Q&A with Il Palio executive chef Teddy Diggs on college cooking tips
The Il Palio restaurant at Chapel Hill’s Siena Hotel might be undergoing renovations, but that hasn’t stopped executive chef Teddy Diggs from keeping things fresh in the kitchen until it reopens in mid-September. Diggs spoke to senior writer Rachel Herzog about making the perfect lasagna and how college students can move beyond ramen noodles.
THE DAILY TAR HEEL: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
TEDDY DIGGS: It’s always changing. Right now, I really lose sleep with pleasure at night over this lasagna we’re making. The pasta layers are rolled very thin and there’s the traditional ragu, bolognese and besciamella, and it’s just layered for 50 layers. It’s rich, it’s everything you want it to be. It’s not like any lasagna you’ve ever had, but it will remind you of every lasagna you’ve had before.
DTH: Fifty layers? Really?
TD: Yeah! We try to get as many as we can, but the pan only fits about 50. When you’re talking about Italian cooking, it’s all about balancing ingredients. At a lot of places, you’ll see a three-layer lasagna, and the layers are like this thick, but there’s no balance, so our noodles are real paper-thin, the ragu is spotted out, the besciamella is just a thin layer and there’s no tomato sauce until we plate it. It’s a big lasagna, but each layer is paper-thin.
DTH: What are your cooking tips for college students?
TD: Just understand that it’s all about balancing the ingredients and don’t try to use too much of one ingredient. I think a lot of people when they start off cooking, they think that they need a lot of things to get things done, but really, in the beginning stages of cooking, or even now as a professional, it’s about simplicity and using fewer ingredients.
Especially in college — it’s about utilizing what you have. If it’s something like a pasta, you can pretty much put anything in the pasta, and there’s so many different types of pastas that you’re never going to get bored with it.
Pasta is so inexpensive that you really could take leftovers and make a leftover pasta, or something fresh, or just a simple sauce with oil and cheese. A pesto tomato sauce is so easy to make with canned tomatoes, or if you buy your own tomato sauce, just mixing it and just understanding not to overdo it and try to put too much into it, but just keeping it nice and simple, and doing that more frequently.
DTH: So practice is important, too.
TD: I think a lot of people, when they start to cook, sometimes they try to do too much, but if you do just enough, and you do it every night, it’ll start to add up. Instead of trying to do a big meal, just do a garlic bread and a simple pasta. The next night, try something else. The more you are in the kitchen, the more you’ll be able to do. It takes practice, just like anything else.
It doesn’t take a lot to make a nice, tasty, delicious meal. Learn basic sauces, work with inexpensive but versatile ingredients — so eggs and pasta. Eggs are tremendous because they’re super cheap and you can do a million things with them, and they’re very good and filling. So keeping it simple and just working with the ingredients that are accessible to you. I think everyone should have dried pasta, right?
DTH: What’s your favorite thing about cooking?
TD: I like making people happy. A lot of times, people who aren’t in the industry don’t really understand, but when they say, I bet you eat a lot of your own food, they assume that I eat what I cook. Actually the more I cook the less I eat, because I’m not thinking of it as me eating. I’m not doing it for the pleasure of myself, I’m doing it for the pleasure of others.