Next week DC will say goodbye and good luck to David Varley, the executive chef at Bourbon Steak. Varley has led the restaurant for the past two years and will leave for San Francisco where he will be the Corporate Chef in the Mina Group. Before he jets off to the west coast, I sat down and talked with Varley about his new job and his thoughts on leaving the District.
DC has been an important place in Varley’s life, and although he planned to stay here a lot longer, he said the opportunity to become corporate chef was one he couldn’t turn down. In his new role, he’ll be looking forward to learning about what each of the 18 restaurants in the Mina Group are doing and what new projects the restaurants can undertake. “My goal is to get the chefs in the various restaurants to do a great job and to get fired up about food. I want them to be excited about small farms, shifting the focus back to small farms and sustainability. I want to make sure there is continuity in the program.”
Varley has championed sustainable practices and small farms. A few years ago, he got the Four Seasons Hotel to agree to give him some space on the side of the building to plant a garden. Now, they harvest produce and herbs from the garden to use in the restaurant just about every day of the year, he said.
“We planted about $1,000 worth of herbs and vegetables and now we have a killer garden. It’s pretty special,” he said. You would think you were in a countryside dream listening to Varley describe how in the summertime the cooks and kitchen staff would go out at 5:00 PM to pick fresh herbs and vegetables that would be served in meals to customers that night. Varley said he hopes to bring the garden program concept from Bourbon Steak in DC to other restaurants in the Mina Group, maybe even utilizing rooftop gardens at some restaurants.
San Francisco certainly won’t be lacking in fresh produce, but there are things unique to DC that Varley will miss. “I’ll miss the young chef scene in DC,” Varley said. “The chefs here are doing the best they can. They’re guys taking risks and this community is pushing to do new things.” Having previously worked in Las Vegas where there was a certain “formula” to how things were done, Varley enjoyed the change of pace of DC. “I like the proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. The food product is great here and I’ll miss the connections I have with local farmers.”
Adam Sobel, previously the executive chef at Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, will be taking the reins at Bourbon Steak starting next week. He’s already been training with Varley for the past two weeks while juggling a cross-country move. Varley said Sobel was the first person he thought of to take his place. “He was one of the competent, few people I believe could fit the bill and carry the torch,” Varley said. “It’s about evolution, not revolution. There will be subtle changes in the restaurant. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does and coming back and eating at Bourbon Steak in three to six months.”