Philadelphia chefs have a knack for multitasking.
Take Jose Garces who, in June, launched his Buena Onda as a national franchise starting with the baja-taquerias on the Main Line and several additions to the local market. And for June’s Pride month, Garces welcomes Chef Dane DeMarco as Volvér’s next Chef-in-Residency to cook until July 24. Trans and proud, DeMarco has presented the finest in funky casual dining at Wine Dive, Hawthornes, Sonny’s Cocktail Bar, BurgertimeNJ and – soon – chef’s own Hanks Sandwich Co.
Metro recently sat down with DeMarco to learn more.
How does your Volver menu present your personality, life and goals?
The menu I’m doing at Volver represents my culinary point of view and style of cooking because it’s quirky and outside of the box. In all of the places I represent, you’ll find items that are fun spins on more traditional plates, done up my way. I enjoy traveling, tasting flavors of all-regions and like to have that be the focus of my dishes — “bringing world flavors to main street.” The goal is to share that with people who may not have had their chance before. Volver gives me that opportunity.
What is your background: family, friends and food?
I am South Jersey, born-and-raised. Willingboro to be exact. My dad was a chef so he was always cooking at home. I snagged my first job at the original Gaetanos where I started as a counter person, then thrown on the line on a Super Bowl Sunday. It was melodic chaos and I fell in love with it. I moved to Philadelphia at 18, where I resided for 14 years and got the bulk of my culinary experience, working for many great chefs. I recently oversaw three restaurants before moving back to New Jersey during the pandemic to be closer to family and start one of my own with my wife, Sierra.
What’s your first-ever favorite dish to cook?
One of the first dishes I remember learning, then cooking with my dad, was crabs. We used to go crabbing, then when we’d bring them home, he’d let them crawl around. It was a whole event. Then we’d steam them for the first night and make a ginormous batch of crab gravy after. It’s something I look forward to every year. His crab gravy, well I guess our crab gravy now, has seen its way onto a few menus in the end of summer.
What would say are your flavor profiles and signatures as a chef? What do you love to cook with?
I’m inspired by world flavors, and one of my strengths are definitely showcasing those flavors in different ways. I like taking dishes that are known and transforming them into something different like as a sandwich or just in ways that make you go hmm. Beef tartare toasty is a fine example of taking something so delicate as tartare and slapping it on a grilled cheese. Doing things like that are what get me excited.
Tell us about the names of your dishes – I love how you have fun with food.
The dishes I’m showcasing at Volver are inspired by all things Philadelphia just made fancy. Things tourist love. The crab corn dog should take you to Gus’ on South Street for the hot dog fish cake combo with the pepper hash and all. Corner Fried Shrimp is a play on Sid Bookers in North Philly where they sling Shrimp ‘til late night. The Granita is a take on a Philadelphia staple, Artic Splash, which a carton table side pour of tea simple to really seal the deal. The menu should really tour you through the neighborhoods.
What does it mean to you to transition at the present time in this city? In this country? And why did you choose the name ‘Dane’?
I played around with a few names in my transition and after actually having a nice conversation with my mom, we together came up with Dane. The minute we said it, it just felt right for the both of us. I have a lot of support in my wheel house. It took me awhile to actually come to terms with my gender and who I was and who I am. The pandemic created a space for me to actually be able to steer my way and live as my authentic self. Philadelphia has so many support options and its such a queer friendly city. The Hawthornes group has made sure I have felt accepted and welcomed with who I am, and it feels nice to say that.
How do you like Volver and the Chef-in-Residence program? And how will you elevate/change what you are doing at Volver beyond your usual to accommodate the white linen experience?
Working with Chef Garces and his team has been amazing. It’s been one giant support group and when I felt stumped there was help, so its been a really lovely experience working with these guys. The chef in residency program, I think has been such a wonderful addition to dining, especially for a place like Volver. It’s been back and fourth teaching between the guests, chefs and the chefs from Garces. So many different cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life have now shown their talents there and people who may have never experiences dining and those flavors now have. It’s a win win for all honestly. I think with my dishes at Volver I’m staying true to my visions and what inspires me and were still keeping it fun with the white linen experience. It should be fun for everyone. The guests, the servers, the cooks, everyone should be having a good time—to me that’s truly dining.