Italian restaurant Il Palio is in the midst of a farewell and a homecoming.
Executive chef Teddy Diggs will leave the Siena Hotel's fine dining establishment at the end of the month. Diggs is striking out on his own, opening Coronato, a Roman-style pizza concept in the Triangle, at a location to be determined. In the meantime, a series of pop-up dinners are in the works.
Digg's departure opens the door for former executive chef Adam Rose to return to Il Palio, where he previously led the kitchen from 2007 to 2013.
At a fine-dining hotel restaurant like Il Palio, Diggs was responsible for every bite of food, he said, from morning breakfast to multi-course, refined Italian cooking. After five years, he said it was time to move on.
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"It's an amazing place to work," Diggs said. "I'm coming up on five years, and I always say it like this: When you work in a kitchen, it's like dog years. It's like five years for every one year. It takes a lot of time and energy and passion out of you.
"I've been able to cement myself in the community, cook through the different season, meet incredible farmers and really discover regional Italian cuisine for what it is."
Diggs previously cooked in Martha's Vineyard and took over at Il Palio after Rose left in 2013 to open the now closed Black House in Durham. Rose also opened Luncheonette in Chapel Hill and will remain an investor.
"This is a homecoming," Rose said of Il Palio. "I've missed this place. This was the job in my career I was best at. Because of the support here, I got to focus on being a chef. This is the job I want to retire from."
In the years away from Il Palio, Rose has started a number of ventures, chiefly the ambitious Black House in Durham, a fine dining restaurant that was quickly acclaimed, but also quickly broke down, closing after a year.
Black House opened in a former artist compound and offered a fortress of gorgeous mid-century serenity just off of U.S. 15-501, serving equally visionary food, earning four stars from News & Observer restaurant critic Greg Cox.
Rose said partnerships within that project, which he started with his brother-in-law, ended, leaving him to take on more responsibilities than he intended. He later started aRose Hospitality and Luncheonette.
"There's a reason when you take on multiple roles, chef, sommelier, general manager, that you can't be great at any one of them," Rose said. "Black House was a place with great history and great bones in a facility that was beautiful. It was a passion project. (Il Palio) is the type of place you don't leave unless you can create something on your own. I did that and it didn't work out. That's okay. You've got to dare great."
Rose believes he's inheriting a fully-realized culinary program at Il Palio, one he said he left half finished. He credited Diggs with taking to the mountaintop. In the last five years, the Chapel Hill area has continued developing aggressively, with thousands of new residents, hundreds of new hotel rooms and an evolving dining scene trending more and more casually.
Last year, Diggs cooked a meal at the James Beard House, an honor few North Carolina chefs get, and hosted a James Beard Foundation fundraiser event in Chapel Hill.
Rose expect to keep Il Palio as the special occasion restaurant it's been.
"There are a lot more restaurants (in Chapel Hill), but the same number doing fine dining: Lantern, Carolina Inn, Elaine's and Il Palio," Rose said. "We specialize in memorable occasions."
Rose will take over the kitchen starting July 1.
A new venture
Diggs' new restaurant, Coronato, will be a family affair, opened and operated with his wife, Holly. It's aimed at trying to reverse a culture of unhealthy work-life balance within the restaurant industry, he said.
"This is the first solo business venture for us," Diggs said. "It needs to be manageable for me and my family to run. I'm a dad with two young girls and a wife I want to spend time with and hang out and enjoy life. I need the business to work for me, rather than the other way around."
Coronato will serve thin crust pizza inspired by Diggs' travels to Rome, he said, where he fell in love with a modern city mashed up within ancient cultures and ruins thousands of years old. Like the city itself, Diggs said, Roman pizza has its own personality.
"Rome is unlike any other parts of Italy," Diggs said. "It's a mash-up of cultures: Jewish, Middle Eastern, Sicilian. It takes one of the first great ancient civilizations and that history within the urbanness of a living city. There's a rawness, pure attitude. This will be a very modern Roman eatery where pretty much anything goes."
The pizza will be cracker-thin, but Diggs said he has some secrets to make the crust a little softer and build a great chew. The menu will also have fried snacks, like suppli and arancini.
Diggs grew up in a military family and moved every few years. After five years in the Triangle, he said moving was never a consideration. His family has settled here. Coronato is still looking for a location, but Diggs expects to open in early 2019.