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African Chef Runs an Italian Restaurant Near Washington

In a restaurant on the outskirts of Washington, the chef and owner of a fine Italian restaurant relies on traditions from his native Ivory Coast, blending some of the best African and European culinary traditions. Reporter Lisa Vohra visited with the chef recently at his restaurant called "Salvia."

Amadou Ouattara loves to cook. He serves fine cuisine in the quiet town of Middleburg, Virginia - known to the locals as horse country.

Ouattara comes from Ivory Coast. His food? Italian. "I learned in the Ivory Coast Culinary Institute," he said. "I worked in France for three years, then moved to the U.S in 1987. From '87 up to 1999, I was working under Italian chefs before I opened up my first Italian restaurant."

While Ouattara works the kitchen, wife Nicole attends to the guests. "My husband is really a good chef, He loves to cook and he knows what he's doing," she said proudly.

Ouattara opened his first restaurant in Rockville, Maryland in 1999. Seven years later, he and Nicole sold it and opened another one closer to home. "Salvia" comes from the Latin name of sage, and sage is one of Ouattara's favorite herbs. His staff includes a few servers, a dishwasher, a hostess, and a sous chef.

Jeremy Trasher, Sous Chef for "Salvia" said that Mr. Ouattara is a, "Great guy, he's taught me so much about cooking."

Much of Ouattara's menu is inspired from his hometown roots. He reflected, "Back in Africa we eat a lot of vegetables, stew, and root vegetables. One specialty item is the lamb shank osso bucco. Which is basically, stew with some root vegetable, carrots, celery, onions, served with the rice, which is basically going back to the African traditions."

So what is on the menu tonight? Ouattara replied, "This is the rockfish..."

"I'm having the rockfish and it's very good," a customer said.

Another customer added, "The beet ravioli is one of my favorites."

Kimberly Costanzo, a server for "Salvia" spoke about regulars, "We have a Swedish couple that comes in and they travel a lot," she said. "So they'll let us know a couple of days in advance when they'll be back in."

Ouattara said proudly, "My vision is basically when you look at my food, you eat my food with your eye first. The presentation is more of the key to me."

Does Ouattara have any aspirations to cook a state dinner for the president? "I'm very happy Barack Obama has become the first black president of the U.S. I would be more than happy to go to the White House and cook. I would cook some Italian food. There's no doubt," he said.

Owning a restaurant is hard work. Amadou works six days a week, but on his off day he shops for the restaurant. And he is coming up on his third anniversary in a couple of weeks.