When was the last time you thought about where each element of your dinner came from? The plates, the table, the meat, the cups; each item seems to come from an arbitrary supermarket, creating a culture where the process of making and eating food is incredibly solidarity. That, in a nutshell, is why Dan Sabia left the restaurant industry. And now, he’s using his work with wood, fire, and food to change that norm in a world where very few are trying. Chef Dan Sabia is changing the way we think about private catering with his innovative new business, Wood Fire Food.
Dan has been working in the restaurant industry for 16 years, and he’ll tell you it has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Starting out working at mom and pop restaurants as a teenager, he quickly moved up the ranks by working at the Starwood Hotel, Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, the Bedford Post, and after taking a year off, at Jesup Hall in Westport. After nearly a year and a half of working in the Jesup kitchen, he had an epiphany that changed everything.
Dan was tired of working the long, demanding hours and despised the solitude and seclusion from those who mattered to him. His Spanish roots reminded him that the process of cooking is often even more important than the food itself. And working in a kitchen for hours on end contradicted that notion entirely.
“What I wanted to do cannot be done in four walls,” Dan said. “So, if you believe in something, go ahead and do it.” Upon realizing the restrictions that the kitchen imposed on his work, he needed to figure out how he could do what he loved without a restaurant to do it in.
Throughout his time cooking at conventional restaurants, Dan recognized his passion for woodworking, interior design, and wood-fire cooking. So, he put his love for those three things into the first dinner he organized for The Hickories Farm in Ridgefield last November. The full lamb dinner he prepared for days in advance paid off, as the energy of everyone around him created an atmosphere that transcended the darkness of the night. In addition to those who ate, 12 chefs showed up simply to be a part of this incredible feast. For the first time in his life in the restaurant industry, his work “was 1000% me.”
After spending time in South America, Dan was also inspired by the culture’s incredible hospitality, which is something he believes has been lost in the American food industry. As a result, one of the most prominent features of Dan’s cooking is the communal table he creates with each meal he prepares. The artisans responsible for designing different aspects of the meal often sit and enjoy the food so other guests know where each element at the table came from. On some occasions, Dan even requests to collect cell phones so his guests have an uninterrupted opportunity to learn something from one another through their conversations. In an age where screens are omnipresent, Dan’s unique food and meal process allows people to truly connect by disconnecting.
Fire, which Dan describes as “intoxicating,” is evidently one of the most captivating aspects of the cooking at his events. He makes a conscious effort to use hardwood that is as local as possible, as it not only makes sense to him, but makes the food taste even better. He typically uses oak, maple, and hickory woods, and never uses charcoal. Often times, he takes the life of the animal he plans to cook for integrity reasons. To him, this natural and local effort has the power to bring people together today just as it did millions of years ago.
“Fire was the first thing that made us human,” Dan said. “Today, my food is the simplest it has ever been, because the smoke and wood are used as ingredients.”
Currently, Dan consults for restaurants in Toronto, and plans to do Bed & Breakfast in the Catskills within the next two months. He continues to offer both private and public events, costing about $100 and $85 per head, respectively. Each event is Dan’s effort to create something special with new people, a new menu, and a new atmosphere every time.
In an era where the hospitality of cooking is diminishing, Dan Sabia brings back hope that we can still connect with one another through dining. Food, wood, and fire are the simple ingredients he needs to make that magic happen.