Food Connections

Sharing Our Heritage Through Recipes

Southern-inspired macaroni and cheese, Rhode Island-style fried calamari and Korean chicken tacos are just some of the tasty dishes featured on New Hampshire PBS’ new Friday night series, The Great American Recipe. The program highlights talented home cooks sharing their signature dishes in a bid to win a national search for the next “Great American Recipe.”

The series celebrates the multiculturalism that is essential to American life, sharing stories about the connection between food, family and community.

Seacoast chef David Vargas understands this interplay between the past and the future. At his Portsmouth restaurant, Vida Cantina, Chef Vargas serves dishes reflecting his Mexican heritage, his Southern California upbringing and his time spent living — and cooking — in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the focus of his fusion is local ingredients, underpinned by his commitment to sustainable food systems and respect for the land.

“It’s about really digging deep into a region and figuring out its heartbeat. For Mexicans, one of our biggest staples is maize — the corn — but Native Americans in New England also grew maize as a staple of their diets,” said Vargas. “We started a local company called Vida Tortilla to sell organic tortillas, and we’ve gone from growing one acre of native corn to harvesting 30 acres.”

Growing up, Vargas says his family gathered every weekend to eat — roasting a goat, grilling carne asada or slow cooking a pot of beans to serve with tortillas.

“You come over to our house, and we’re going to feed you, as that’s what we have available to show our love and respect for being part of our family or our circle of friends,” says Chef Vargas. “That’s what we try to adapt into our restaurant every day.”

Climate change, political factors, cost and supply chain issues are all impacting the viability of our food systems and the ability for people to access the food they need. “We cannot continue in the form we are going — to take and take and take. There won’t be anything left,” says the James Beard Award-nominated chef. Instead, Vargas advocates making our diets more vegetable-forward, focused on biodiversity and ingredients that are sustainable over time.

Chef Vargas sees a recent interest in Native American cooking as a welcome trend. “It’s the first cuisine of our region, and we haven’t touched one percent of it. We need to promote it on our platforms, and we need to support chefs who are sharing this cuisine,” says Chef Vargas. “And first and foremost, we need to appreciate and give thanks to Native Americans for letting us stay on their lands right now.”

For home cooks, Vargas’ advice is simple: “Start with good ingredients, and you’ll end up with something good on your plate.”

Chef Vargas shared a family recipe for Tacos de Papa (potato tacos) with NHPBS viewers. His family would buy potatoes at local markets or grow their own for this inexpensive meal. See the recipe or share your own family recipe at our food page, nhpbs.org/food, and win a prize!

Learn more about local restaurants in NH through our Flavors of Our Neighbors project at nhpbs.org/neighbors! And tune in to The Great American Recipe, Fridays at 9 PM through Aug. 12th and on-demand for NHPBS Passport members.


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