Bantam’s Star Chef
By Charles Dubow
Photos by Philip Dutton
Risks seem to have a way of working out for chef David Di Stasi. In 2017 he flew from Australia to Italy hoping to interview for a job at one of Tuscany’s best restaurants. “That was a big risk, a crazy risk,” says the Watertown native. “I didn’t speak Italian and I wasn’t really all that knowledgeable about Italian food. If it didn’t work out, I didn’t know what I’d do.”
That risk was worth it. The 2011 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America ended up working for two years at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Maremma, eventually rising to sous-chef. “It was an incredible experience. I learned about the importance of using beautiful ingredients and keeping everything simple.”
It was this appreciation for the best raw materials that was the inspiration for both the vision and the name of his wonderfully successful restaurant Materia in Bantam. “My dream is to cook true Italian food. Not the Italian-American food that I and so many other people were raised with.”
Opening Materia was Di Stasi’s second big risk, though. “It was the height of Covid. The owner of La Cupola in Bantam was an old family friend. He wanted to retire. So it was now or never. It seemed nuts but we had to go for it.”
Not only did they go for it, they got it. The restaurant is open for dinner six nights a week and good luck getting a reservation. Today Di Stasi is arguably cooking some of the best and most exciting food in Connecticut. His fresh pastas are superb—his tagliatelle al ragu was the best I’ve ever eaten–and, as befitting someone who spent five years working at Le Bernardin in New York City, he does magical things with fish. Most notably, his grilled octopus is always perfectly cooked and his scallops with stuffed artichokes and escarole are sublime. I also highly recommend the Bistecca alla Fiorentina and the Osso Buco with risotto alla Milanese.
In the two years since opening, Di Stasi has garnered numerous awards, not least winning Litchfield Magazine’s 2022 Reader’s Choice for Best New Restaurant. His accolades have since gone statewide. Last year the CT Restaurant Association not only named him “Best Chef of the Year” in their annual CRAzies Awards, it also recognized Materia as the best restaurant in Litchfield County.
DiStasi has also come to national attention. In October 2022, James Beard Award-winning food writer Alan Richman applauded Materia in long-time Litchfield County resident Graydon Carter’s Air Mail newsletter, calling it a “hidden gem.” “That brought us a lot of attention from outside the Northwest Corner,” says Di Stasi. “All of a sudden we were getting bookings from all over.” (For those coming from afar, there are a few rooms to rent upstairs at a reasonable rate.)
Sitting at a booth in Materia’s bar, Di Stasi smiles shyly when asked to acknowledge his success. “I mean, it’s nice to have won these awards,” he says. “But that’s not why I come to work. As a chef, I can’t think, ‘Oh well, I’ve won all these things so I can just coast now.’ It actually pushes you to do even better and take more risks.”—Materia Ristorante, 637 Bantam Rd, Bantam materiaristo.com