Art, food, love: They’re some of life’s most beautiful, inspiring elements. And thanks to a new Santa Fe endeavor, they’re available by the box.
Daya, which offers eye-popping arrangements of fruits and vegetables, cheeses and charcuterie, is the brainchild of 39-year-old Marianne Sundquist, a seasoned chef who infuses each assortment with an eye for beauty, a passion for food and a love of her newfound home.
“Every box is like a blank canvas,” said Sundquist, who also draws artistic inspiration from her artist husband, frequently found making paintings in his studio. “Each time, I feel like, ‘Ooh, I get to make a painting today!’ ”
She fills that canvas — white pizza-style boxes available in two sizes — with carefully chosen produce, meats, cheeses and seasonal accompaniments such as hummus, nuts, chocolate and fruit spreads — homemade or locally sourced as much as possible. Daya boxes include vegetable, fruit, cheese and bread varieties, as well as the farm box, which features a medley of cheese, charcuterie, olives, nuts and accompaniments.
The vegetable box is a particular showcase.
“I’m looking for the most beautiful local and organic produce I can find,” she said, and she derives great pleasure from the simple, careful act of preparing them. “I love finding little vegetables — baby squash, tiny carrots, breakfast radishes — things that are fun to eat with your hands.”
She also incorporates edible flowers and culinary herbs from Annie’s Herb Farm and fire-roasted poblanos from Romero Farms when they’re in season.
“Finding those really beautiful elements is my favorite thing,” she said. “I start with the ingredients: What’s the most amazing ones available, and how I can put them together in a way that’s exciting, fun and easy to eat? It’s about making people happy.”
Regardless of the box variety, lifting a lid reveals an artful display that practically demands photographing before devouring. Neat rolls of charcuterie nestle beside islands of olives and wedges of cheese. A thinly sliced baguette bisects a box of assorted crackers. Carefully placed carrot spears playfully contrast delicate half moons of purple daikon and a verdant sprig of herbs. Add to that a variety of spreads and sides that Sundquist creates depending on the box and the season, including butternut squash hummus, olive oil and honey whipped ricotta, chile-spiced pecans, Parmesan flat bread, and chile and apricot mostarda.
“People really enjoy eating in this way because it’s simple and beautiful,” she said. “Because they’re so simple, you can take them up the mountain for a picnic or serve them at an elegant gala.”
That simplicity and versatility applies at home, too, where she incorporates this style of eating as a “go-to family celebration” for herself, her husband and her 6- and 2-year-old boys. It’s also something that’s been a valuable tool in making sure her older son, a picky eater, gets a balanced meal.
She likes that Daya boxes can nourish a range of guests or family members, including vegans, vegetarians and those on the Paleo diet, she said, and she’s happy to make customizations to suit clients’ needs. The key is accessibility, and Daya’s tagline, “catering simplified,” speaks volumes about Sundquist’s style and philosophy.
“Everyone can enjoy something in these boxes,” she said. “In this day and age, that feels important.”
Sundquist is a third-generation Italian who was born in New York and raised in Ohio, traveling back to the city every year to visit family. These early memories of kin, celebration and food, she said, sparked her desire to nourish others through food.
She came to Santa Fe in 2016 by way of Chicago, where she’d spent time in top kitchens. In college, she’d majored in poetry, then decided to enroll at the French Culinary Institute of New York with the thought of becoming a food writer. Two weeks into her experience there, and she was hooked on cooking.
She and her husband moved back to his home state of Minnesota, where she spent three years cooking at an Italian restaurant, Damico Cucina. Sundquist moved to Chicago to cook at Spiaggia, the city’s only four-star Italian restaurant.
The name Daya, which means “goddess” in Italian, is an homage to her heritage and to those formative experiences, she said.
“And when you have a Daya box, I want you to feel like a goddess — to feel beautiful and nourished and taken care of,” she added.
Sundquist began to shift her focus toward American fine dining, eventually becoming the first woman hired in the intimate kitchen at Chicago’s Avenues restaurant under the leadership of storied chef Graham Elliot Bowles. There, she mastered each of the kitchen stations, even helping to contribute to a 27-course “spontaneous” tasting menu. “He allowed us to be artists,” she said.
Her other pursuits have ranged from working with a German tea company to starting a cocktail cherry business to working as executive chef of a noted Chicago wine bar, In Fine Spirits. Working as an executive chef opened her eyes to a whole new side of the food industry, she said.
“Once you start ordering food, everything changes,” she said. “You learn the importance of local food, of organic food, how a farmer takes care of their land. I never looked back.”
But after she’d been cooking for more than a decade, Sundquist had grown tired of the tough and demanding schedule of a chef, which allowed her and her husband to enjoy dinner together just a handful of times a month. After a particularly brutal Chicago winter, the family moved to Santa Fe, where she began working in recipe development and restaurant consulting.
Sundquist missed cooking, though, and longed for a way to have a more flexible schedule that would also allow her to celebrate the local food landscape that she’d fallen in love with.
“How lucky it is that we have a year-round farmers market and incredible families dedicating their lives to farming and providing food for our community,” she said. “Whatever I’m doing food wise, I want to be supporting that.”
Eventually, she took a small catering job for a nonprofit that wanted a spread of cheese, charcuterie and other items. She had such a great time pulling the spread together and the reception was so positive, “I literally thought about making it a business on the way home.”
And like the boxes themselves, Daya proved the perfect blend of the components that mean the most to Sundquist — a marriage of beauty, taste, family and community.
“At events, it’s like a magnet,” she said of the boxes. “It’s a way to celebrate what’s happening in your life. As a cook, I can’t ask for more than that.”
IF YOU ORDER
What: Daya boxes
Details: Small boxes serve four to eight people; large boxes serve 10 to 25. Choose from vegetable, cheese, farm, fruit and bread box varieties. Prices range from $25 for a small bread box to $185 for a large farm box. Daya also offers grazing tables for larger events, in which an entire table is covered in an elaborate, assorted display.
To order or for more information: Visit dayasantafe.com.