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Chef can't wait to show her chops when Della's After Dark reopens

Every artist dreams of having a bigger canvas, a chance to expand their boundaries.

The creative process invariably needs room to grow, a playground where ideas can't be stifled by limitations.

Chef Debbie Frangipane soon will possess that valued space when she becomes the executive chef at a revitalized Della's After Dark in May.

The official grand opening date for the Brandon restaurant remains undetermined, but Frangipane bubbles with enthusiasm about the opportunity. Whether she's talking about a "deconstructed beef Wellington" with Bordelaise sauce, chicken breasts in papillote or sauteed duck breasts coupled with ravioli stuffed with duck confit, Frangipane's passion oozes from her heart and warms every empty stomach.

"I'm so completely and utterly in love with food," Frangipane said. "It comes with sharing that love with other people. I'm a little anxious because it's a big deal.

"Every chef dreams of someday having their own restaurant, having the opportunity to do what they want in the kitchen. I'm over the moon excited, but I'm also anxious for it to get going."

By day, owner Beverly DellaGrotta continues to operate Della's Delicatessen at 608 Oakfield Drive, but DellaGrotta suspended the popular nighttime conversion of her restaurant in December.

For 11 years, DellaGrotta's son Alex served as chef and the restaurant rose in popularity with an offering of upscale dishes, fine wine and live jazz. But when Alex moved out of town last year so his wife could pursue business opportunities, DellaGrotta hired a couple of other chefs to run Della's After Dark.

It didn't work out.

Now Frangipane, known by friends and online followers as Dolce Debbie, will step up to the serving plate.

The rise to chef followed an interesting path for Frangipane, who turned 50 in January. After a lifetime of cooking for family and friends, she took the bold step of becoming a chef after another bold step sparked her interest.

In 2003, she and her husband, Barry, moved to Venice for 14 months (Italy, not Florida) and discovered a new passion for cooking and for life.

When they returned, Frangipane walked away from her job as an executive assistant and developed her reputation for fanciful dishes, first through a travel company she and Barry formed that took people to Italy for gourmet experiences, and then through cooking demonstrations and private catering.

Now Barry has written a book, The Venice Experiment, and hopes to publish a second that would extend the focus of the first.

Meanwhile, Debbie's growing experience, which included certifications from the Culinary Institute of America, helped her land jobs at Disney's Grand Floridian and then Armani's in the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

Della's After Dark represents the next chapter. Customers longing for it to reopen told DellaGratta about Frangipane. The two discovered they share a love of food and entertaining.

"It's not something that I feel people acquire," Frangipane said of her culinary pursuits. "You don't decide or choose to become a chef, it chooses you. It's what I do. I dream about food, I dream about new recipes. Barry can only eat so much.

"I need a platform to get that stuff in my head out and share it with other people."

She dreams of recipes, we dream of a favorite spot reopening.

Dreams are good, especially when they come true.

That's all I'm saying.

Chef can't wait to show her chops when Della's After Dark reopens 03/28/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 1:58pm]
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