Chef Dernier "Nelly" Buleje of Sonesta Resort: 'The way salt enhances everything is amazing'

eshaw@islandpacket.comJuly 1, 2014 

Pictured is Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island Executive Chef Dernier "Nelly" Buleje.



    Amuse Bouche offers a glimpse into the lives of local chefs, their cooking philosophies and what they like to cook and eat when they're not at work.

Chef: Executive Chef Dernier "Nelly" Buleje

Restaurant: Sonesta Resort restaurants

Town: Hilton Head Island

Do you enjoy cooking off the clock?

Yes. I love to cook on my days off. It's relaxing and fun. I turn the music on and either have my son or wife with me to lend a hand. It's become part of family time.

What is your easy, go-to meal at home?

Anything that goes on a grill. There's nothing easier than lighting up the grill and seasoning some great cuts of meat or a nice fish fillet. For a side dish, I like to blanch some veggies, rub them with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss them on the grill.

What ingredients should chefs always have on hand and why?

As silly as it may sound, salt. The taste salt gives any dish is undeniable. The way salt enhances everything is amazing. I make sure to season everything from greens to fish to sauces. At home I have kosher salt, Himalayan Pink salt, smoked sea salt and fleur de sel, as they all have distinct flavors.

Is there a food that you hated as a child that you now love?

Bell peppers. I wasn't able to enjoy them until just a year ago. Now I love them grilled, roasted and in sauces.

Do you ever feel like hotel food gets a bad rap?

It definitely does. But I don't look at our restaurants as hotel restaurants. I look at them as destination restaurants. We cater our menus and specials to what's available and what's in season. We work closely with vendors and go to the farmers market weekly for fresh, fun ingredients to use for our weekend specials. We planted an herb garden on the property with basil, rosemary, sage, dill, mint and other herbs that we use in our kitchen. We also make just about everything from scratch. There's not a dish in our restaurant or resort that doesn't get that attention and detail put in to it.

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