I’ve been fortunate enough to interview and meet some of the biggest chefs and restaurants from Long Island to New York City in my venture of some of the best local food out there. Something that wasn’t on my radar though was that some of it doesn’t come from a kitchen in said restaurant, but in someone’s actual home. That is when I discovered the unique personality and cooking style of private chef Daniel Varnado. Dan is someone who has experienced cuisines from many regions of our country, from New Mexico to Hawaii all the way back to NYC, and has put those experiences first hand in his cooking abilities for his clients. He also has a very laid back personality but has a passion for what he does, and is very approachable and likable which would make him succeed in any arena he wants. Check out my exclusive interview with him below.
At what age did you discover you wanted to be in the culinary business?
I first started cooking when I was around the age of 7. Both my parents owned restaurants and were amazing cooks themselves. I grew up around food and always being in a restaurant, playing in the kitchen while my parents cooked and ran the business. I look back and it’s about that age that I fell in love with cooking and started cooking for my family. Let’s just say, “I was born in kitchen”. I’ve come to understand inspiration comes from all over, mainly within.
Who inspires you to become the best chef that you can be?
The first chef to play as a true inspiration in my life and career was when I started working with Chef Matthew DiMeo, who is now a Culinary Instructor. He truly showed me the beauty within food and respect for it. I was 19 at the time and started to grasp the understanding of seasonal balanced cooking, which I couldn’t get enough of. I remember one day in Hawaii traveling to the jungle with a friend, we stopped at a roadside coconut shack which happened to sell homemade coconut milk ice cream!!!! I will never forget that day! I talked with the man behind the counter scooping the ice cream about ideas and we laughed sharing stories. My friend and I ended up trying the Pineapple pa nang curry ice cream! I about fell to ground, it was so incredible!! A whole new direction to think about flavors!!!
You spent quite a lot of your life in the west coast, such as New Mexico and Hawaii. What is the vast differences and similarities in their cooking styles compared to NYC?
Interesting question, New York City has an endless vast variety of countless cultures and cuisines. You can find amazing food on every street corner from every reach of the plant, some better then others, but if there’s one thing I have learned throughout my travels the past few years, is that in this day in age with people from all walks of the world moving everywhere, there is traditional cuisine that will never die and a whole new world of fusion cooking that has truly come to life. Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico I got the best of green chile and amazing northern New Mexican cuisine, which I miss daily. I cooked in Seattle, Washington for around 6 years, When I became a Chef in 2008 , I was working with local farmers, fishermen, mushroom foragers and Washington vineyards, experiencing a whole new level of the Pacific Northwest.
From there I moved to Maui, Hawaii where I began working with one of Hawaii’s most influential regional Chefs, Beverly Gannon, who played a very important role in my world of creating dishes and composing ideas. Come to think, she used to called me a “Mad Scientist”. I can never thank her enough for opening my eyes to a whole new level of excellence! Like the day she showed me how to poach “The perfect egg”, on the line while she was a wearing dress!! Hawaii is full of some of the freshest organic foods on the face of the plant from the rich volcanic soils and the freshest seafood around! Only thing about cooking in Hawaii is there really isn’t any different seasons, which made cooking a bit different and excitingly difficult at times. Hawaiian cuisine in my eyes is all about fusion cooking and FISH!
Everywhere I have ever traveled and cooked including central Mexico and Baja is where I helped open restaurants with family. Cuisine from anywhere in the world is something of pure beauty which is meant to be shared and enjoy. NYC just has a monumental amount of it all, I can’t really compare, because there’s nothing like eating fresh ceviche on the beach in Mexico to a beautiful truffled gnocchi in TriBeCa.
Why private catering? Do you find it has brought you much success?
I first started doing private chef work on the side in Seattle and I quickly realized that it was not just incredibly fun, but I could really connect with people on a different level. Composing a menu is something I do best and love. Food is a very important part of our daily life as well as a very intimate time to gather with loved ones.
As a Private Chef it’s not only a very respectable career but it also gives me time to enjoy my life, as well as enriching others. Recently I have transitioned out of the restaurant industry to doing private chef work full time. Creating weekly meal plans, dinner parties and family style meals and working first hand with my clientele (friends). I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my career, for me! Rich success comes from the understanding of knowing what you want in life and knowing how to obtain it. I’ve been challenged left and right, day in and day out and from that I only reach to become a more knowledgeable successful chef.
What is your signature dish and method of cooking?
I think for any true Chef, this can be a difficult question to answer. I say that because there is so much time and energy put into every dish we compose, knowing that people will be indulging in it and sharing that experience with others. I have created soooo many dishes throughout my career, it’s unbelievable!
A dish I am very proud of and will always look back on is a dish I composed in Hawaii. Creating that dish came from a world of beautiful experiences. For example: Walking down a street filled with beautiful flowers and strong floral aromas in the air, eating hours ago fresh caught fish with island grown avocado, to sipping tequila on the beach watching the sunset next to a bonfire with the sound of goats in the woods on the walk home. That next morning it was all laid out for me! Pink peppercorn seared Moonfish, Watermelon and jicama salsa, and Goat cheese avocado flan with a jalapeño- tequila vinaigrette.
The method behind my beautiful madness in cooking comes from my inspirations, influences, a walk down the road, laughing with friends and even the weather. My traditional cooking styles are fusion with an endless amount of depth. I’ve said, “My dishes are like a battle field in the beginning, full of an assortment of different flavors, aromas and textures. All finding a beautiful balance, composed into an amazing well rounded symphony.”
What are you hopeful for with this business of yours?
I think at this point in my life, I’ve put hope aside for things like people helping out and doing their part in keeping our earth healthy and for people to take more time to understand one another, without being so easy to assume and pass judgment upon each other. As for my business! I can only paint that future and make it flourish to be an endless fulfillment to those I cook for and myself. I am planning to settle in New York City and coming from determination and experience, I feel it can only go up from here and be ever so awarding.
Where do you see your business 10 years from now?
Wow!!! A lot can happen in 10 years. I not only plan to be continuing my work but also have a line of Ice creams, dressings, salsas and additional cooking products. I’ve always wanted a food truck and who knows! That could be parked on a beach. No matter the endless amount of challenges in life that is tossed our way, if you want something! There’s nothing to hold you back!
Want to book Daniel for your next event? Contact him at Danielvarnado@yahoo.com.