THIS PRIVATE CHEF AND CATERER TALKS PASTA, THE SCIENCE OF PLATING, AND HOW HE TURNED CHILDHOOD PASSION INTO A FRUITFUL CAREER
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
It was more passion than plan that guided Chef Daniel D’Alessio’s culinary career. Today the face behind Chef Dan, a private chef and bespoke catering service for everything from intimate dinner parties to weddings and corporate events, D’Alessio originally believed his vocational journey would lead to the corridors of high finance.
“I wanted to be a broker,” recalled the Middletown resident. “My dad worked on Wall Street, but wound up getting laid off. Once I saw that, I realized it’s not what I wanted to do. That’s when I switched to pursue cooking.”
Growing up in an Italian family on Staten Island, a fascination for flavor was nurtured in D’Alessio’s grandmother’s kitchen, and a large portion of his childhood memories center on the dinner table. As the young man was helping prepare family meals stirring sauces, washing vegetables, tearing lettuce—he was planting seeds for the future. After deciding against a trade in the Financial District, the 20 yearold enrolled in the Culinary Academy of Long Island, a small school in Syosset. By graduation time, a childhood hobby had become a full blown passion.
“I fell in love with cooking. I was never really into going to class growing up, but here I loved it,” he recalled with a laugh.
After time at the academy, D’Alessio returned to the Garden State and began working in prestigious French restaurants, including the Raven & the Peach in Fair Haven. From there, he honed culinary chops even further at the Rumson Country Club.
“I learned so much working at those places,” he said.
“Including how vital attention to detail is. In this business, little details are such a big consideration.”
In 2012, after a handful of years in New Jersey’s high end restaurant and hospitality industries, D’Alessio decided the time had come to branch out on his own. Recognizing a need for a more intimate dining experience, he crafted a private chef concept that would transform clients’ homes into sophisticated restaurant spaces. The menus would be entirely bespoke, he imagined, and include elements of French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, and New American cuisines. After tossing around a few name options with his brother, Chef Dan was officially coined.
“Honestly, I was tired of working so many hours in the industry and not having any freedom in the summer,” said the chef. “New Jersey is really only fun to be out in for about four months, and I was spending them all in the kitchen.”
After putting on only a handful of high end dinner parties, D’Alessio’s reputation grew in the New Jersey/New York region. His event calendar filled up rapidly, and clients soon began requesting services for events other than dinners. Not long after the chef made his first house call, he expanded Chef Dan’s services to include cocktail parties, bridal showers, graduations, corporate events, and eventually wedding receptions. The response, the entrepreneur recalled, was astounding.
“I didn’t know it would end up this way, but I’m so beyond happy with where this has gone,” he said. “Today we still focus on high end dinner parties, but we do everything graduations, bar mitzvahs, all types of events, and definitely want to get involved with more large cocktail parties.”
During the company’s early years, D’Alessio found it difficult to get a steady team in place, and as a result was essentially managing a one man show. His current sous chef, Justin Meadows, arrived two and a half years ago, followed by front of house manager, Zia Albertson. “It’s been smooth sailing ever since,” said D’Alessio. “They really help me hold it together. Zia in the front and Justin in the back—they are my godsends.”
Working one on one with clients, Chef Dan drafts a custom menu for an event, whether a small house party or a 175 guest reception. The team offers a grand chef’s tasting menu, multi course land, air, and sea tastings, “no expense spared” ingredients and garnishes, and custom artistic bowls and plates for every course.
Plating, D’Alessio pointed out, is just as significant as the food. “It’s actually my favorite part of cooking,” he said. “I love the way I can use food as a way to make art.”
Fresh, locally sourced ingredients are vital, he added, and the business works with a number of nearby growers and suppliers. The seafood, for example, comes from Lusty Lobster in the Highlands, the mushrooms from Two Rivers Gourmet Mushrooms (the only organic mushroom farm in New Jersey). Pork charcuterie, made from Mangalitsa pigs, is from Mangalitsa by Mosefund, in Branchville.
“Mangalitsa is considered the Kobe beef of pork,” said D’Alessio. “The charcuterie we get from them is the best I have ever had in my life, hands down.”
When asked his favorite dish to prepare, the chef began his answer by explaining that cuisine should be split into two categories: food…and pasta.
“My favorite dish to make is seared scallops. We do a roasted chestnut and bacon purée, then a butter cashew crumble on top. And for pasta, I’m very big on simple Italian varieties old school comfort food stuff. I use ingredients like fresh truffles and foie gras, but dishes like Pasta Fagioli are where it hits home and makes you smile. Loaded with Parmigiano, of course.”
Looking ahead, D’Alessio described aspirations for the business, including a dedicated event space that can accommodate 50 to 75 guests. Still, he explained, for the time being, it’s tempting to just enjoy the ride.
“I can honestly say that I love my job,” he offered with a smile. “It is not the path I had planned, but it is what I was made to do, and I couldn’t be happier about how things turned out. I don’t know what the next few years will bring for Chef Dan, but I’m beyond excited to see where this goes.”
908.461.5713 / chef dan.com