ELLSWORTH — A former Bar Harbor restaurateur has launched a line of artisanal sauces, aimed to bring fine dining to your kitchen table and reduce labor over hot pots.
Chef Louis Del Conte of Hancock is busy promoting his line of Luigi Del Conte Sauces, which include Sambuca Simmering Sauce “Sweet with Heat,” Country-Style Marinara “A Taste of Tuscany,” Caribbeano Simmering Sauce “Coconut Citrus Candy Sauce” and Spicy ala Vodka Sauce “A Taste of Napoli.”
People don’t want to go out to eat every night, Louis said, but they also don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking and gathering ingredients.
“You have a gourmet meal in less than 20 minutes,” the chef said. The sauces are vegetarian and gluten-free. The marinara is vegan. The sauces, including the Sambuca, are all under $2 a serving, making them more economical than dining out, he said.
The Del Conte sauces can be paired with any proteins or pasta or risotto.
The Sambuca Simmering Sauce has a licorice flavor just enough to make the sauce sweet with a bit of spice to give it a kick.
The Country-Style Marinara is made with Barbera wine from Bar Harbor Cellars and fresh plum tomatoes.
The Spicy ala Vodka Sauce is “spicy rich and hearty with lots of flavor,” Louis said. The sauce is made with Barton vodka from Maine, Pecorino Romano cheese and a bit of heat, he said.
Spiced rum, citrus and coconut milk and Hood cream comprise the Caribbeano sauce.
“This is a labor of love and I have a god-given talent,” declared Louis. “I’m lucky to love what I do.”
The first jars were sold at Global Beverage Warehouse in December of 2013. Three years later, the sauces can be found in many corners of the United States including New York, Boston, Florida, Wisconsin and Chicago — in addition to Maine.
Louis and his wife, Coleene, are the former owners of Little Luigi’s in Bar Harbor and Bella Mare in Southwest Harbor. But Louis decided to try producing his own sauces after leaving the restaurant business.
“We started our first year with farmers markets,” Louis said. “Our taste-to-buy-ratio — we’re at 85 percent.” That means nearly everyone who tastes the sauce buys a jar.
Fresh ingredients are key.
“We use local ingredients,” the chef said. The only exceptions are the Sambuca, the tomatoes and Pecorino Romano cheese. “We use plum tomatoes and growing season here isn’t long enough.”
There are recipes for each sauce on the website, www.luigidelcontesauces.com. The Spicy ala Vodka sauce also can be used on homemade pizza.
A year after the sauces hit store shelves in Maine, the self-taught chef hit the road to Florida to promote the sauces, which were snapped up by several shops in Jupiter, Naples, Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
Until October 2015, the Del Contes were still hand-ladling and hand-labeling all the jars. But demand outpaced the Hancock couple’s ability to keep up by hand.
“A lot of love went into those jars, let me tell you,” Coleene Del Conte recalls.
So Del Conte contracted with Pemberton’s Foods in Gray. “They are our co-packer,” he said.
Louis is now lining the shelves of specialty and organic markets, from Milbridge to Massachusetts, including numerous Whole Foods markets.
Locally, you can find the sauce at several shops, including The Bud Connection on Main Street in Ellsworth. (Coleene works at the florist and the Del Contes’ business is upstairs).
You can order the sauces online at luigidelcontesauces.com. The website also has a list of retail locations carrying the sauces, which include Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill and at the Blue Hill Co-op as well as at shops on Mount Desert Island.
Del Conte spends a lot of time on the road promoting and demonstrating the sauce line.
“We do a lot of demonstration work,” he said. He gives customers sample tastes of the sauces with bread or pasta and usually makes a sale. “Our stuff just flies.”
But, he’s also working with Airline Brewing Co. on ways to incorporate some Del Conte sauces into the pub’s menu. And, the two businesses are collaborating on a sauce.
Del Conte is looking ahead to expanding the line of sauces and creating salad dressings.
Del Conte, a Wildwood Crest, N.J., native, is self-taught. Growing up, his family owned a tavern called The Crest Tavern.
For more information, call 266-5221 and email email@example.com.
Sambuca Scallop and Shrimp Risotto
Serves 4 to 6
2 tsps. olive oil
2 cups arborio rice
1½ cups vegetable stock
1½ cups Sambuca Sauce
½ lb. sea scallops (diced)
½ lb. shrimp (diced)
½ cup Sambuca Simmering Sauce
In a saucepan, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and arborio rice on medium heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add 1½ cups of stock and stir until stock is absorbed. Add 1½ cups of Sambuca Sauce, stir and cook for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the type of risotto you are using.
Shake bottle of Sambuca Sauce and pour ½ cup into sauté pan. Add shrimp, scallops and turn on high. When the sauce is hot, the shellfish is almost done. Add risotto and stir until the sauce is absorbed. When the risotto is creamy, plate dishes.