Stella Dikos, chef/owner at Stella’s and former owner of The Village Restaurant (the original location) in the Fan: 45-plus years of professional experience
Learn from others and buy the best.
“There was an African-American lady at The Village, Roberta Brae, who taught me how to make Brunswick stew,” Dikos says. “She knew a lot. I didn’t pay much attention — like a dummy — because I thought she’d always be around. I wish I had written her recipes down.”
Most of Dikos’ recipes aren’t written down either; she makes bread by eyeballing how much flour fills a bowl. Because she can’t share a recipe, she offers this tip: “Buy the best ingredients you can, the best olive oil and flour. I use Gold Medal flours.”
Tony Capece, chef/owner at La Grotta: 35-plus years of professional experience
Brush up on the basics. Start with fresh, cold water.
Capece says, “In Italy, each region has its own pasta. Making fettuccine [dough] is like cooking eggs; there are many ways to do it. Find a basic pasta recipe and play around with it. You’ve minimal [money] invested.”
Use fresh, cold water for each batch of pasta, otherwise the noodles become too heavy with starch. At La Grotta, Capece keeps four pots of water boiling at once; he drops an order of pasta into one, then removes that pot from the stove for a fresh fill after his noodles have cooked. On more noodle know-how, Capece says, “Keep the dough thin. I like soft dough; it cooks in two minutes.”
Jimmy Sneed, chef/consultant: 35-plus years of professional experience
Buy crabmeat from smaller seafood stores; your fish, from chefs.
Next time you buy a tub of lump crabmeat from the grocery store, pay attention when removing the lid. The biggest pieces of crab, those graded “jumbo lump” or “lump,” will be on top. The bottom of the container is laced with smaller-sized, “special crabmeat” and claw meat, culled from the chambers of the crab’s body and legs.
Better seafood suppliers disperse lump crab throughout their container. “Grocery stores are more price-sensitive,” Sneed explains. “They don’t consistently check the crabmeat supplied to them. Buy crabmeat at a dedicated seafood shop.”
There are exceptions to the smaller-store-is-better rule. Sneed says, “I usually buy my fish from restaurant friends, but I’ve found beautiful steelhead [trout] at Costco.”