By Michelle Farnham
Aug. 5, 2023
SOUTH WALTON – If you’re at all familiar with the South Walton dining scene, you probably know Chef Dan Vargo. At some point over the past decade, you might have spotted him at the helm of Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, cooking at any number of charitable food events, or running the culinary program at the Hilton Sandestin. He’s worked in 5-Diamond and 5-Star restaurants and resorts across his nearly 30 years in the biz, and his resume is as impressive as his food.
Vargo made the decision to go solo in 2021 with the launch of his private chef business, Fine Coastal Cuisine.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own business, and I wanted flexibility to spend more time with my favorite people and spend more time doing what I truly love: cooking,” Vargo explained.
Despite his decades of focusing on the fancier side of the culinary world, Vargo describes his signature style as “relaxed fine-dining.”
“I enjoy bringing the luxury of the Chef’s Table to the comfort of your own home,” he said. He picked up the philosophy of “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” from his time with the Ritz-Carlton and adopted it as his mantra.
“Being a personal chef allows me to be an ambassador of sorts for this paradise we call home,” Vargo explained. “I believe every meal I prepare – casual to fine dining – is an opportunity to create a world class dining experience.”
By special request
So what does world class dining look like here at the beach?
“My favorite menu is easy: it’s my guest’s favorite menu,” he said. “I love preparing food that delights my customers. Creating a bespoke menu is one of my favorite parts.”
As a one-man cook team, Vargo adjusts his arrival and start time depending on the size of the party and what’s on the menu. His ideal group size is about 12 to 18 guests, though he has catered a wedding dinner for two and a wine dinner for 65.
Chef pointed to his handmade gnocchi as one of the most popular dishes, as well as a wide array of rotating and international cuisines.
A look over his seasonal brunch menu reveals the likes of a scrambled egg bar, crispy green tomatoes with pimento cheese, Benedicts and flatbreads. Plated dinners offer your choice of 3- to 7-course meals, with entrees like filet with roasted grouper, shrimp and grits, or snapper over confit potatoes – all elevated to the Fine Coastal Cuisine level.
Vargo even offers in-home culinary classes, to cook alongside his guests while sharing his years of industry knowledge. Learn to make handmade pastas and sauces, holiday desserts, sharpen up your knife skills, or come up with your own theme.
The boutique nature of his business allows him the flexibility to accommodate special requests and dietary needs – which can be a huge relief to some groups.
“My family understands severe food allergies,” Vargo assured. “There is a real struggle to relax while dining out for anyone with dietary needs. Many of my customers have commented that this is the first time they have been able to truly trust and enjoy someone else preparing their food.”
In fact, repeat customers have become a major part of Fine Coastal Cuisine’s business model. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.
“Last year, multiple families booked me for one night during their vacations,” Vargo said. “At the end of each dinner, every family asked if I was available to return to cook again that week. They said they loved how they didn’t have to drive anywhere, they didn’t have to get their kids ready, and they could have the restaurant come to them. All of those families have already booked me for multiple meals this upcoming year.”
Fine Coastal Cuisine serves Walton and Okaloosa counties, focusing primarily on the South Walton and Destin areas. Get in touch with Chef Vargo at www.finecoastalcuisine.com.