Article posted December 27, 2016 on communitytable.parade.com
Welcome to “Chat & Chew,” an inviting, travel-inspired interview series in which accomplished chefs from around the world answer feisty, fun, fantasy questions. Plus, there is a favorite recipe at the end for you to try!
My new kitchen talk spotlights Scott Varricchio, executive chef and owner of Citrus Grillhouse in Vero Beach, Florida — an off-the-beaten path, laid-back, soothing-seascape getaway overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Raised in Ithaca, New York, Varricchio did not launch his career as a young culinary school graduate. Instead, he spent 12 years first working at a New Jersey-based manufacturing-and-engineering company. Along the way, he wondered about what else he might do in life that could make himself happiest. At age 37, he grabbed onto an “aha!” brainstorm and dramatically changed course, deciding to cook for a living — a fortuitous timing that meant everything for his future. Varricchio reunited with his childhood friend: celebrity chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur Tom Valenti, who offered him a culinary internship at one of his New York City restaurants. Chef Varricchio then excelled in the pastry department of a famous New York French restaurant, following that experience with increasingly challenging positions at other hot spot eateries in the Big Apple and Las Vegas. He landed in Vero Beach next. “The desire to open the restaurant was simply a dream of wanting to do my own thing. And the location is a no brainer,” he explains. Chef Varricchio has also seasoned and sizzled at notable culinary events, including New York’s Citymeals-on-Wheels benefit at Rockefeller Center, South Beach Food & Wine Festival, Treasure Coast Wine Festival, Jackson Hole Wine Auction, and Aspen Food & Wine Classic. His culinary creativity, keen vision, passion for serving memorable meals, and engaging warmth make dining at Citrus Grillhouse, which melds American and Mediterranean flavors, a food lover’s joy. Here is what we dished about:
What has been the biggest surprise about your career as a chef?
I did not know that one could be this happy while working.
What is your personal motto?
Life is short, eat good food!
What is your favorite food?
Pasta, any kind, any shape.
What has been your happiest food experience?
I do little cooking demos for my son’s school class. He is in the second grade now. Afterward, the whole class writes me thank-you notes. I absolutely love it!
What do you remember as your first food experience?
I was seven years old. I made pizza in the toaster-oven using white bread, sliced American cheese, and ketchup!
You’re stranded alone on a deserted island for a month. Which three foods would be there (magically!) for you?
Indian River Florida grapefruit. Chef Elizabeth Faulkner’s The Cure pizza [with salami, Fresno chili peppers, mozzarella, and a dusting of Pecorino cheese]. And my house-made pistachio ice cream.
With whom would you like to dine once? (A fantasy question!)
[New York restaurateur] Danny Meyer. And the late Martin Luther King, Jr. — whose conviction in what he believed was amazing and energizing.
For whom would you most like to cook? (Another fantasy question.)
Bruce Springsteen. He has given me 40-plus years of pure joy through his music. I’d like to give him a little joy back.
What would you like to be your last meal?
Angel hair pasta, my spicy red sauce, meatballs, a few links of hot Italian sausage, and a great bottle of Amarone [an Italian rich dry red wine].
Which five words best describe you?
Driven, caring, honest, curious, and loyal.
The Indian River Lagoon is actually an estuary, harboring five state parks, four federal wildlife refuges, and a national seashore. Enjoy fishing, boating, birding, and hiking. (© Laura Manske)
What is the most under-rated food?
What is the most over-rated food?
For me: It is caviar.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
A few times a year, I need a Big Mac burger.
Which one thing do you wish home cooks knew how to make well?
Home cooks need help with fish cookery the most. It scares them.
Chocolate or vanilla?
What is your best kitchen skill?
The ability to season food properly.
What have been your most important kitchen lessons?
Keep clean, keep organized, and keep your knives sharp.
What are the four things always in your home refrigerator?
Caffeine-free Coke, Voss water, a hunk of aged Parmesan, and Sriracha sauce from Thailand.
What is your favorite cookbook?
Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures: Home Cooking from the Gotham Bar and Grill’s Acclaimed Chef by Alfred Portale and Andrew Friedman.
What are the most popular dishes at Citrus Grillhouse?
We sit right on the edge of the ocean, so fish dishes rule supreme.
What special fun do you love when away from work?
Going fishing with my son.
What gives you the most pleasure running Citrus Grillhouse?
Nothing is better than having customers say how happy we made them tonight.
For more Vero Beach vacation info: Visit Indian River County. Vero Beach is a small gem of a hideaway that sparkles big with art, music, theater, shopping, and water sports. Known as the Citrus Capital of the World, farms in the Vero Beach area produce excellent, award-winning Indian River citrus fruit that is shipped worldwide. The polished yet casual-comfy Citrus Grillhouse is perched on a barrier island with spectacular scenery and serenity.
By SCOTT VARRICCHIO
2 lbs ground beef
½ lb ground pork
½ lb ground veal
½ lb Italian sausage (sweet and hot), removed from the casing
1 pt fresh seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup chopped parsley
½ cup grated Romano cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves minced
1 small onion, minced
olive oil for searing in pan
your favorite red sauce (marinara)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, gently mix — using your hands — the beef, pork, veal, Italian sausage, seasoned breadcrumbs, eggs, milk, chopped parsley, Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, minced garlic, and minced onion.
Let mixture rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Form into golf ball-size meatballs.
Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat on stovetop. Season meatballs with salt and pepper. In batches, sear meatballs in olive oil until brown on the outside, but still raw inside. Set aside.
In a large pot of your favorite red sauce (marinara), finish cooking the meatballs on medium-high heat. This is the best way to both flavor the meatballs and the red sauce. If you like, top with fresh herbed ricotta cheese for an extra delicious finish.
Makes 40 meatballs.
Written by, Laura Manske
A Frequent globetrotter that loves to explore the world, unearthing travel joy, beauty, adventure, and humor through her camera lens and articles. Based in NYC, she has been an on-staff editor at many magazines, as well as a freelance journalist. Her book, “Family Travel: The Farther You Go, The Closer You Get,” is an anthology of passionate and lively stories about how travel can restore, revitalize, and reconnect loved ones of all ages. She has often been interviewed on radio and TV. Manske has visited most U.S. states, explored 80+ countries, and cruised 70+ ships.