Chef’s Table: A lifetime of farm-to-table cuisine
Ryan Summerlin September 15, 2012
Vincent Monarca probably has 30 cookbooks stacked up next to the couch in his living room, along with years of back copies of Bon Appetit Magazine and Gourmet.
When he and his wife, Sarah, went on their honeymoon in Napa Valley, “we ate,” he said.
And when he gets a shipment of fresh, organic lettuce into his 3-and-a-half year old restaurant, Vinny’s in Frisco, it’s an event the owner and chef celebrates.
Monarca was raised on the art of food. He grew up in Hartford, Conn., where he made and canned his own tomato sauce and roasted his own peppers with his grandparents, who moved over from Sicily, Italy. They were “old-school,” he said, taking everything from their big garden, and even raising their own rabbits and goats, which of course, they ate.
Monarca’s first job at the age of 14 was at a restaurant for an upscale retirement community, where he did practically everything – prepped the food, cooked it, waited the tables and washed the dishes. When it came time for college, Monarca got his culinary degree from Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I. After graduation, he moved to Summit County and started work as the sous chef at Ski Tip Lodge.
Monarca has run a few more kitchens in his Summit County career, including the catering and deli operation for Alpine Natural Foods. And then, along came Vinny’s.
The establishment’s name might lead some into initially thinking of pizza, but that “Euro-American” label on the sign lends itself to Monarca’s background. There’s a blue crab lump crab cake, a nod to his New England heritage, dishes like a duck leg confit, which comes from an upscale culinary background, and pastas like the linguine and clams, an homage to his Italian side.
And while all of his dishes pay respect to some aspect of his background, the way he prepares everything is a reverence to how he learned to cook growing up.
Everything’s made with the best and most simple ingredients – organic veggies and hormone-free meat like a grass-fed New Zealand lamb loin – and almost everything is made in-house. (Monarca doesn’t make the ketchup, but wants to). Monarca even makes the noodles, and grinds the angus burgers himself.
“I’m just doing stuff old-school I guess, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Monarca said. “Everything’s done here, it’s all homemade, it’s all scratch.”
The restaurant’s pretty green, too – Vinny’s composts, and it hosts the annual High Country Conservation Center Harvest Dinner, which features locally grown food.
Monarca’s menu is, he admits, pretty big – there’s a lunch, dinner and pub menu, all with plenty of variety – and there’s always plenty of specials, but for someone who loves and is constantly reading about food, it’s hard not to want to make whatever catches his eye. Monarca likes to read the new-school stuff, like from chef Thomas Keller, as well as the old-school, like Julia Child.
Monarca says he just wants to bring good food to a non-stuffy environment. Yes, there are white tablecloths, but the overall atmosphere is casual. He works hard to make sure everything’s made in-house, but it’s all based on the love.
“I just want (customers) to leave feeling good, happy that they came here,” he said. “If they feel good, I feel good.”