I first met Damian Dajcz in the cafeteria at Northern Virginia Community College, where he was running the foodservice operation. His food was simple and tasty but not too showy, and he was ambitious, patient and thoughtful. He was one of the first chefs I recruited, and in hindsight I’ve realized those qualities are what makes Chef Damian one of our most incredible partners.
Watching Damian grow within and outside of our partnership has been rewarding both as the culinary manager and as a food lover in Northern Virginia.
If we were to meet for the first time today, it would be at one of his four restaurants, including three popular taqueria/breweries and an artisanal grilled cheese and wine bar. Restaurants five and six are slated to open early this summer.
Damian has become one of the highest producing chefs for Territory due to his consistently high-quality food and seamless operation. In addition to concepting and opening six new restaurants and producing thousands of meals a week for Territory, Damian was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Virginia Tourism Authority by the Governor of Virginia.
Oh, and he also moved with his family to Miami, and commutes by airplane every week.
I’ve never met a busier person, yet he is always available when you need him and always ready for a new challenge. There doesn’t seem to be anything that Chef Damian doesn’t excel at, and we’re lucky to share in a slice of his awesomeness.
I sat down with Damian to learn more about his journey. Though I’ve worked with him for over 3 years now, I’m continually impressed and inspired.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
Buenos Aires, Argentina
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE U.S.?
Originally, I came to finalize my culinary studies and masters. First, I was at Ohio University and then went to Scottsdale Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts).
SO, HOW DID YOU END UP IN VIRGINIA?
My wife, she got a job transfer. She could’ve gone to Spain or DC. So we chose DC! This was in 1999.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS AREA?
How cultural the city is. The vibrant life of DC has begun to spread out to the suburbs, which is really cool to see. And now that I split my time between here and Miami, I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons. Every season is charmed.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
I was on the path to become a doctor. But I quickly realized I wouldn’t have as much time with patients as I expected which didn’t feel very rewarding to me. I wanted to do something that would allow me to travel all around the world and give me a feeling of gratification. I had always enjoyed cooking, so I quit med school and decided culinary arts would be a perfect match. It would allow me to be travel wherever I wanted and have an immediate impact on people’s happiness.
IF YOU COULD GET THE INVITE TO ANY OTHER CHEF IN THE WORLD’S DINNER PARTY, WHO’D YOU PICK?
Gordon Ramsey — and not because of his celebrity status. When you’re starting as a chef, the kitchen environment is tough. It’s not as glamorous as people might think it is. You have to pay your dues by peeling 3 bags of onions and cleaning 100 lbs of tenderloins. Ramsey paid his dues, he worked as a teenager in the kitchen and fought his way up. Take the celebrity part away and he’s a really good chef, one who I admire.
AND TO REVERSE IT, IF YOU COULD COOK A MEAL FOR ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I would cook for my dad. He passed away before I became a chef. I would love to hear what he thinks about my food and career.
HE’D BE INCREDIBLY PROUD OF YOU. YOU’VE WORKED HARD TO BECOME A VERY SUCCESSFUL MULTI-BUSINESS OWNER. WHAT’S THE KEY TO MANAGING IT ALL?
Your staff. You are only as strong as your weakest team member. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by a really good staff. And I have a philosophy that as the company grows, they all grow. I want them to be invested not only in the financial growth, but also have a sense of ownership over their personal contribution. If they feel like they own a piece of the company, they see the benefits of hard work and growth. When my staff is invested on that level, it alleviates a lot of my own stress. It also opens me up to think about new projects. Otherwise, I’d have to micromanage at every level, which wouldn’t get anyone anywhere.
HAVE TO KNOW … WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TERRITORY MEAL THAT YOU MAKE?
Definitely the Smoked Chimichurri Steak. Being from Argentina, chimichurri is a staple and the smoke flavor is an interesting take on the tradition.
AND FINALLY CHEF, WHAT’S YOUR TERRITORY?
It’s a family night out with my two kids and wife.