Chef Dan Benigno, the mastermind behind Chef Around the Block, provides a promising reality check when it comes to the resiliency of the food industry in the age of COVID. “Restaurants and chefs are good at adapting to change or disasters”, he says.
Not a stranger to pivoting, Chef Dan has spent his life in kitchens since 1992. He went from a dishwasher at Sizzler to spending the last 14 years with Guckenheimer, a corporate food service provider ending as a National Executive Chef. With collaboration, he’s created local food programs for companies like TD Ameritrade, Union Pacific and Google.
This varied portfolio is the foundation for Chef Around the Block services. This new startup offers personal cooking experiences, pre-made meal options and classes where Chef Dan sources all the necessary ingredients to complete the selected meal.
Creating menus for corporate clients meant being prepared to offer a range of global cuisines to satisfy diverse workforces. This skill set is reflected in his current menus, which includes everything from traditional meatloaf and mashed potatoes to saffron seafood risotto. Previous clients have uniquely positioned him to provide “take-out with intention”, carefully packaging to-go meals to be reheatable in the same way that they would be prepared, avoiding the sometimes inevitable “cold spots” in microwaved food. With convenience in mind, everything is available for pick-up or delivery.
After years of managing the training and development of Guckenheimer employees, Chef Dan’s passion for continuing education shines through in his carefully curated cooking classes. While many foodies miss being able to gather together with friends, these virtual learning opportunities provide a satisfying (and tasty) way to maintain social connection. Utilizing Kitchen Council’s teaching kitchen, Chef Dan can walk you through creating a memorable meal, sourcing authentic and unique ingredients locally. Once it’s safe to gather together in person, the teaching kitchen will provide an ideal space for anyone wanting to plan a creative date night, get-together or celebration.
What started as a search for a commissary kitchen has turned into a mutually beneficial partnership. No stranger to various commercial kitchen set-ups, Chef Dan was immediately impressed with the Kitchen Council facility. He found he had everything he needed to set up shop and expand into new offerings in the future with a straightforward membership structure. He has served as a mentor to other Kitchen Council members and the staff, sharing his years of experience freely. “The restaurant industry is a community, so any one member’s success is really a shared success.”
Chef Dan is also a big supporter of our essential workers, particularly health care workers and teachers. He has partnered with local hospitals to provide pre-made meals for overnight staff. He’s provided meals for PTA conferences during an incredibly stressful time, taking one small thing off their plate so to speak. He offers discounts to groups of health care workers or teachers who are interested in utilizing the various services that Chef Around the Block has to offer.
For those still hesitant to venture into dining spaces post-pandemic, Chef Dan is ready with personal chef services, following all the safety and sanitary practices that come standard for trained food service professionals. “The kitchen is the new hangout spot in most homes. It is more social and engaging. If I’m at a party, I’m much more comfortable in the kitchen preparing or eating food than I am just sitting on a couch.”
Whether Chef Dan is truly just around the corner or twenty miles away, he’s approachable, knowledgeable, and wanting to make interesting and delicious food more accessible. Give him a call. He’s just around someone’s block, after all.
Written by Ashley Rae Turner.