by RONA MANN

Open the door, and you might think you’re in Manhattan.
Open your mouth – taste – and you’ll swear you’re in Italy.
Open yourself to a memorable meal at Branford’s Pasta Cosi, authentic and delicious Italian and steakhouse cuisine right on Main Street, USA.

It makes a difference when the owner is also the chef. There’s a responsibility there that will not go away over time. The chef is not an employee, but has a serious vested interest in the restaurant and the consistency of the cuisine because it’s his life; and in the case of Billy DiLegge, food has always been his life.

“As a kid growing up in Waterbury I’d sneak over to one of my mother or grandmother’s sauces that was simmering on the stove, taste it, and then add more seasoning,” he laughs. “I always seemed to know what it needed.”

While other young boys were out playing ball, goofing around, or going to parties, Billy was working. “I knew I wanted to make money to buy things, and I loved to work. I got my work ethic from a single mom who always worked hard for us.”

So in the eighth grade Billy started cooking and learning, immersing himself in every facet of the restaurant business. He washed dishes, became a banquet server, worked himself up to the front line, and eventually ran the kitchen at major fine dining establishments on his way to a career in the hospitality field.

When his mother insisted he go to college first, Billy applied and was accepted into the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York where he furthered his education through classic training and skills, with their emphasis on fine French cuisine.

After interning in Florida, DiLegge graduated from the CIA with high honors and came home to start his career…and what a storied career it’s been! Since 1992 Billy has worked for himself, starting with a couple of restaurants in Indian Head along with a partner. Ten years ago without any partners, he opened wide the doors of Pasta Cosi and pledged to make it a success.
“To me this restaurant is a family, and I have a responsibility to myself, my clientele, and my staff to make it successful. I look upon what we have as a triangle. There’s the food, the ambiance, and the staff. You might have one weak link, but not two, or the whole thing comes down. I’m fortunate that we have all three sides strong.”

DiLegge has worked hard over the years to create a solid team of chefs (who’ve been with him 10 and 18 years respectively) and management. He appreciates them, realizing they are paramount to Pasta Cosi’s success. “So I make sure they have one full day off each week to devote to their families. That’s important to me.” So much so, that Billy is actively building a business he hopes will one day be passed on to his young sons, Dante and Luca. “I will do everything I can to make this a success and to teach them, if they want it.”

A tour of the kitchen illustrates DiLegge’s commitment to “fresh every day.” The pasta machine is constantly at work, yielding a myriad of appetizing varieties used in both the classic favorites and chef-inspired dishes offered at Pasta Cosi. In addition to the pasta, “all breads, sauces, and desserts are made right here, fresh every day.”Billy’s extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar are made exclusively for him in Italy, bottles of which are available for sale. Five flavors of his popular sauces also line the shelves of local shoreline markets and emporiums. Even the coffee and espresso are ground fresh…to order!

Billy’s dedication to his patrons does not stop with the menu alone. “Allergies are huge here. We want to be able to accommodate everyone. So if there’s an allergy to a certain food or spice, I urge customers to tell the server or manager. That concern is immediately brought into the kitchen where we take great pains to make sure the dish they order does not contain anything that will harm them.”

Supplementing his delectable Italian cuisine, and at the urging of his diners, Billy has now added an Italian steakhouse menu, featuring only center cuts of filet, N. Y. strip, cowboy rib eye, rack of lamb, and succulent lobster tails.

One cannot meet Chef Billy DiLegge without hearing about the New Haven Fire Department, for if Billy is not busy enough, he also works full time as a local fire fighter. His service is tantamount in importance to him. His cronies at the firehouse are delighted to have a talented chef in their midst, and he complies by cooking frequently. He is most proud of his dish, “Chicken How Ya Doin’?” That is not only a firehouse favorite, but won DiLegge the Elm City Iron Chef award in competition.

There are many people who are happy in their work, but few who are content. Chef Billy DiLegge is one of those, yet he is not complacent. Like any creative and successful person, he has dreams and goals that drive him. Perhaps one day another restaurant, although he does not want to divest himself and risk sacrificing quality. For right now, however, Billy is content to sit at the bar chatting up his “regulars,” stand in front of the house welcoming new faces, and most of all chefing in his kitchen where every day he serves up quality ahead of everything else.

“Why should people come here?” Billy asks, then quickly answers, “Because everything here is fresh every day, made in house from the finest ingredients I can find. And it is, and always will be, consistently delicious. Everything I’ve done so far…if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Pasta Cosi, 1018 Main Street Branford  (203)483-9397  www.pastacosi.com
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday; Saturday and Sunday for dinner only

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