Chef Daniel Muller, the new executive chef at Liberty Food and Wine Exchange, wants to carry on the original mission of founding chef Mark Estee—using as many locally sourced goods as possible to deliver bold and creative flavors—while bringing his own flair to the restaurant,
As many chefs/cooks do, Muller started as a dishwasher. Around the age of 17, he began cooking on the line at an Italian restaurant in Connecticut. As he pursued a business degree in Burlington, Vt., he continued cooking the entire time. He then attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., graduating in 2001.
Muller has worked in the South, the Midwest and California, where he had the opportunity to fine-tune his French cuisine under Joel Guillon at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco. Muller then found himself in Lake Tahoe, where he managed several restaurants for about 12 years. From there, he moved to the Sierra Valley and ran a small steakhouse. His girlfriend lived in Reno—and he eventually decided to make the move to be closer to her.
“When I first got to Reno, I worked for a casino for a couple months,” Muller said. “However, I had my résumé on Indeed, hoping for other opportunities. Luckily for me, the culinary director for Reno Local Food Group reached out and, after a couple of interviews and a chat with Mark Estee, they gave me the keys to the castle.
“I feel very fortunate to have been offered this job. When they handed me the keys, I was ecstatic. I love the team and am excited to continue growing it.”
Muller has been developing new pizzas and pasta dishes, as well as some additional appetizers to balance out the menu—and he loves seafood, so expect more of that, too. The main poultry, fish and steak entrees aren’t printed on the regular menu, because Muller decides these weekly, and changes them out every three to four days.
He and his team have also brought back Estee’s pork platter, which includes pork belly with Calabrian honey; in-house smoked ribs with house-made barbecue sauce; Calabrese sausage with homemade mustard (served with pickles made in partnership with Nevada Brining Company); crispy mortadella with spicy mustard; and a pork loin with a demi glaze.
“Chef Daniel and the team are doing a wonderful job,” Estee said. “It’s great to have a mix of fine dining with pizza and pastas. This is the best menu balance we’ve had.”
Liberty Food and Wine Exchange includes a full USDA butcher shop that Muller oversees, as well as a pastry and baking department led by Liberty’s executive pastry chef; they work together to create delicious desserts for their guests, as well as special desserts for frequent wine and whiskey dinners.
“Our butcher shop makes about 12 different kinds of sausage, including our Bolognese and meatballs. You name it, we make it,” Muller said. “We bring in whole hogs every month and work exclusively with Borda Ranch for the lamb for our Thursday-night lamb specials. We make our pasta fresh here both for Liberty and for the other Reno Local Food Group restaurants. We have about five or six different pastas that we make at a time, and it’s really a highlight of this restaurant. It’s a very demanding job. There are a lot of components that I have to oversee—and I love it.”
As the executive chef, he is able to dip his fingers into each aspect of the dining experience; running the kitchen is his favorite, so he works on the line at least four or five days a week.
Muller specializes in French infusion, but he was taught in an Italian kitchen—so he ensures that his style has balance between cultures. His favorite dish on the current menu is the black spaghetti with seafood. He said he also enjoys creating the pairings of meat (from their butcher shop, of course) and cheeses for Liberty’s charcuterie boards.
“I figured out early in life that I love to cook, and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to do this every day,” Muller said. “One of my mottos is to cook with layers of flavor. I want to make sure that people get different layers of flavor delivered to their palate when visiting Liberty.”
Liberty Food and Wine Exchange is located at 100 N. Sierra St., in Reno. For more information, visit www.libertyfoodandwine.com.