David Vargas, Vida Cantina’s owner and executive chef, is a second-generation restaurateur. He learned the secrets of cooking traditional Mexican food from his parents’ Casa Vargas when he was growing up in southern California. Locally sourcing many of his fresh ingredients, Vargas combines ﬂavors and spices to bring the Seacoast a true taste of Mexico with a contemporary twist. Vida Cantina was named Best of Taste’s “Best New Restaurant” when it opened in 2014, and its popularity and recognition continues to grow.
In September, 2014, Ben Chesley was appointed executive chef at Epoch Restaurant at the ripe old age of 26. “Age is just a number,” Chesley declares. “The key to doing this job is to always keep pushing. For years I worked as hard as I could, always pushing for more responsibility and never missing an opportunity to learn from previous chefs."
Designing your own cuisine, utilizing local food options, and experiencing a fun, food-loving experience is what one can expect from Michael Prete’s catering. Prete, co-owner of Portsmouth Catering Co., gears his catered events around the clients. Recently combining the food end of the business with an event center has allowed Prete’s unique catering qualities to impact all aspects of his functions. Prete began catering around 2005. In 2011 he continued catering under The Kitchen Eatery and Catering. High demand led to ofﬁcially establishing the Portsmouth Catering Co. in February 2014. Prete asserts, “When you hire us, you’ll feel like friends (who happen to be chefs and amazing servers) helped you with your event. No suits, no stufﬁness, nothing but innovative scratch cooking made with heart.”
Everything about Julie Cutting is bold, from her flowing blonde hair and flashing megawatt smile to her tangential opinions on food to the flavors at Cure, her new American comfort-food style bistro in downtown Portsmouth in the space formerly occupied by Four Restaurant. Fans of the Food Network show Cutthroat Kitchen may recognize Cutting as a contestant on episode four of the first season, but locals are beginning to recognize her as the bubbly, smiling face behind the stove at this sunny neighborhood spot. Cutting grew up in South Berwick, Maine, and had dreamed of opening her own restaurant since 2004, while attending the Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover. Over the past decade, she has worked her way down the coast, including The Front Room in Portland, Brazo in Portsmouth, and Seaport Fish in Kittery. Despite the crazy hours and stress of being a business owner, she couldn’t be happier.
Executive Chef Zachary Martineau gives a taste of fresh fare to his patrons at Epoch Restaurant, using the farm-totable approach. “It’s very important to me that I use local vendors to help support our community,” he explains. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Martineau worked at several New England restaurants and has helped cook a meal at the James Beard House in Manhattan. At Epoch Restaurant & Bar, he oversees breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Good caterers are not unlike good magicians. They leave the crowd oohing and ahhing, wondering how they did it, and they make it all look easy. Kitchen Chicks, which recently celebrated its 10th year in business, is just such a caterer. Each year, owner Peggy Liversidge and her crew pull off dozens of weddings, birthday parties, family reunions, and other special events, working behind the scenes so guests and hosts can enjoy their special day. Liversidge also runs a retail shop, Cape Porpoise Kitchen, which offers prepared foods to go, wines, cheeses, and other items—fashioned, she says, “after a mini Balducci’s or Dean & DeLuca.” Kennebunk may be a seasonal market, but Liversidge keeps busy all year round. We recently caught up with her to chat about how she does it.
Schaefer has been the Roundabout Diner’s pastry chef since the Portsmouth restaurant opened in 2010 nd has loved every minute of it. Before that, though, her career was decidedly lackluster. “I worked in an office and I hated it,” she says. “I spent all my time looking though cake magazines.”