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David Vargas, Chef/Owner, Vida Cantina brings his Mexican heritage and appreciation for local seasonal New England products to every plate at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH. A James Beard-nominated chef, David grew up in Southern CA and spent time in Mexico as an exchange student. David works with the Kittery school system training the administration and staff, and teaching the students about healthy cooking and eating.  David also is co-creator of Chefs After Dark, a friendly (raucous!) chef rivalry night among friends in the NH/MA/Maine chef community with hosted events raising funds for deserving local charities. David is also a leader in the region supporting NH Community Seafood, creating “Catch of the Day Tacos” with whatever fresh fish the collaborative hauls in.  He earned a cult-like following for his home-made heritage corn tortillas, sourced with his own blend of local organic corn grown for him at Tuckaway Farms, resulting in David opening his own tortilla business, Vida Tortilla. These specialty tortillas are available at the popular Dos Amigos restaurants, Vida Cantina, and select New England restaurants. 

Show notes…

Calls to ACTION!!!

Favorite success quote or mantra:

  • Justify your existence.

In today's episode with David Vargas we will discuss:

  • Being a wild child and growing up
  • Feeling at home with restaurant industry workers
  • Hospitality is treating people like family
  • Living in Mexico City and learning to cook
  • Culinary school and if you should go, very expensive
  • Mentors
  • Learning California-style cooking
  • When to transition from line cook to head chef/restaurant owner
  • Taking the next step in your career out of survival
  • Learning food cost - reality vs. what you learn in culinary school
  • You must be aware of what’s going on in your industry - talk to other chefs and restauranteurs
  • If you’re not excited about your food, neither will your guests
  • Sobriety in the industry
  • Spend time away from your restaurant so that you long to be there
  • Opening/operating a food truck
  • Surviving (monetarily) a fire in your food truck
  • Working as a mercenary chef
  • Set your team up for success in their own lives and your business
  • Catering
  • Saying yes to everything
  • Diversifying income
  • Should we pay attention to services like Yelp?
  • The power of getting involved with your community
  • Cooking competitions
  • Diversify your revenue streams
  • Retail in your restaurant - online store and shipping advice
  • Evolving because of COVID-19 - surviving the upcoming winter in NH (no outdoor dining)

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Knowledge bombs

  1. Which "it factor" habit, trait, or characteristic you believe most contributes to your success?
    • Coming in prepared every day to enjoy the day
  2. What is your biggest weakness?
    • Not listening to my wife enough
  3. What's one question you ask or thing you look for during an interview?
    • What makes you happy?
  4. What's a current challenge? How are you dealing with it?
    • Besides COVID, work ethic of new staff, determining work ethic before hire someone
  5. Share one code of conduct or behavior you teach your team.
    • Mental Mise en place
  6. What is one uncommon standard of service you teach your staff?
    • To cook good is to look good
  7. What's one book we must read to become a better person or restaurant owner?
  8. What's one thing you feel restaurateurs don't do well enough or often enough?
    • Give their staff the opportunity to succeed
  9. Name one service you've hired.
  10. What's one piece of technology you've adopted within your restaurant walls and how has it influenceD operations?
    • Square POS
    • Social media - Instagram and Facebook
  11. If you got the news that you'd be leaving this world tomorrow and all memories of you, your work, and your restaurants would be lost with your departure with the exception of 3 pieces of wisdom you could leave behind for the good of humanity, what would they be?
    • Justify your existence
    • Si, se puede
    • Spend more time with your family

Contact info:

Thanks for listening!

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Huge thanks to David Vargas for joining me for another awesome episode. Until next time!


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Direct download: 755_david_vargas_PODCAST_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT