David Varley has been everywhere. Boston. San Francisco. Vegas. After taking three-plus flights each week, traveling to restaurants across the country as corporate chef for a restaurant management company, he is excited to settle down at RN74 as the executive chef.
Before taking the job, Varley worked on the operations side of Mina Group, a San Francisco-based restaurant management company. For three years, he maintained and managed several swanky places, including Washington D.C.’s Bourbon Steak, the 2010 Forbes best new restaurant in the country.
This northwest New Jersey country boy has always had a thing for the kitchen. His mother taught him from a young age to appreciate seasonal ingredients and food—real food. Now as head hauncho, Varley is ready to leave the corporate world and get back to his cooking roots. He sees a lot of opportunity at Michael Mina's RN74 and thinks he can make a difference. Since being there, Varley has totally revamped the lunch and dinner menu, which now features items like thick-cut salmon steaks and fresh Dungeness crab pasta served with the shell.
Here, a few of David Varley’s favorite things:
Dish to make at home: I keep it simple at home. I don't have as many dishwashers and sous chefs there and I hate cleaning, so one-pot meals in the Le Creuset are a favorite. Heirloom beans cooked with some preserved tomatoes, anchovy fillets, garlic and good olive oil with a parm rind tossed in, and smoky-charred crusty bread is all I need to be happy these days.
Item on RN74's new menu: I’ve been loving a lot of the utilization dishes that I've put on the menu lately. They feel more frugal, more free-wheeling, and more temporary, which I sort of dig right now. None of them depend on luxury ingredients and all rely on really good technique to use the parts that are left behind. An example of this is the smoked salmon tart. I scrape the bones and chop the trim left over from the filets after portioning, season with maple sugar and smoked salt and allow to cure. I then take a shell of pate brisee and shmear caramelized onion cream cheese on it and then a nice thick layer of the smoked salmon. I top it with everything bagel spice and a 6 minute egg. It’s very simple, super tasty, incredibly frugal, and reminds me of my youth growing up on the east coast.
Secret ingredient: I use a lot of white soy sauce to add complexity and round out dishes' sauces, purees, etc. I also have been fooling around a lot with gochujang. It has no place in a French-inspired kitchen, but I love it on all sorts of things. I’ve also been using a lot of Japanese sea-bream fish sauce.
Banned from your kitchen: Truffle oil. I hate the stuff and ruthlessly judge other chefs who use it. Use real truffles and don't be cheap with them either.
Guilty pleasure: Peanut M&Ms. Positively addicting, and I can't get enough. I’ve been known to eat myself sick on them from time to time.
Three things on your countertop right now: My steelhead/salmon fly reel collection as I switch lines over from summer floating to winter sinking lines. A classic olive-drab Stanley flask half-full of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon. Olive oils From Sogno Toscano. Really tasty stuff.
Compared with other Michael Mina restaurants, RN74 Seattle is: My baby. I have the ability to make it better every day I'm there, as opposed to flying in, trying to influence a staff and operation in a few days, and then taking off again and not being able to evolve the changes I've put into place. Here, it’s me, for better or worse—hopefully for the better.
Can't live without: Antique silver spoons that I collect at flea markets, high-speed blender, enameled French cookware, seriously sharp knives.
People I'd like to cook with: I would like to cook with Jacques Pepin and Jacques Cousteau. Maybe make a nice sustainable caviar omelet and talk about living a good and purposeful life.
Craziest work story that can be committed to print: There are so many and the best ones are not fit for publication.