Gwen Fowler



In the Kitchen with Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta

Posted 12/1/2011 1:59:00 PM

Hamptons in downtown Sumter offers fine cuisine with a Southern accent and Italian flair.
Executive Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta is originally from Italy and has lived in the South for a number of years. “So it has been a natural progression for me to fuse these two rich cultures together in my menus,” he said.

Q: What are you cooking these days that excites you the most?
It is fall and with that comes some wonderful flavors and dishes. I have been in Sumter for almost a year, and I have discovered many excellent local sources for our recipes.
I am most excited about Abundant Seafood – a Charleston fish/shellfish provider. We’ve had the freshest grouper and shrimp in the past couple of weeks. I have paired the grouper with a parsnip and truffle veloute sauce (a very delicate vegetable sauce.)

I am also quite excited by our latest pasta dish, butternut squash ravioli. We make all of our pasta from scratch – this is, of course, the Italian way!

We are also serving squab with a creamy pan-seared polenta cake with a cherry sauce gastrique (sweet and sour.) The squab is from Sumter’s own Palmetto Pigeon Plant. I have also found a local source for our pork. They have provided us with bacon, ham, and now a tender pork loin that we are brining and marinating in chimichurri sauce, then grilling and serving with a pickled cranberry sauce. All of these dishes are accompanied by autumn vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts with Vidalia onion and clamshell mushrooms roasted in a balsamic reduction.

I feel quite fortunate to be in an area such as Sumter where we have so many providers so close.

Q: What are your favorite fall ingredients?
Butternut squash, an excellent filling for our ravioli as well as a soup; apples; sweet potatoes; and collard greens (We’ve been braising the collards with local bacon and onion in beer and a verjus, a bit of sugar and Old Bay to season.).

Q: What or who inspired you to become a chef?
My dad, who lives in Italy, encouraged me to become a chef and still provides inspiration. When we talk via Skype, he is usually in the kitchen and I can see him hanging the pasta to dry.

Q: What was your first job in food? What did you learn?
Butchering meat and cleaning fish in a restaurant in Milan. I learned I wanted to continue on with my culinary education and become a chef.

Q: What would your dream meal be?
My dream meal would take place at Christmas, in my home with all of my family there. Everyone is cooking in the kitchen and enjoying themselves. The table is set with the good china, silver and crystal. There’s a fire glowing in the fireplace.

The table would be Roman-style – you know – an abundance of cheeses (Reblochon, Robiola, Aged Parmesan, Cacio, Pecorino), breads (ciabatta, sour dough, baguette, flat bread) and, of course, a good Tuscan wine (Montalcino).

Then, comes the ravioli in a beautiful ceramic bowl, steaming hot in a chicken broth, followed by a roasted bone-in rib eye served with roasted root vegetables – Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, parsnips, carrots with a truffle sauce and, of course, mashed potatoes! Dessert is my grandmother’s recipe – a plum tart, served with good coffee, and Vin Santo (a dessert wine).

Q: What are your guilty (food) pleasures?
Artisanal cheeses!

Q: What tools would you suggest every home cook invest in?
A good knife with a long blade and a pointed end to use for cutting meat, and a chinois, a fine mesh strainer that is used for sauces and purees.

Q: What music plays in your (restaurant) kitchen?
For inspiration, Metallica; I don’t understand the lyrics, but I like the music. Actually, I like all genres of music from Winton Marsalis to Foster the People.

Q: What’s your prediction for the next big food or restaurant trend?
More vegetarian-based restaurants as many people are becoming vegetarian for a multitude of reasons. We offer options for vegetarians on our menu. Also, I see a trend toward Northern Italian – cheese, cured meats, ravioli, lentils, cannellini.
Q: Is there a food you simply refuse to eat?
Pasta from a can!