2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Chef Dan Sauer of 7a Foods

2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Chef Dan Sauer of 7a Foods
April 2014

For some islanders, the off-season on Martha’s Vineyard means taking a break. But for Dan Sauer, it means menu development, planning gardens, and searching for potential new products for his business, 7a Foods. It’s a technically precise, inspired, soul-and-belly satisfying sandwich shop, bakery, and fine-foods store.

Sauer is a CIA-trained chef, who cooked at Oceana and helped open both Hearth and Craft in New York City (a far cry from his stadium days slinging nachos in Billings, Montana), before he moved his skills and polish to the calmer, wild-rose covered terrain of Martha’s Vineyard.

His mission is to support the island’s food growers and provide expertly prepared sandwiches that are accessible to all. Through his involvement with Island Grown Foods, the Wild Food Challenge, and his own 7a Suppers, Sauer is changing (and bettering) the food-lives of his friends, family, and neighbors on every day.

I Support: Island Grown Schools


Why: As a business owner on Martha’s Vineyard, I get to see the work that Island Grown Schools has done on the island and what impact they’ve had on the youth in our community with the programs they sponsor such as Farm-to-School, Island Grown Bees, and Island Grown Gleaning.

About: Island Grown Schools works with all the K-12 schools on Martha's Vineyard to educate children about agriculture, installing and maintaining school gardens, and running after school garden programs.

Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Chef Daniel Sauer of 7a Foods – Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Sean Kenniff: How are things on the Island? What are you doing in the off-season?
Daniel Sauer: All is well here on the Island. The off-season on Martha’s Vineyard, for some, means taking a break, but for me it means it’s time to work on my menu, plan my gardens, sort through potential products for our store, redesign our website and dive into my new projects for 2014.

SK: What are you looking forward to this season? 
DS: My mission continues to be supporting local food growers, and providing whole, local, well prepared foods and making them accessible to everyone. I’m always experimenting with the menu and continue to straddle that line between satisfying the regulars with their favorite sandwich and keeping it new and fresh. I should take it as a compliment that people like what I’m doing, but I’m always itching to change it up. That itch has lead to exploring the idea of offering more prepared foods this year.

SK: How do you go about expanding the prepared foods section?
DS: Nonie, [my wife], and I have been to the Fancy Food show in NY and San Francisco, shows in Boston, and visited local producers in New England. Those visits have lead to some great discoveries that I can’t wait to see on our shelves. For example, we’ve loved working with Big Picture Farms in Vermont. They milk their own goats and make the most delicious goat caramels.

SK: How are you handling the work/life balance?
DS: I’m relocating our family to a new home that is centrally located and closer to the business. Besides having more room for my two favorite sous chefs, my sons Waylon (7) and Amos (5), our new home comes with more land for our farm. This is great news for 7a Farms, which provides as much of the produce for the restaurant as possible. We’ll expand our gardens and I’ll have more room to continue cultivating and growing my shiitake mushrooms as well. I’m planning to add chickens this year and that means our own eggs! To keep up with the demand for our breakfast sandwiches, I’ll continue to use eggs from our neighbors at the Grey Barn. My boys are excited about the new gardens as well, as they’ll have their own plots to tend.

SK: What do you feel about the phrase “farm to table,” as it relates to your business?
DS: “Farm to Table (Takeout)” has been heavily overused. I really appreciate when I see people using it with integrity and in combination with solid cooking techniques. I’ve been fortunate to work and train in some great kitchens—Craft, Oceana, Hearth—with chefs who were also passionate about where their food came from. Between that experience and my farm, I take this concept to heart. My dedication to our farm and the use of local, and at the very least, sustainable products at 7a has only increased.

SK: How are you involved with the community on the Vineyard?
DS: Nonie and I have made our involvement in and the support of the food community on the Vineyard a priority. I’m working on a program with Island Grown Foods to process the gleaned produce so it can be used for our schools or in elderly housing. My son Waylon shares my passion for local food, fishing, and foraging and brought home a win from this year’s Martha’s Vineyard Wild Food Challenge, making me very proud. I won the inaugural adult contest and have judged in years past.

There are also some exciting new ideas percolating in high-end dining. 7a Suppers will quietly be reintroduced with very limited engagements in the late spring 2014. These dinners will be capped at 20 people, and will be run as a secret supper kind of model. We’ve done this before and loved creating a unique dining experience based on location and what foods are available. Business owners are always looking for a new chef and many have offered their kitchens to me. I’ve poured myself into launching 7a Foods and although I am interested in going back to dinner service, the next kitchen has to be the perfect fit.

SK: Plans for the future?
DS: Food is a way of life for me. I’m always thinking about where we’re going with 7a Foods, what’s our next business, and playing in my kitchens. Current ideas being explored are: developing a sort of chef’s collaborative, Vineyard style, figuring out opportunities as a small community of chefs, seasonally, to collaborate, support, and inspire each other—all in the name of making great food. That’s a big cool concept to toy with. For the moment, collaborating with other island chefs may mean dropping in on my chef friends and treating their guests to a surprise dim sum menu or 7a BBQ.  Every season at 7a Foods has been its busiest season yet, and that will continue into this next season. Can’t wait to open!