Chef Roberta De Vincenzo has vivid memories from childhood of visiting her Nonna’s home in Sicily and waking up to the smell of Bolognese Ragu. Her Nonna would invite her into the kitchen and teach her how to make homemade pasta. These moments in the kitchen between grandmother and grandchild nurtured in De Vincenzo a love of cooking that would stay with her for years to come.
As an adult, De Vincenzo moved to the United States bringing with her a precious handwritten recipe book filled with her Nonna’s mouthwatering recipes. In 2019, she joined forces with her husband, Francesco Donghia, and launched a private chef business in Miama, Florida named Nonna Francesca. With the new venture, De Vincenzo and Donghia strove to make their clients feel the warmth of eating at the home of an Italian grandma while offering a sophisticated and high-level of service. The popularity of their private chef business skyrocketed in Miami and in summer 2021, De Vincenzo and her husband expanded to the Hamptons and New York City.
Hamptons Social interviewed the husband and wife duo after experiencing in Bridgehampton one of their heavenly private dinners that transported us to a cliffside table in Positano. The delicious menu included hors d’oeuvres like La Bruschetta Tricolore (bread crostini with homemade pesto, local burrata and chopped tomatoes), Lollipop Mozzarella in Carrozza (deep fried local cherry mozzarella with Panko bread crumbs), and Le Polpette (Italian meatballs in tomato sauce). The unforgettable appetizer course, La Parmigiana di Melanzane, consisted of classic Eggplant Parmigiana with fresh local mozzarella and tomato sauce. The homemade pasta, Ravioli Burro e Salvia, was made before our eyes. In the afternoon, Donghia lovingly rolled the dough and stuffed the delicate squares with mushrooms before serving it to us that evening in a sublime butter and sage sauce. The excellent entrée course was one of their most popular dishes, a tender Beef Filet in green peppercorn sauce. The decadent dessert course consisted of cannoli made tableside with fresh ricotta cheese, chocolate chips and pistachio crumbs. As our meal came to an end, Chef De Vincenzo and Donghia surprised us with Limoncello as we danced to authentic music from Italy.
For our interview, Chef De Vincenzo and Donghia spoke with Hamptons Social about their signature dishes, the history of their recipes, and bringing their love for the spirit of Italy into people’s homes.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: What was your inspiration for launching Nonna Francesco?
ROBERTA DE VINCENZO: Francesco and I were sitting on a sofa during the lockdown and were thinking about what people would look for in a pandemic world. Once the restrictions were lightly lifted, many people were not going to restaurants because of the lines due to reduced capacity. We decided it would be better to bring a restaurant into people’s homes. We started to organize private events and received a promising sign when we booked our first party on Fisher Island, one of the most exclusive zip codes in the world. After that event, people learned about us through word-of- mouth and requests grew fast. We began working with an event planner and florist to organize big receptions. Many of our customers from South Florida asked us if we were able to provide our service in NYC and the Hamptons, so we created and trained a great team of chefs and servers for South Florida, and decided to expand the company to the northeast area.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: Can you tell us about your passion for food?
DE VINCENZO: Since I was a little girl, I enjoyed helping my mother and my Nonna in the kitchen. I was always first in line when it was time to flattening the lasagna dough. I always loved do things from scratch. There is a sense of amazing satisfaction when someone compliments you for something you did completely with your hands. I always try to learn new things and I am still in the learning process. There is always a new recipe to try or perfect.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: What are some of your signature dishes?
FRANCESCO DONGHIA: Our customers love our Cacio e Pepe and many of them decide to add winter or white truffle on top of it. We have a lot of requests for homemade ravioli with butter and sage, which is made even more exceptional when served with truffle during the truffle season. For the main course, our signature dish is Branzino baked in a salty crust. We do a flambé show in the guest ‘s backyard with Amalfi Coast music playing. It creates an amazing atmosphere that transports you to Italy. Then we debone the Branzino in front of the guests. For a meat entrée, our customers love our Filetto al Pepe Verde, which is Filet Mignon cooked in a green peppercorn reduction.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: How do you select the ingredients you cook with?
DONGHIA: We believe that a delicious meal starts with great products. We like to tell the story behind the ingredients, where they came from, the hard work that went into producing them, and why each product is so good. We only use fresh and organic vegetables, grass-fed meat, fresh fish and local Burrata cheese, which is produced from an Italian family based in Brooklyn that has been making it for forty years. Our imported products come 100% from Italy and are marked I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) and D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). We use I.G.P. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and D.O.P Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Prosciutto di Parma and many other cold cuts and cheeses. We make our fresh pasta with Semola di Grano Duro (Semolina Flour) and when we have Spaghetti, we only use Gragnano bronze cut quality. This is the top one used in all the greatest Italians restaurant in the world. We only use extra virgin olive oil from Puglia, my home region in the southeast of Italy. We also love to use Coratina olives that leave a fresh and intense fruity taste in your mouth.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: What type of private events do you do?
DONGHIA: We offer three kinds of events. One is our sit-down dinner, which is divided in two phases — the cocktail hour with three passes hors d’oeuvres and the plated dinner with one appetizer, one pasta course, one main course with a side, and one dessert. We usually suggest this kind of event for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays or private dinners with friends. Second, we offer a buffet with food stations and chafing equipment that we suggest for baby or bridal showers. Lastly, we offer an event with five passed hors d’oeuvres that we usually suggest for corporate events, rooftop events or boat parties.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: You are a married couple who started a business together. How do you collaborate? What strengths do each of you bring to Nonna Francesca?
DONGHIA: Be married is a great point of strength because we can complete each other. Roberta brings her passion for the food, her methods of preparation and she sets the kitchen operations. She also hires the kitchen staff.
DE VINCENZO: Francesco has a lot of experience in Italy and the United States as restaurant manager. He is an expert on Italian hospitality service. He hires the people who works in front of the house and takes care of the details and administrative work.
HAMPTONS SOCIAL: You bring so much joy from Italy to your dinners. What do you love most about the spirit of your country and how do you bring that to the dinners you create at people’s homes?
DE VINCENZO: We love the warm spirit of the Italian people. We want our guests to relax and feel like they are at grandma’s place. At the end of our dinners, we love to bring a bit of Italian culture with our dessert show. We dress up in Sicilian costume and dance while we prepare the dessert. This is a great way to create a memorable experience that transforms your house into the best restaurant in the world.