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Big Name NYC Sommelier May be Part-Time Arsonist

When someone talks of setting the industry on fire, they generally don’t mean that in a literal sense. Try telling that to Caleb Ganzer, who was recently arrested on arson charges. Ganzer is accused of setting fire to two restaurants and a pile of trash on dates ranging from January 8th to July 12th of this year. Making the case all the more intriguing though is how Ganzer is also in the restaurant business as the managing partner at a Manhattan wine bar. More than that, he’s also a highly regarded sommelier, to the level of being considered one of the finest of the year in 2017.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s a sommelier? They have yearly awards for them? In full disclosure, I didn’t know any of that before researching this article about a New York City arsonist. You’d think that with my love of “Frasier,” I’d know the phrase. I checked the transcripts though and the word is only used once in the show’s 11 year history.

Image by Matteo Orlandi from Pixabay

A sommelier is in a sense, a wine steward that rises above the level of wine steward. Depending on the restaurant/establishment itself, they could serve different purposes. The best of the best not only serve wine to people, they also are supposed to have expert knowledge of wine that extends all the way from helping design the restaurant’s wine menu, to being able to help diners find the right wine to fit their meal and price range. Compared to other dining staff that may be behind the house so to say or just come and go like a waiter, the sommelier is supposed to be a kind of concierge that helps the guest and the restaurant share a kind of personal connection.

It’s because of this that a high-class restaurant will want a talented and impressive sommelier. It’s also because of the amount of personality and skill that one must have that awards are actually given out to up and coming as well as successfully prominent sommelier. Vanity Fair reports that Caleb Ganzer was named the best new sommelier of 2016 by Wine & Spirit in addition to being one of the sommeliers of the year in 2017 according to Food & Wine.

Caleb Ganzer was a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park and Daniel before taking over the wine program at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. (Evan Sung)
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Ganzer went from working in restaurants to becoming a managing partner of the wine bar, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. Yet for some reason, despite the fame and success he achieved, Ganzer, allegedly, on the night of January 8th, 2021 set fire to the Forsythia, outside eatery. Six months later, in the early morning hours of June 26th, Ganzer would allegedly set fire to some trash that was located down the street from the restaurant he co-managed. Less than a month later, he reportedly was responsible for setting fire to Prince Street Pizza on July 13th.

The owner of the Forsythia restaurant, Jacob Siwak stated that this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to burn his restaurant down either. Prior to the January 8th incident, there were four occasions across nine days where a man was seen on camera lighting some debris on fire near the structure, clearly in hopes that it would consume the building in flame.

If this man was indeed Caleb Ganzer, the big question is, “Why did he do it?” If it was some kind of vendetta against restaurants, then why just set a pile of trash on fire that wasn’t connected to another eatery? If he’s some kind of pyromaniac, did it suddenly just materialize or were there other incidents before this that went unreported?

New York City Fire Department

Luckily, no one was hurt in any of these incidents, and what could have turned far more disastrous in terms of the fires spreading to other buildings, didn’t happen. The New York Times quoted an interview with Sommelier Business in which Ganzer described the last several months of having to adjust to the changes brought about by the pandemic as, “sort of existentially crippling.” Enough so to where it pushed him into an incredibly dark place? Hard to say.

Maybe Ganzer was just trying to exert control over something; giving life to a fire and watching it consume an object seems to be a strong motivating factor with arsonists. That is of course, assuming they’re not doing it for the insurance money. As the investigation continues, maybe police and the fire squads will uncover more answers. For now though, it remains one of the more bizarre crimes in the field of gourmet dining. Or at the very least, the best premise for a “Frasier”Law & Order” crossover that never happened.

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