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         An amazing meal is a centerpiece of any great wedding, and Chef Santiago Guzzetti, co-owner of Ilda and one of our preferred catering partners, has Castle couples covered! Recently, I had the chance to drop by Ilda, chat with Santi, and finally try his famous meatballs myself. Read on to learn more about one of the most talented and genuine chefs in the entire region!

What inspired you to start cooking?

“I grew up in an Italian family; my grandma was Sicilian. So when you wake up in the morning and see your grandma making homemade pasta, it’s gonna touch some part of your heart. Eventually you get into that lifestyle, and you can never get out of it! So that’s the reason, my family really inspired me to slowly start getting into the cooking lifestyle.”

What inspired you to settle in Sylva and open Ilda?

“My wife! She’s originally from here and we were looking to open a restaurant in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t the right timing, wasn’t the right situation. So, she said, “Hey, lets just take a weekend, go to the mountains, and hangout.” That happens, and I meet Don and Cecilia from White Moon who had just moved here from New York. We started a conversation and Cecilia mentioned her family used to own a restaurant here. I asked where and she said, “Right there, on the corner!” So I grabbed a chair, sat outside, and counted how many people went back and forth. The foot traffic made perfect sense to be here, and everything made sense in my head. There was an upcoming town, there was life, there was identity, there were people who care and have that soul… it sold it for me.” 

How would you describe your cooking style?

“I’m pretty Italian-forward on technique, I have a French background, but I like to utilize Appalachian ingredients. I know that sounds like a lot, but it makes sense when you put it all together. I like rustic things, and I like the products to shine by themselves. It’s not about me, it’s about the product!”

If you could only cook one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“Fettucine Aglio e Olio. It’s fettucine, olive oil, and garlic. I could eat that for the rest of my life. Simple fettucine all done by hand, and then olive oil, garlic (if it’s garlic confit, even better because it’s not that aggressive), and that’s amore!

If you could only cook with one utensil, what would you use?

“A knife. I need a knife in my life. And if it’s not sharp, it drives me nuts. There’s nothing more dangerous than an unsharpened knife. Behind the knife, I would say a spoon. But unfortunately, a knife is very necessary in this profession.”

What do you enjoy most about catering weddings at Castle Ladyhawke?

“People. You meet interesting people. You meet people who are gonna be together for the rest of their lives, and that’s a commitment. Part of my game is to make sure that they get the best experience I can possibly provide.”

What’s your favorite memory at Castle Ladyhawke?

“One of the Castle Sessions we did kinda touched me a bit. I met pretty cool musicians, and I met a guy who had a food background who’s a touring musician. We connected around a table, one guy was playing guitar while we were drinking a glass of wine, and it all just happened magically.”

Would you recommend buffet style or a traditional, plated meal?

“Well, that’s depending on the person. I can show much more creativity if I plate it, but if you want to have more of a family style, a much more relaxed situation, it’s not as complicated to do buffet/family style. If you want to have a real fine dining experience, I would highly suggest that you do plated courses.”

When a couple visits Ilda for a tasting, what should they expect?

“They’re gonna show up and I’m gonna give them the Ilda experience. Everybody gets the same experience. It’s a 1 to 4 situation, you get food, wine, cocktails, dessert, and everything just makes sense. It would not actually match the same menu they would get at the Castle, its gonna be a different restaurant experience, but the flavor profile will be the same. I’m not gonna ignore that I’m Italian, I’m Argentinian, so those are my flavor profiles and those are gonna be at Ilda and at the Castle, same way.”

Is there anything else you’d like couples to know about what to expect from you?

“Excellence and refinement. I want you to feel free to decide which experience you’d like to have, that’s 100% fine. If you let me guide you through the circumstances, I promise that you will not be disappointed. Just trust us to execute [for you] in a professional and amazing way!”

Thanks again to Chef Santi for taking the time to talk with me! The meatballs truly lived up to the hype and then some, and the tiramisu was incredible. If your mouth isn’t already watering, this clip might do the trick: