Chef/Owner: David Vargas
David Vargas, Chef/Owner, Vida Cantina brings his Mexican heritage and appreciation for local seasonal New England product to every plate at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH. David grew up in Southern CA and spent time in Mexico as an exchange student. His mother is from Guadalajara, his father from Jalisco, and it was important to his family that David appreciate his heritage. Appreciate it he does indeed at Vida Cantina, his first restaurant, where with each dish he is “elevating our understanding of what Mexican food is or should be, while elevating our understanding of what New England cuisine is or should be” according to the December 2015 review by The Portsmouth Herald.
David first learned his craft in his family’s Mexican restaurant, and then in the kitchens of Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier at Arrows and MC Perkins Cove. David chose to stay in New England, and became Chef/Owner of Vida Cantina in 2014. Known for his pigs head platters, daily seasonal menus, tasty array of tacos and for co-founding The Chefs After Dark Series, David is one of Portsmouth’s talented chefs creating a vibrant restaurant revolution catching the attention of the national food scene. Follow: @dvchef
Hot New Restaurant, NH Magazine
Best New Restaurant, Taste Magazine
Best Mexican Brunch, NH Magazine
Best Chef, Seacoast, Nominee, Spotlight Awards
One of the Top Ten Restaurants in the Greater New England Region, The Portsmouth Herald
Top Portsmouth Restaurants Worth The Drive, Eater Maine
chef de cuisine: Will Myska
Growing up outside of Houston, Texas where fresh ingredients were available to us all year round made food an important part of my childhood. My grandmother would always prepare delicious meals such as gumbo, tamale casserole, fresh cucumber and tomato salads and buttermilk pies. Everyone would help with the dinner preparations, she would have my sisters and I peeling potatoes, washing produce and always kept us involved. I remember my mother asking me what I wanted to eat for my 13th birthday and I told her I wanted to fry my own oysters and have a crawfish broil! That moment was my first time actually preparing a meal for others on my own and it went well. Seeing everyone eat and enjoying the food at the same time had me hooked. I caught the bug and new I wanted to cook. It wasn’t just the food itself but also the entertaining aspect of it. Seeing the joy on others faces knowing you prepared that for them is a special feeling and it made me feel good on the inside.
So after high school I moved up to New England where I had family roots and enrolled myself into the Atlantic Culinary Academy at McIntosh College. While in school I started working with Chef Evan Hennessey at the Dunaway restaurant where I put forth the knowledge I had learned at school into the real world of food. I was on the opening team of Stages at One Washington with Chef Hennessey where we went on to get #1 hottest new restaurant by NH magazine and were also privileged to cook at the James Beard House. Chef Hennessey was also nominated for a James Beard award during that time. After three years I left to take a position with Chef Jethro Loichle at Ristorante Massimo. Shortly thereafter is where I developed speed in the kitchen. Massimo’s is very fast paced and you have to be mentally tough to get by. Other restaurants along the way were Abenaqui Country Club and Joseph’s Winter Street Café in Newburyport, MA.
After a few years at Massimo’s I came to work with Chef David Vargas at Vida Cantina. Dave and fellow butcher Nate Singer (30 under 30) put me through an extensive training course on butchery. Breaking down whole animals, filleting whole fish and making sausages on a daily basis was out of my comfort zone. Chef Vargas continued to help make me a more well-rounded chef and he took me under his wing to teach me how to be a leader. Chef Dave taught me how to manage not only food but the people you work with. Dave offered me the Chef De Cuisine role in May of 2016. From then we have continued to grow in that time not only as a restaurant but as a family within Vida Cantina. Success continues to show daily through our respect for not only the food we have in front of us but for each other. We as a whole are excited to see where the future takes us.