By: Hadley Barndollar, Seacoast Online
When traveling to a faraway cooking competition, unexpected surprises are never good. That’s why chef David Vargas will bring pots, pans and blenders on his flight to Louisiana this weekend.
As owner and chef of both Vida Cantina and Ore Nell’s BBQ, Vargas will tout his signature charred and smoky flavors at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans Saturday. He’s one of 12 chefs competing from around the country, and he will present his creative, creamy dish to a panel of judges.
The prize if he wins? “A crown and bragging rights,” he laughed.
Vargas began his career in food at his family’s Mexican restaurant, and then in the kitchens of chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier at Arrows and MC Perkins Cove. He chose to stay in New England, and became chef/owner of Portsmouth’s Vida Cantina in 2014. Then, in 2018, he opened Ore Nell’s BBQ on Badger’s Island in Kittery, a Texas-style barbecue eatery.
The well-known chef has been involved in the New Hampshire Community Seafood program for the last few years, which is essentially community-supported agriculture, but with fish. Vargas and his restaurants buy into the shares at the beginning of the season, and receive local fish each week to serve fresh. He’s been a “big supporter” of the program since it began, he said.
When the Louisiana Seafood Association reached out to New Hampshire Community Seafood about a Granite State chef who may want to participate in the competition, they recommended Vargas.
“I said, “Yeah, let’s do it, New Orleans for the weekend, heck yeah,’” he said.
Vargas will be bringing his Vida Cantina chef de cuisine Linda Theth with him, and yes, they’ll be flying with all of their necessary cooking gear. “What we’ve learned from other events that we’ve done is you have to bring the whole kitchen with you, because you never know what to expect,” he said.
Vargas and Theth will also have with them local cod and lobster. Without “giving too much away,” Vargas said, their hopefully award-winning dish will be a play on Mexican street corn done in a chowder form, using the sustainable fish and accent of lobster. And of course, they’ll be adding charred, smoky flavors to represent Ore Nell’s. The corn will, too, be New Hampshire-grown.
The pair will prepare the one dish in seven servings; six for the judges and one to be photographed It’s Vargas’ first time in this style of competition, competing against other chefs from different states. In a way, he said, Vargas and Theth are “going down there and representing our whole state.” The chefs will cook in front of a live audience and be scored based on “presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship, flavor and more,” according to the competition.
Read the complete article on seacoastonline.com.