Portsmouth restaurant owner competing for 'America's Best Seafood Chef' title

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
July 29. 2018 9:30PM
Chef David Vargas is heading to New Orleans to participate in a cook-off against 10 other chefs from throughout the country. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — The owner of Vida Cantina restaurant in Portsmouth is excited to head to New Orleans for the Great American Seafood Cook-Off this week.

Chef David Vargas said he was selected for the competition, which was created by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, by New Hampshire Community Seafood. They are a cooperative of fishermen and consumers who work to sustain the state’s fishing industry, promote locally source fish and support the local economy.

“I feel honored to represent our Seacoast area, but also on a bigger scale, New Hampshire,” Vargas said Friday.

Vargas said it is important to use domestic and sustainable seafood in the competition, so he sat down with members of the co-op to talk about what he should use for his Mexican dishes. Cod and lobster were chosen.

“I started with that. Then it was a two-week process behind the cooking technique,” Vargas said of his competition preparations.

In addition to the cod and lobster dish, Vargas is preparing a corn chowder that is a play on a Mexican street dish.

“Corn is in right now. We knew we needed to add that, too,” Vargas said.

Vargas is not nervous about the competition, where he will cook before a live audience and present his dishes to a panel of six judges. He is bringing all the items he needs with him.

“From past experiences I have learned to just bring your whole kitchen with you. Don’t trust that anything will be there waiting for you,” Vargas said.

That means peelers, blenders, pots, pans and spices. He is mailing down their coolers in advance.

Vargas will be competing against 10 other chefs from Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and Texas.

The one-day competition is on Saturday. Vida’s Chef de Cuisine Linda Theth will join Vargas for the event.

The winner is crowned “America’s Best Seafood Chef.”


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