Top Chef Insights

Ever wondered whether a Master Chef's guilty pleasure is simply peanut butter or mac 'n cheese? Want to find out what the latest menu trends will be for the coming season? Always wondered who inspires some of the leading chefs in the industry? We've asked these questions and have the answers for you here.

June's Featured Chef: Ryan Vargas

Ryan Vargas is Chef de Cuisine at Emeril's Tchoup Chop in Orlando, FL and will be doing a culinary demonstration at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show with Emeril Lagasse

What made you want to become a chef?

My father was a big influence. He was a master chief/ mess specialist in the United States Navy.

What is the newest food trend you see emerging? 
I don't want to say it’s a new trend- its local fresh products executed with simplicity and married with bold accents.

What new ingredient have you incorporated into your menu?
Roasted Hawaiian kukui nuts called Inamona.  Limu/ogo seaweed.

With summer approaching, what seasonal changes are you making to your menu? 
Using as much local products from Florida corn, heirloom potatoes/tomatoes, local fresh fish. Switching to lighter sauces –vinaigrettes, fruit and vegetables juices or purees and cooking techniques steaming and quick high heat cooking on our robata grill.

What is the oddest thing we would find in your refrigerator?
Homemade kombucha

If you could eat anywhere in the world, beside your own restaurants, where would that be?
On the beach with my family in Hawaii having a local style Hawaiian plate lunch which consist of 2 scoops of white rice, macaroni salad and grilled Kalbi short ribs

Is there one comfort food that you are secretly obsessed with having at home? 
Spam musubi!

What is your favorite meal to cook for friends?
“KFC” Korean Fried Chicken / chilled somen noodles

Who was your mentor as you were coming a chef? 
I had many mentors throughout my career from various chefs that I worked under from the Kahala Hilton, Ritz Carlton, Bellagio and Four Seasons has all inspired me in  one way or another.
Homemade kombucha

More about Chef Vargas: 

Armed with more than 20 years of experience in the culinary arts, Ryan Vargas took the helm at Emeril's Tchoup Chop at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando as chef de cuisine in October 2013. Vargas, a Hawaii native, joined Emeril's Tchoup Chop after spending about 13 years leading the kitchens at some of the island's top resorts, including the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai and the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua Maui. Before moving to Orlando, Vargas also led the kitchen at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where in 2011 he was voted as "Palm Beach County Best Chef" by the Palm Beach Post.

Growing up on the island of O'ahu in Hawaii, Vargas looked up to his father, who was the Master Chief Chef for the U.S. Navy, and inherited his love of great cuisine. "He would take me to the mess hall, and I recall being excited and amazed with the sights, sounds and smells," Vargas remembers. "I knew at the age of 5 that I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps."

Complementing Executive Chef Emeril Lagasse's bold and fresh flavors, Vargas describes his style of cooking as "fun and whimsical, classics-with-a-twist, and not complicated but refined." His techniques and styles reflect the melting pot of island life, mixing different Asian cuisines with Pacific Island influences.
Classically trained, Vargas graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y. in 1991 with an associate's degree in Culinary Arts. He lives in Orlando with his wife, Rhonda, and their three children, Lakea, Lilinoe and Rocco.