In as much as Chef Billy DiLegge, owner of Pasta Cosi and II Pranzo in Branford, Connecticut, is known for his way of Italian cucina, it may come as a surprise that renowned French chef Jacques Pepin is one of his biggest fans. Pepin – cookbook author, TV star, French culinary Institute dean, Beard Trustee Emeritus, and (don’t forget) fellow Connecticut resident-liked his meal at Pasta Cosi so much that he wrote the Beard House to recommend that we invite DiLegge here. DiLegge, he told us, is a “talented young chef” who makes “excellent” food.

DiLegge is also an ambitious culinary go-getter with a strong entrepreneurial streak. After graduating from CIA with high honors, he returned to his native Connecticut and jobs at Bellini’s in Hartford and Diorio’s, an upscale Italian restaurant in Waterbury. But he was chomping at the bit to run his own place. One year after graduation, at just 22 years old, DiLegge opened Pasta Cosi, a takeout shop selling ravioli and sauces. The shop did so well that he added tables, and the mouthwatering sauces were such a hit that he soon got the idea of marketing them in supermarkets and gourmet specialty stores.

Two years ago, DiLegge and partner Richard Finateri opened IL Pranzo, a more formal version of Past Cosi, serving serious Italian food. “The food left us giddy,” critic Colleen Van Tassell wrote, adding, “DiLegge is an alchemist, mixing several ingredients in to one harmonious taste.” In a New York Times review, Patricia Brooks rated the restaurant “very good,” singling out the melanzana napoleon as “celestial” and describing the chocolate beignets as “puffs of dough with an explosion of melted chocolate and walnuts inside – wow!”

In his letter urging the Foundation to give DiLegge a Beard House tryout, Pepin was confident about his young proteacute;geacute;. “I am certain,” he wrote, that Beard members “will enjoy his Italian specialties as much as I did.” Could you ask for a better endorsement?