Chef Spotlight – Chef Teddy Diggs

Chef Teddy Diggs is a man with a soft smile that you can’t help but mirror as his passion oozes through into his stories of food and how it influenced his life.  His curiosity for food piqued when he was a child watching the Food Network in 1996.  Being part of a military family, Chef Teddy moved often during childhood.  Watching Food Network was a little piece of constant solace for him as he became entranced with watching Emeril and the other chefs of early Food Network days.  Chef Teddy began to experiment in the kitchen after he received an Emeril cookbook in the 3rd grade.  This lead to him taking culinary classes in high school during the day and working at restaurants after school.  Chef Teddy was taken with the restaurant industry and the “foundation to learn and absorb the all-in culture of the kitchen.”

After graduating high school, Chef Teddy went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.  He graduated and moved on to work in Washington, D.C. in a wide variety of restaurants.  Working in Maestro, formerly located in the Ritz Carlton in the Tysons Corner area, Chef Teddy was able to experience cooking Italian food in a fine dining atmosphere.  He also gained a wide variety of experience in multiple aspects of the hotel including the bar and banquet settings.

Launching Ripple, a restaurant in the Cleveland Park area of D.C., Chef Teddy was able to “grow and experience the demand of food service on an ownership level; along with the crazy hours.”  This incredibly challenging experience was both rewarding and draining.  Chef Teddy had since started a family and yearned for a happy work-life balance.

Il Palio - Chef Teddy Diggs

Il Palio – Chef Teddy Diggs

An opportunity arose for Chef Teddy to move his family out to Martha’s Vineyard and chase a new dream.  Chef Teddy oversaw three properties and again was able to experience the challenges and successes with managing and developing the properties.  The summers were spent working tirelessly, but the offseason left time for Chef Teddy to spend with his family.  During his time on Martha’s Vineyard, Chef Teddy was an integral component in reestablishing sustainable seafood management.  He forged relationships with fishermen who practiced sustainability on every level when catching fish.  This includes utilizing heritage fishing techniques that include fish and shellfish that are completely traceable.  This program is called Sea to Table and it is a program Chef Teddy still uses today at Il Palio.

Ready for a new challenge and a place that would be both nurturing of raising a family and a budding culinary scene, Chef Teddy and his family set their sails for North Carolina.  Landing at Il Palio, Chef Teddy has been changing things up ever since.  Il Palio is an Italian restaurant in the base of The Siena Hotel, a AAA-awarded Four Diamond restaurant and hotel in Chapel Hill.  Chef Teddy has revamped the menu along with its interior.  With a fresh start, Chef Teddy and his team were able to create a restaurant that is modern, yet timeless with its décor.  Opening up the kitchen with a window so diners can see the action, offering a chef’s table in the center of the dining room, and adding more windows are just a few touches that make for a warmer and more comforting environment.

Il Palio - Winter Citrus Salad

Il Palio – Winter Citrus Salad

With the remodel, Chef Teddy also brought in a wood-fired grill that is utilized for many of Il Palio’s dishes.  Keeping with the theme and true practice of sustainability, the wood used in the stove is wood Chef Teddy has sourced locally from farmers with neglected forests.  Chef Teddy was also a true entertainer and host in preparing a few dishes for me to try out.  His enthusiasm and quiet confidence transitioned seamlessly from conversation to plating the dishes.

The first dish was a brilliantly simple and bright Winter Citrus Salad with Castelvetrano olives, botarga and radish.  The olives were a deep gray-green and unlike the pungent ones we’re used to having alongside a cocktail.  They were buttery and rich, perfect to compliment the fresh citrus.  A bit of crunch from the fresh radish to contrast the soft citrus lead right into the final note of botarga; salty umami goodness.

Il Palio - Grilled Octopus

Il Palio – Grilled Octopus

One of the most popular items, which I had the great pleasure of indulging in, is the Wood Grilled Octopus with passata di ceci and dried hot peppers.  This dish had so many delightful flavors going on at once – salty, herby, citrusy.  The octopus was tender beyond words and made for a perfect pairing with the pureed chickpeas and a dusting of house chili powder made from Chef Teddy’s blend of hot chili peppers.

Next, Chef Teddy twirled up a plate of Bucatini “all’amatriciana.”  The sauce clung and dressed the pasta well with no extra bits left on the plate; all of the flavor absorbed right into the bucatini.  The pork flavor shone through with the liberal incorporation of guanciale in the sauce and garnished on top.  The sauce was moderately spicy with just enough pecorino to tame the heat.

Il Palio - Bucatini

Il Palio – Bucatini

The last dish was the Wood Grilled Broccoli with a basil mayonnaise.  I didn’t think the flavors could get any better, but this dish brought my Il Palio tasting experience over the edge and full circle at the same time.  Although the broccoli may look “burnt” to many, the deep caramelization really allowed the broccoli to absorb the smoky, wood flavor from the grill.  The mayonnaise had a hint of lemon that compared well with the earthy, charred broccoli.  This dish truly encapsulated my opinion of Chef Teddy’s cooking style in a nutshell; fresh, quality ingredients prepared simply with an amazing end result.

Il Palio - Wood Grilled Broccoli

Il Palio – Wood Grilled Broccoli

After plating each dish, Chef Teddy sat down with me to talk through each item while I closed my eyes in Italian food heaven, experiencing every region of the country from his stories and through his food.  This was an incredible experience to witness the passion Chef Teddy has for cooking and showing the depth and versatility of Italian cooking outside of the basic staples we so commonly are exposed to in other Italian restaurants.
Despite all of his accolades and experience, it’s clear from the way Chef Teddy talks that he still finds joy in the simple things in life.  From family pizza night with his daughters to describing the 24-hour process it takes to make the focaccia in the restaurant; Chef Teddy’s eyes light up as he goes into animated detail.  Chef Teddy is brimming with talent and intention to showcase Italian food in its purity, drawing inspiration from regions across the Italian countryside.  He even has a summer trip to Italy planned to be able to immerse himself further into the culinary culture and bring this continued inspiration back stateside.  With remarkable food to accompany his vivid stories, I look forward to when I can head back to experience another Il Palio meal with Chef Teddy.

Il Palio - Fresh Focaccia

Il Palio – Fresh Focaccia

NoteFrom time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place.  Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.

Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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