The 32-year-old sensation is naturally gifted, particularly for a chef of his tender age. Sansonetti oozes youthful energy, while his cooking emits experienced care. You can taste his love for his food, reflected in each bite. With eyes sparkling, he animatedly describes the farms and purveyors he uses—the finest local growers with an emphasis on organic. His transformation of simple ingredients into complex flavors and his fusion of French cuisine with his own Italian passion inspire countless return trips.
Sansonetti’s secret is easy. He cooks what he likes to eat: French food that’s soothing and satisfying, not what’s popular at the moment or dictated by trends. Chef Sansonetti cites dinners with his Italian grandmothers early in life as inspiration. “They were simple but lovingly prepared with extra finesse and grace, which produced memorable meals admired by my whole family and our friends. I think they taught me something special,” he reminisces.
His beginnings as a humble dishwasher are not unheard of in the food world, but his path from the dish sink at a local diner into the kitchens of Chef Daniel Boulud is indeed impressive. After graduation from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, he spent two summers in tony Nantucket at the Myriad Restaurant Group’s Brant Point Grill. The Myriad Group brought him to the W Hotel in Manhattan, and from there he moved on to become Chef de Cuisine at Shallots in Midtown. Sansonetti and Daniel Boulud met by chance and became friends when they realized they shared a love for braising meats and poultry.
In 2003, Boulud enticed Sansonetti to join his group of restaurants. “I started him off as a cook at DB Bistro in New York and watched him evolve as he worked his way up to become our private dining chef at DANIEL in the summer of 2007. In my kitchens, there are a lot of very capable cooks with well-developed palates and technique. Not all of them have the qualities it takes to become a chef. Damian is showing he has the drive and the talent,” says internationally acclaimed Chef Boulud.
Boulud has five restaurants in New York City in addition to outposts in Palm Beach, Vancouver and Beijing, with restaurants coming in the spring and summer to London and Miami. Sensing that people are more relaxed in informal-yet-smart surroundings, he has made Bar Boulud a one-of-a-kind New York “wine bar” restaurant. It’s a place to eat as well as a place to drink from the snappy list of vin de pays, mainly from Burgundy and the Rhône valley. The large counter under the barrel-vaulted ceiling is the favorite seating choice for couples and singles. With rows of oversized magnums of wine lined up along the bar, the ambience is very today, yet with a French accent.
It’s located across from Lincoln Center, which is overflowing with the world’s finest music, film, theater, ballet and opera. Chef Sansonetti clearly draws inspiration from cooking in this incredibly creative cultural setting, pouring heartfelt passion and craftsmanship into his food, from the charming warm gougères he serves as amuse-bouche to the good, old-fashioned, classic coq au vin that is one of his favorite main courses.
The team at Bar Boulud led by Chef Sansonetti produces a star-quality repast. Taste the ethereal Maine Sea Scallops with Brussels Sprouts and Concord Grapes, and you’ll understand. “Daniel has both mentored me and also trusted me to develop on my own as a chef,” says Sansonetti. “Working for him allows me to express myself while having the freedom to ask questions and explore new ways of doing things, all the while having his incredible management team behind me for support. He really wants to see his chefs grow and learn, which is so important. He gives us a great combination of resources and freedom so that together we make his restaurants work.”