Former Top Chef finalist Joe Sasto is coming to Palm Springs for a special chef-collaboration dinner at the Barn Kitchen inside Sparrows Lodge next month, and it’s all because of social media.
Barn Kitchen chef Gabriel Woo wanted to mix things up and thought bringing in guest chefs would make for some unique menus and dining experiences.
He remembered Sasto as a “cool character” from Top Chef and follows him on Instagram. So Woo dropped Sasto a direct message with an invitation to work together.
“I just took my shot,” Woo recalls. “And he was interested.”
That DM developed into a months-long exchange of emails and phone calls as the two chefs developed the menu they will serve on Jan. 5, 2020, in Palm Springs.
“It was through the power of social media,” says Sasto, who will return to Top Chef for season 17’s All Stars LA in March. “That’s how a lot of dinners, events and collaborations come about nowadays. It’s like the easiest form of new-age pen pal-ism.”
Sasto, whose career has included stints at two Michelin-starred restaurants, has spent the past year and a half traveling the U.S. and Canada, collaborating with other chefs and hosting pop-up dinners and pasta-making classes.
He was drawn to work with Woo because they have similar ideas about what eating together can do.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOE DEHART
The Sparrows Lodge dinner will feature Chef Joe Sasto’s famous pasta as part of a three-course meal dappled with surprise bites.
“We both are firm believers that food has power beyond just sustenance,” Sasto says. “That whole communal dining experience is something I really enjoy. Most of my dinners I do are like that because I love the idea of strangers coming together, and by the end, after sharing a meal, they’re all leaving as best friends.”
Despite living in Los Angeles, Sasto’s trip to Sparrows Lodge will be his first visit to Palm Springs. “I’ve always heard about it as this little getaway in the desert and I’m excited to get out there and see what everybody’s talking about,” he says.
And Woo is excited to show him around.
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“I already have some things in mind. I’m sure he would like to do a hike, because he’s into nature and stuff,” Woo says. “I told him the mountains are snow-capped right now and the weather is perfect. He’s going to fall in love with it, I’m sure.”
As far as the dinner the two are planning, Sasto describes it as “a Sunday supper if you had an Italian grandmother growing up.”
He was raised on pasta in his Italian family. And though he derided it back then — “I always wanted tacos or something different” — pasta has become his passion. Images of his colorful, handmade creations fill his Instagram. He even has a tattoo that reads “fatto a mano,” which is Italian for made by hand.
The Sparrows Lodge dinner will feature Sasto’s famous pasta as part of a three-course meal dappled with surprise bites.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SPARROWS LODGE
Sparrows Lodge Chef Gabriel Woo
“We’re doing this back-and-forth between individual, small bites and then family-style platters with everyone coming together and literally, physically, metaphorically breaking bread,” he says.
Sasto is endlessly inspired by working with different chefs, and Woo is, too. The chance to learn from and with other professionals is what led him to create the Barn Kitchen’s collaboration dinners in the first place — something he plans to make a monthly event.
“We need a little more camaraderie with the chefs around here and the surrounding areas,” Woo says.
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“I just love to see other people’s styles and approach to food,” Sasto says. “Working alongside someone and being in their kitchen — seeing how they store their tomatoes or how they organize their walk-in or what kind of pans they use for making stock — any little thing can lead to inspiration. Being in these other environments and seeing how people do things really goes back to your roots as a cook and wanting to constantly better yourself.”
Though Sasto and Woo have been corresponding for months, they won’t actually meet in person until the day before the Sparrows Lodge dinner. But Woo isn’t worried.
“I feel like I have met him, because I watched that whole season (of Top Chef). I think I binge-watched it,” he says. “And I’ve been following him on Instagram for a while, so I almost feel like I know what he likes to eat, where he goes, and how he cooks.”
Sparrows Lodge, 1330 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. The dinner will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 5, 2020, and costs $100 per person. Limited seating available. For reservations, call 760-327-2300.