ADIRONDACK CULINARY CHARACTERS: FOR CHEF VARGO, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
An Interview with Chef Vargo, By Paul Sorgule
Since his earliest memories of living in Tennessee and helping out in the kitchen, to one of many geographic changes to the Hudson Valley of New York, Paris, and Germany, John Vargo has had a passion for everything about food.
John's dad held the important job of keeping the refrigeration at the Culinary Institute of America working at peak efficiency, when he was a pre-teen, and John was allowed to tag along when he went to work. The chefs at the CIA quickly adopted the aspiring culinarian, tied an apron on him, gave him a hat and began to show young John the world of food. He was hooked, and like many of the most driven in any profession, his mind was made up. He was going to become a chef.
An Education Begins
There were adventurous years where John traveled and sampled the many delights the world had to offer. He eventually joined the Army and was stationed in Germany. This experience continued to open his eyes to the possibility of life in the kitchen. Ironically, John and I nearly crossed paths while he was in Germany. On the recommendation of a friend, John became the driver for the U.S. National Culinary Olympic Team in 1988. The team, along with thousands of chefs from other parts of the world, was competing in Frankfurt at the International Culinary Olympics. At that time, I was honored to be a member of the New England Regional Team representing the Northeastern part of the U.S. John and I may have even bumped into each other, but our formal introduction would not come for another 20 years.
Vargo went on to compete as a member of the U.S. Army Culinary Team in future Olympics, and did so along side one of my former students who went on to be recognized as the number one chef in the military. Once again, my connections to Chef Vargo were taking shape.
Connecting Farm to Table, Chef to Friend
After his return to the U.S., Vargo became the chef at a unique and highly successful seafood restaurant in New Paltz. It was here that Vargo began to solidify his connections to the farm-to-plate movement. Conceptually, he was able to build a mature philosophy of cooking rooted in superbly prepared comfort foods, originating from an area close in proximity to any restaurant he worked in, and designed to be a solution to customer's busy lives.
John attended the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont to formalize his skills and even spent a few months as working in Paris part of his curriculum.
The Mountains Are Calling
Needing a break from the complexities of city life, and seeking a place to raise his family, John found the Adirondacks and fell in love with the beauty of the mountains. Settling in Saranac Lake, he purchased an existing small restaurant and rebranded it: Eat and Meet. In a short few years, this unique place for lovers of incredibly delicious food has become an Adirondack landmark. Just check out the Trip Advisor reviews or talk with a local – John knows how to cook.
John's formula is very different and as he states: new customers need a bit of training. Unlike most restaurants that focus on dining rooms larger than the kitchen, table service, and a protocol for diners, Eat and Meet is primarily a place for excited diners to pick up their specially prepared meals and take them home, or to their local hotel room for enjoyment. All meals are prepared from scratch, when they are ordered. Customers check the Eat and Meet website for the daily menu, call and order their choice, and reserve a time for pickup. Vargo states: "Food doesn't always have to be fast." To this end, your choice may take 2-3 hours to prepare, but when they say it will be ready for pick-up, it is. The food is beautiful, delicious, and hot when the guest arrives for pick up.
The Eat N' Meet Experience
If you want to dine in the restaurant – which is mostly kitchen – there are a few tables. Vargo welcomes you to sit down, enjoy your meal, network with his local following, enjoy conversations away from the stress of the day, and savor the experience of a true neighborhood gem.
Chef Vargo is an Adirondack culinary character. He has stories to tell, and most of them involve food. Currently, he is bubbling about buying local perch from area ice fisherman, cleaning them and adding a "Lake-to-Table" component to his throwback restaurant built on strong, philosophical stakes in the ground.
In the closing minutes of our interview, Vargo stated that his greatest joy comes from spending time in his kitchen, relaxing with his family in an area that allows his children to grow up with an appreciation for the environment, and maybe a few hours in the summer and fall, fishing with his son.
When in the Adirondacks, make a beeline for Eat and Meet and make sure you click on their website to view the menu for the day and place your order in advance. The experience is worth the wait.
Eat n' Meet
139 Broadway, Saranac Lake, NY 12983
Chef John Vargo
Connect with Chef Paul Sorgule: harvestamericaventures.com.
Cooking and Catching: