"I worked with Chef Tony at the Four Seasons back in Boston. We stayed in touch after he relocated to work in St. John. I was born in Puerto Rico, and my Mom moved back there a few years ago. So now, I not only have the opportunity to cook at a restaurant that is very scenic and has all sorts of history, but I'm also just a 40-minute boat ride to where my Mom lives," Vargas said.
What also drew Vargas to St. John was a chance to broaden his cooking horizons with a new kind of freshness, especially pertaining to seafood. Caneel Bay Resort has its own private harbor and fresh fish is brought in daily for the resort's four restaurants, including local favorites like Mahi Mahi, snapper, yahoo, tuna and lobster. "There's Maine lobster and Caribbean lobster. The taste is distinctly different and our customers love it. At the Sugar Mill, we serve a fantastic array of fish, all caught within a few miles of the resort," Vargas said.
A Restaurant With Atmosphere
Cooking in Paradise
Vargas noted another chef management issue that is unique to the grand geography of the resort. Since Caneel Bay's four restaurants are positioned at various points throughout the resort's sprawling acreage, sometimes getting from one to another can prove tough. If Vargas is without a specific ingredient that is in stock at one of the other restaurants, he has a unique staffing solution. "At least one of the guys on my team is really fast. If I discover I don't have a menu item, my fastest guy is the one who is going to sprint to the other restaurant."
Freshness Is Key
Reflecting on his four years working at the Sugar Mill, the 34-year-old Vargas is grateful for the chance to stretch his cooking wings. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Boston, he thought he had planted long-term roots when he accepted a chef position and purchased a home in Charlotte, NC. That was before Chef Tony snatched up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cook in one of the Caribbean's finest restaurants.
"On a clear day here at the Sugar Mill Restaurant, you can see all the way to the islands of St. Thomas and Tortola. How many people can say their office has this kind of view and this kind of atmosphere?" Vargas said with a grin.