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George Sabatino tried out a new field before landing the chef’s job at A Mano

Farm work helped Sabatino better appreciate fresh local ingredients.

Adrian's Garden salad with beets, whipped ricotta, pickled cherries, and pistachio from A Mano chef George Sabatino.
Adrian's Garden salad with beets, whipped ricotta, pickled cherries, and pistachio from A Mano chef George Sabatino.Read moreCOURTESY GEORGE SABATINO

If you order the Adrian’s Garden salad at A Mano, know that chef George Sabatino not only will plate the dish but that months ago, he planted the beets and radishes that join the whipped ricotta, pickled cherries, and pistachio.

Not too long ago, Sabatino was a $14-an-hour farmhand at Adrian’s Garden in Skillman, N.J. — one of his pandemic jobs after leaving Safran Turney Hospitality, where he was culinary director. He also was a private chef and hosted private dinners over Zoom.

Sabatino has joined chef Townsend Wentz’s A Mano, at 23rd Street and Fairmount Avenue, as executive chef in time for its reopening on July 14. (His predecessor, Mike Millon, is now chef at The Landing in Bala Cynwyd.) His menu includes grilled branzino with brown butter fregola, preserved lemon, and fermented garlic scape salsa verde; oil-poached trout with cauliflower, bagna cauda, and tulsi; and pastas such as mafaldine with pork ragu, basil, and pork crackling pangratatto.

Sabatino met Wentz through his friend Jason Peabody, now culinary director of Wentz’ restaurants including Townsend and Oloroso. During the pandemic, Peabody and Christopher Godfrey operated a pop-up called Remi Ricotta out of Oloroso, whose kitchen Sabatino was using for prep for the Zoom menus.

At the farm, led by veteran organic farmers Adrian Galbraith-Paul and Hannah Nicholas, Sabatino appreciated more fully what’s he’s been working with for years — from his early days at such spots as Fork, Monk’s Cafe, and Ansill, to Stateside, to his first stint with Safran Turney (Lolita, Bindi, and Barbuzzo), to his own restaurant, Aldine, and back with Safran Turney. “The whole ethos that I’ve always enjoyed keeping to is ‘buy really good stuff from local farms,’” he said.

But farming was painful. “It kicked my [rear end] so hard,” said Sabatino, who turns 40 on Aug. 2. “I’m 10 to 14 years older than everybody else working on the farm. And my knees hurt because I’ve never experienced it. I thought it was bad on the line.”

Sabatino, who lives near A Mano, said its cozy dining room and five-person staff are ideal. “It’s small enough to where I’m going to cook on the line every night while expediting,” he said. “And I think I can really kind of do something special and cultivate a great working environment with a small team. It’s really easy to keep my hands on all of it.”