Complements to the Chef

By Frisco STYLE

From time to time, everyone can get passionate about food. Whether you are painstakingly setting the details of the menu for a progressive dinner with friends, putting out an oversized spread for your Super Bowl party guests, or choosing which craving to indulge in during your third trimester, there is just something extraordinary about the art of preparing and presenting great food. But to make a successful career out of curating this edible art, all while using a unique set of life circumstances and skills, one must choose to evolve their passion into actuality.

Rich Vana is the chef and owner of The Heritage Table, a local restaurant that opened in 2013. His focus lies in presenting guests with an innovative and memorable dining experience. Frisco was specifically and intentionally chosen as the location for this iconic restaurant due to the culinary culture that was on the cusp of revolutionizing itself through tremendous growth now and at the time of the restaurant’s opening.

Having spent countless hours in every type of kitchen alongside chefs throughout Dallas while previously working as a culinary writer, Mr. Vana gained firsthand insight from expert chefs coined with curating the bustling city’s unparalleled culinary culture.

His culinary background is somewhat unorthodox. After graduating from Baylor University with a journalism degree, He was a sports writer for the Temple Daily Telegram. When he moved back to Dallas a few years later, He started writing about food, restaurants, and chefs, as it was his passion. “I started writing specifically about what it was like to work in these kitchens, and several chefs and restaurant owners let me stage for a few weeks at a time,” he shares.

“I made the legendary Brunch Burger at The Grape with Brian Luscher, made pizzas in the wood-fired ovens at Cane Rosso, dressed maple-bacon doughnuts at Hypnotic Donuts, assembled tacos at 3 a.m. at Velvet Taco, and even sliced brisket during the Mardi-Gras parade at Lockhart Smokehouse in Bishop Arts.”

Many talented chefs and restaurateurs allowed Chef Vana into their kitchens to soak up knowledge and behind-the-scenes experience. “During these ‘stages,’ I came to the realization that I was writing about people who were ultimately doing what I wanted to do. So, I spoke with my wife, Laura, whose support has been unfathomably unshakable over these past 13 years, and we decided to pursue a dream,” Chef Vana says.

He has always loved cooking. “But the thought of being a chef seemed unrealistic to me until I accepted the fact that I could do it. I was born without a right hand, but it’s never something that has kept me from pursuing hobbies. I could almost always figure out a way to get something done, but it didn’t seem practical to pursue a career where everyone is almost constantly using all ten fingers! However, once I started, there was no going back,” Chef Vana shares.

With a strong focus on sourcing food and ingredients from local farms and ranches, Chef Vana now lives his dream every day, incorporating his unique cooking style into every item offered on the menu at The Heritage Table. With the exception of beef, The Heritage Table sources and butchers whole animals, using every part to create a distinctly unique menu that can constantly evolve. One hundred percent of the restaurant’s proteins are sourced from Texas farms, and they’re all farms that the team believes operate in an ethical, sustainable manner. Several nearby farms supply a bulk of the produce curated into dishes as well.

The Heritage Table’s mission is to exude hospitality in every action, produce excellence in every creation, and strive ceaselessly for professional improvement to orchestrate a transcendent dining experience.

Chef Vana and his team identify with a menu that revolves around a shared heritage and culture. Chef Vana shares, “We’re here to create joy through what we create in the kitchens, our interactions with our guests, and even our hospitality to each other! We have ambitious, local sourcing standards and zero-waste philosophies by which we abide. We also have a service team whose hospitality standards are of the highest caliber. Everything we do is designed to create a feeling of joy and well-being for our guests.”

Admirably, he has always pursued the passion he accidentally discovered while working as a writer and is always looking for innovative ways to grow the culinary culture in the Frisco area and beyond.

A typical day in the life of a chef is not for the faint of heart, as the days and nights are sometimes long. “It takes a certain kind of crazy to love this job. But, if you love it, there’s nothing else like it!” Chef Vana explains.

From a leadership standpoint, Chef Vana feels that the most rewarding aspect is watching his team follow a shared vision. “We’re in uncharted territory here, and we’re all learning, growing, and following this specific vision together. It’s super, super cool!” he shares.

Chef Vana realizes that being a chef and a renowned restaurant owner can be challenging to balance with family life. He and his wife, Laura, have two sons. Chef Vana recognizes Laura’s ceaseless support and encouragement, even as they opened the restaurant with two small children at home. “Encouragement can be difficult to come by as you’re starting off. Sometimes, you just need that person in your corner when you get home to talk you off a ledge. She’s been amazing in this pursuit,” Chef Vana says. “Now, we are at the point where we have a truly special staff that allows me to catch a lot of my boys’ games and practices and spend more dinners and bedtimes at home. Anyone who does this for a living will tell you it’s a tremendous blessing not to take for granted.”

While his daily role in the restaurant is different, like any chef, Chef Vana’s favorite place to find himself is thinking of new dishes with the time to actually play with them for a while … creating iterations and combinations with the luxury of time to analyze them. “Taking a few moments to sit with a dish and get really, really into it is something I really, really love to do,” he says.

One morning recently, he was in his restaurant and received a text from a chef he holds in high esteem but had yet to speak with in years. The message just read, “Congrats chef!” While a little confused, Chef Vana checked his email to see if he could figure out what his friend was talking about. “I had an email from the James Beard Foundation, and the rest of my day looked a little different than I had planned! I was elated. Truly, I was, and still am, a little overwhelmed to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation in such a way,” he shares.

Being named a James Beard Award Semifinalist is an honor in every sense, offering the unparalleled opportunity for chefs to assess themselves against a standard that, upon opening the restaurant, Chef Vana admits would have seemed naively ambitious. Fast forward to today, and Chef Vana says, “It’s thrilling to be partnered along with others in the industry who allow us to showcase an experience comparable with this recognition!”

In addition to being in the kitchen, Chef Vana loves gardening and woodworking, which has been ideal because he can easily incorporate these hobbies into his restaurant. Next time you find yourself at The Heritage Table, note the extensive garden that turns over every spring. Chef Vana even built much of the seating and tables for the restaurant himself.

“I am very close to my family and genuinely love living in North Texas. Having grown up here and now being able to contribute to this cool, burgeoning culture is truly special to me. It’s been cool to see independently owned places open and see success. I’m excited to continue to watch it grow and be a part of it,” Chef Vana adds.

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