Ballet Bon Vivant
A dancer-turned-director talks food
Throughout Iain Webb’s career as a professional ballet dancer, he would regularly wolf down chocolate bars and other junk food—not the typical diet of a pirouetting athlete. But Webb, who is the director of the Sarasota Ballet, was always ultra thin (“never more than 8½ stone [120 pounds],” as he puts it) and needed supplements to maintain his physique.
“When my wife and I were first together, she used to make me salad and all this healthy stuff, and I’d have to binge on chocolate not too lose weight,” Webb says with a laugh.
These days, the Yorkshire, England, native has a more refined palate than he did as a pro dancer. Webb began ballet at age 14 and trained with The Rambert School of Ballet and The Royal Ballet School. He danced in such ballets as “Coppélia,” “Swan Lake” and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s production of “Don Quixote.” Offstage, he lived on microwave hot dogs and rarely cooked. But when he met his wife, Margaret Barbieri, Webb truly got a taste of sophisticated cuisine.
“I love my wife’s cooking. She is of Italian parents, so when she makes lasagna or cannelloni, it’s the family’s secret recipe. She’s rolling out the pasta, nine times per piece,” Webb says. “In England, we’d have dinner parties and she’d make gourmet dishes like beef Wellington. Our son recently got married and it was also the 25th anniversary of the company, so we gave a party for the dancers and staff. My wife made her famous lasagna and everyone loved it.”
The company first came to know Barbieri’s cooking when Webb began directing the Sarasota Ballet in 2007. Under Webb’s leadership, the company performed 124 ballets and divertissements through the 2014–15 season, including 35 world premieres and six American premieres—certainly cause for celebration (and food).
And when Webb has time off from his directing duties, he travels to England to get his fill of British delicacies.
“In England, I binge so that I feel so sick at the end of it, and then I can last all year,” Webb says. “I always go for the custard slices and real bacon sandwiches I can only get there.”
In Sarasota, when he is not dining at home with his wife, Webb is at Selva Grill or Salute! Restaurant downtown.
“Here in Sarasota, we have so many amazing restaurants and chefs, and I like introducing people to them,” Webb says. “My out-of-town guests and I go to Salute! and get the steak or the branzino, and the paella at Selva. The food and the chefs are absolutely wonderful.”