John Varanese obtained his BA in Food Service Management and AS in Culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University in South Carolina. During his enrollment there, Varanese was Kitchen Manager for Magnolias, a landmark in Southern cuisine, for three years. Varanese refined his skills and participated in a creative and financially successful environment. Varanese set himself apart from other chefs quickly after displaying his accomplished understanding of business finance. While working in Magnolias, Varanese revealed his great ability to control costs while producing very high quality cuisine using only the freshest local ingredients.
The next great challenge in Varanese’s restaurant experience came in 1998 when Azalea, in Louisville, Kentucky, offered him the position of Executive Chef. At Azalea, Varanese developed his management style, personality, and culinary flair. After 3 years at Azalea, Varanese’s culinary and business skills peaked—he was ready to begin plans for his own concept. Varanese then spent 4 years as the Executive Chef at the Cardinal Club while planning his own restaurant. He resigned to focus on opening Varanese in August 2007.
Varanese settled in Louisville because of its successful independent dining scene, and he believes that the people of Louisville appreciate fresh ingredients prepared creatively, and a culturally diverse menu. Varanese’s eclectic menu boasts an array of options from Pork & Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Fried Green Tomato Salad, to signature entrées like the Bourbon Barrel Smoked Pork Chop, and Caramelized Orange Bourbon Salmon. This New American Cuisine restaurant comfortably seats 150 guests between its bar, dining room, and Four Seasons Patio. The Four Seasons Patio of Varanese is an addition to the building, which has a dramatic 20-foot slate water wall. The space is enclosed by a serpentine of glass doors, which retract to offer an outdoor dining experience. Varanese is located at 2106 Frankfort Ave in the Historic Clifton neighborhood.
Varanese is known for his culinary creativity as well as his dedication to local farmers who provide the freshest local products as showcased in many of his signature dishes. He is star and co-producer of his own television show, “Big World of Food,” which educates viewers on the importance of local farms’ to the food on their tables. More at www.bigworldoffood.com.
He has won numerous awards and has represented the State of Kentucky’s Department of Aquaculture three years in a row at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. He was one of only 16 chefs in the State of Kentucky to be invited to prepare a special dinner with James Beard chefs from around the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games in October of 2010. Chef Varanese was also invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York in 2012 and again in 2017.
He serves on the Kentucky Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors and was the President of KRA’s Louisville Chapter in 2013. Chef Varanese was honored as one of the country’s top culinary talents in the premier edition of Best Chefs America and named “Restaurateur of the Year” by the Kentucky Restaurant Association.
In March 2016, Chef Varanese opened his second restaurant, River House, part of a 27,000 square foot development located at 3015 River Road. In September of 2015, Chef Varanese revealed that a third restaurant and lounge, Levee at the River House, which opened at the River Road location in April of 2016. River House and Levee represent the realization of Chef Varanese’s ultimate dream of opening a riverfront dining option in Louisville. For more, visit RiverHouseLou.com and LeveeRestaurant.com.
ERIK ABRAHAM - Chef de Cuisine Chef Erik Abraham’s love of cooking began at home, where he would experiment with food and dishes alongside his mother. With her encouragement, Chef Erik pursued his love of cooking into the professional world, taking his first restaurant job when he was just 15 years old. His passion led him to Varanese, where he began as a line cook just 3 months after the restaurant first opened its doors. His creativity and skill soon helped him rise in the ranks to his current position of Executive Chef. As an Executive Chef, Chef Erik plays a role in creating the specials and even helped Chef John develop the new menu for River House. “In creating the specials, we brainstorm and take stock of what is fresh and in season,” says Chef Erik. “If my contact in Hawaii says ‘This is the best seafood,’ then that’s what we use.” The specials, which are never repeated, are tested internally to perfect each dish before they debut in the restaurant. One of the reasons Chef Erik loves the atmosphere at Varanese is that he’s given the freedom to explore his interests and expand his creativity. “I’m passionate about house-made charcuterie. I’ve been getting pigs from Woodland Farms in Goshen, butchering them whole, and experimenting with new salami recipes and so on,” say Chef Erik. These innovative new creations are made entirely in-house, and are often featured alongside more traditional smoked meats on the Varanese specials menu. CALLIE CRITCHELOW - Sous Chef Chef Callie’s mom and grandmothers fostered her love for cooking. They would play “Restaurant,” and let her help cook the family meals. She decided to pursue a career in culinary arts at Jefferson Community and Technical College. While she was in school, she gained experience at diners, fast food restaurants, and bar kitchens. Chef Callie started working at Varanese in July of 2014 as a line cook making apps, salads, and desserts. She quickly moved her way up through the ranks, and is currently sous chef. Chef Callie chooses specials based on what the restaurant has on hand. She likes to have a cultural theme for her dishes. Her inspiration comes from the other chefs with whom she works, and her love of learning and creating new things. Chef Callie prefers testing dishes at work because the kitchen is better equipped for experimentation. Chef Callie loves working with food! “It’s universal. Nothing else can bring people together like it can.”