Chef Dan Landsberg is Using His Culinary Talent to Help End Hunger
The celebrity chef at the North Texas Food Bank’s 2024 Empty Bowls event wants us all to look out for the interests of our neighbors.
Chef Dan Landsberg has been working in restaurants since high school, when he took a job washing dishes. Now the executive chef at Circle T Ranch with years of experience leading kitchens, Landsberg says if he can use his love of food to help the community, he’s honored to do it. He’s serving as the celebrity chef at the North Texas Food Bank’s 24th annual Empty Bowls event on February 29, where he’ll serve chili featuring meat sourced from Circle T Ranch. The California Culinary Academy graduate says he feels a responsibility to help his neighbors. “If I can help raise money and awareness by just cooking and being present, that’s something I’m going to do every time,” says Dan. “It feels like the right thing to do.” Purchase tickets to join him at Empty Bowls here. Below, he chats with us about his career and his community involvement.
You started working in kitchens while doing dishes during high school. What made you decide to pursue the culinary field as a career?
Yeah, being part of the energy and the vibe in that restaurant, and just the general sense of hospitality that’s in a restaurant made me enjoy it. I worked at three or four different restaurants in high school and when I was trying to figure out if I liked college or not, I got a management job at a restaurant and realized at that point that I had fallen in love with what I was doing and wanted to make it a formal career. Washing dishes was definitely the gateway to it all.
Did you grow up cooking?
I grew up watching my grandmother and my father cook a lot. Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house were always the highlight of the week and just delicious. As a teenager, I made cookies and fudge and different things like that with my sister. I started working at that (first) restaurant because I had some friends I’d done a paper route with, and one of those guys was a dishwasher and was told he could become the prep cook if he was able to fill his position washing dishes.
What brought you to the Dallas area? Why did you decide to stay?
I was working with Fog City Diner while going to culinary school in San Francisco and they opened up a location here that was twice the size as the one in San Francisco. They asked if I wanted to come here and learn the size and scope of the new model and I certainly did. I was also a Cowboy’s fan from a very young age, so I thought, ‘Let’s go.’
You know, I think just being in the restaurant community here, I tried to leave and go back to California a couple of times and the income-to-cost-of-living ratio is much more favorable here. And I’ve met and made a lot of really awesome friends here. I met my wife here in Dallas, so this is home now.
How would you describe your culinary style?
You know, I think it’s a little bit of a blend of my current and my past. That Napa Valley kind of cuisine that I kind of grew up learning how to cook with when I first started cooking — that whole fresh food, garden fresh, farm-to-table idea has just continued to grow and myself to grow with it. And then I really fell in love with the way that Texans cook with live wood and barbecue and long, slow, decisive methods. So it’s kind of a blend of the two, which is I think just because I’m drawn to both. I’ve tried to marry both together.
What do you like to cook at home?
We have 8-year-old twins, so a lot of times it’s driven a little bit by what they’re interested in. We make a lot of pizzas from scratch, or we’ll play with pasta because they enjoy rolling out the dough and stamping it. We do a lot of grilling as well in the summer.
You’re serving chili at Empty Bowls. Tell us about your chili.
When I was at Tillman’s Roadhouse, it was kind of this gourmet chuck wagon concept, so we did a venison, vegetable Frito pie there. The chili was kind of born there. I’m at a ranch now (Circle T Ranch), so I wanted to make something that is ranchy, wintery, which means kind of warm and inviting, and something that’s bowl-friendly. Chili made a lot of sense. There are 1,500 head of cattle at the ranch so the meat that we are using will partially come from our ranch. I thought that would be a nice, fun tie-in.
Why is being involved with the community and nonprofits like the North Texas Food Bank important to you?
You know, I think that we all just have kind of a responsibility to look out for our neighbor. It’s a core belief in Christianity, which I practice.
What do you want people to understand about hunger and food insecurity in North Texas?
I think just understand about the need and to not turn a blind eye and to just think about, ‘Is there a way that I can help?’ Not every day, but today, if you see somebody stop and buy them a meal or just stop and say hello. Don’t look past people. It’s really easy to stereotype who’s hungry and oftentimes we’re wrong and I think that’s important to know and pay attention to and try to change the mentality. It’s hard to do well in school if you’re not nourished, it’s hard to do well at your job if you’re not nourished.
Join Chef Dan at Empty Bowls
February 29, 6-9 p.m.
NTFB Perot Family Campus