The rich traditions of family, food and Italian culture formed the springboard from which Raffaele Dall’Erta launched a successful kitchen career. As executive chef of Hamptons, he has turned the small town of Sumter into a fine dining destination, where he tempts diners with dishes prepared from the most succulent cuts of meat and the freshest locally grown produce.
Born in Milan, Chef Dall’Erta struck out on his career path at the tender age of 15, attending culinary school at Vallesana in Northern Lombardy. He followed up his schooling with apprenticeships in some of Italy’s most reputable restaurants, including Don Lisander and La Rondine, and then went on to do stints at The Fat Duck in the United Kingdom and Per Se in New York. After an 11-year turn as sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington, he landed at Hamptons in 2010 and quickly distinguished himself as a chef to watch. A decade later, Chef Dall’Erta will have even more opportunities to make his mark on the state’s culinary scene as a 2020 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. In this Q and A, he talks about his roots and what it means to practice his craft in South Carolina.
What influences put you on the path to a culinary career?
“When I was young, I enjoyed the whole process of preparing a meal with my family. It started with foraging for mushrooms in the mountains where I grew up, going to the markets with my father and grandmother and picking the best herbs and vegetables to use in our family’s recipes. I would watch my grandmother make homemade dishes such as raviolis, gnocchi and risotto. I will never forget the flavors and aromas coming from her kitchen. My interest in learning how to prepare these types of dishes led me to pursue a career in the culinary arts.”
What makes being a chef in South Carolina such a special experience?
“I have experienced foods from many different parts of the world. I spent most of my early career in Italy, but more recently in the United States. When I moved to South Carolina 10 years ago, I was astonished at the vast selection of vegetables, grains, fruits and seafood that I had never worked with before. Even poultry, such as squab and quail, were new to me and exciting to prepare. The longer I am here, the more I learn about local specialties. I also enjoy taking these native dishes and adding my own touch to them. We are fortunate to have so many local varieties to work with in each season. It is also more inspiring when creating new dishes and seasonal menus.”
What are your favorite South Carolina products?
“These are my top ‘musts’ in the kitchen: Local fish like golden tile, grouper and triggerfish, oysters, shrimp, soft shell crab, squab and quail. I also have to have Carolina Gold rice, okra and peaches."
As a South Carolina Chef Ambassador, what philosophies and ideals do you hope to convey to the dining public?
“As Chef Ambassador, I am excited to share the great culinary resources South Carolina has to offer. I hope to show how this is a fantastic location for enjoying a variety of delicious foods from the mountains to the ocean, and everywhere in between. Due to its unique cultures and history, South Carolina is known for its distinctive dishes and has substantially influenced the culinary world, which is more present today than ever before.”