizzeria and had been encouraging me to join her. I’m from Northern California but had recently moved from San Diego, where I went to college, to LA to pursue modeling. I was getting a little crazy, living that young Hollywood lifestyle. At a certain point, my friend gave me an ultimatum. Apparently, I was having a little too much fun, and she intervened and said it was time for me to get a normal job with a regular schedule. They needed someone over at the Pizzeria to answer the phones a few days per week, so I began this way.
TA: How old were you at this time?
KG: I was only 21. I was trying to find work as a model, knew nothing about food, and was basically eating grapes for dinner every night. This was over ten years ago, shortly after Nancy teamed up with Mario (Batali) and Joe (Bastianich) to open the restaurant.
TA: The modeling, I believe. The diet, unfathomable!
KG: Yeah I’ve come a long way when it comes to food. Though I still sometimes have grapes for dinner—they are just vinified now!
So two days per week on the phones quickly became four days, then six days, and suddenly I was there full-time. Shortly after I decided to really commit to Mozza.
TA: What were those early days in the restaurant industry like for you?
KG: I had a very different mindset back then about food. Nancy and I took to each other very well from the beginning, and she was the person who really taught me about food. I also found mentors in other seasoned industry professionals like our former GM David Rosoff, and Lori Lucena who later went on to become Head of Training and Development at Eataly North America.
TA: How did you transition to managing Nancy’s world?
KG: It was apparent that I had a growing interest in the company, and thankfully everyone began to look for more tasks that could be diverted to me. It seemed that each year we would find something new for me to tackle. I went from answering the phones to taking over the administration of the office, to managing the VIP guests with reservations and requests. That led to handling private events at the Pizzeria. At the same time, Nancy was becoming increasingly busy and needed a person just for her endeavors. Because Nancy and I got along so well, it was a no-brainer that that person would be me.
TA: Take me through a day in the life of Nancy and Kate.
KG: My day begins pretty early. I work with the New York office quite a lot, so I start on the emails coming in from the east coast before I get to work. If I wait until I get in, I’m already behind. And if Mario or Joe are texting me, I am going to answer them right away. This is probably why I liaison with their offices in New York so much and have a good relationship with both of them. They know when they reach out to me that I am going to respond asap. I pride myself on getting back to people as quickly as I can.
Once I get here I have a good 30 minutes to an hour before Nancy arrives to do all the “office stuff”—VIP reservation requests, or maybe there is a piece of equipment that is broken, etc. It seems like every day there is something that needs attention. I’ve been here for so long that when I overhear a problem my coworkers are facing, I jump in and try to help if I can. We are a big family here.
TA: When Joe first moved out to LA to shoot the MasterChef USA series, he said to me once “If I need to get anything done out here—I mean really done—I deal with Kate Green.”
KG: I remember this period, and it made me respect you and your job tremendously because it gave me a glimpse into what it’s like to be the right-hand of Joe. He called me one day from the set and said: “Meet me at the mozzarella bar as soon as you finish work.” So I met him for what I thought would be a casual catch up over a glass of wine (and in retrospect, it probably was to him) and suddenly he began to list off, in rapid succession, things he needed me to do for him. I didn’t even have a pen in my hand, and I felt a little blind-sided. He did not slow down. He did not pause. I think that was the turning point for us because he really needed me. He didn’t have you out here, and somehow I was able to deliver.
TA: I’m not surprised; you deliver pretty well for Nancy.
KG: I think so. When Nancy arrives each day, my agenda stops and Nancy’s starts. It could be driving her to an event, picking up something for the kitchen, packing the car for an offsite event—
TA: But you are actually planning out the details for all this stuff too, right?
KG: Yes. A big part of what I do with Nancy is to coordinate her offsite events, appearances, and also travel. That can actually be the most challenging. A certain amount of pressure comes with these tasks. Especially travel. It is so easy to make a mistake, and it may seem like a small one at the time, but small mistakes for an assistant can have devastating consequences. Booking her on a flight that gets in a little later than ideal might cause her to flat-out miss whatever event she is flying in to do. And then you’re screwed.
Lately, I’ve been putting more focus on building a brand and managing press requests, which since her appearance on Chefs Table have gone through the roof.
TA: What was it like to work on that shoot?
KG: It was a great experience, and it enabled me to use my skill set in an entirely new arena. We shot for twelve days, ten hours per day at Mozza. It is probably one of the most enjoyable things I’ve worked on thus far in my career. I learned a lot about what goes into television production but also was able to really assist with coordination and communication. I speak Nancy’s language. And I speak the crew’s language. But I realized during filming that they don’t really speak each other’s language.
The result is something we are very happy with. I’m so glad that people now have a chance to see Nancy as I see her—a humble, hardworking and gracious person. She doesn’t take credit for much; she puts it all on the staff.
TA: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from her?
KG: That’s an easy one. She taught me the importance of being humble and remaining grounded. She greets everyone she passes in the restaurant. She knows every staff member by name. Once when I first started working here, she and I were walking through the kitchen, and I wasn’t acknowledging anyone. She just stopped and asked me “Did you say hi to so and so?” Dumbfounded, I said “No.” And she said, “Why not?” I replied, “Because I don’t know their name.” She just looked and me and said: “Why not?” It made an impact on me. This place can’t run without the dishwasher. We won’t get far during service without the back waiters. Everyone is important. She still works on the line when she’s in town.
TA: Are you joking?
KG: I know, not a lot of celebrity chefs do anymore. But she does. If she is not traveling, then she is on the schedule five nights a week. She has two days off like everyone else. She breaks down her own station. Why would she not?
TA: Do you have a favorite Mozza moment?
KG: Meeting the Obama’s was pretty spectacular. I actually met Michelle Obama first when I was running events for the Pizzeria. There were only three people allowed in the room with her aside from secret service—a server, a manager, and me. I remember she complimented me on my dress. When she came back a second time, she said “Oh I know you. You’re Kate; you had that great dress on last time.” I was just floored that the First Lady remembered my name.
Equally amazing was when I met Barack Obama. A few years back we were doing a private event at a home in Hancock Park, and I was among the staff who went as part of the Mozza team. Towards the end of the night, they called the staff together, and the President came in and introduced himself to every single person. The next day his staff called me and said in addition to the group photo they actually got one more shot of him, and it happens to be while he was shaking my hand!
Meeting him was a huge honor, but having that moment captured in time to share with my family was so meaningful. That Christmas I gave my parents the framed photo. It made me stop and realize just how many cool things we do around here. I feel grateful every single day.
Kate was photographed by Nicole White at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles.