How We Began
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 restaurant. 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 will appreciate fresh ingredients prepared creatively, and a culturally diverse menu. Varanese’s eclectic menu boasts an array of options from stuffed grape leaves, and fried green tomato salad, to new signature entrées: 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 August 2015, Chef Varanese announced 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 second restaurant and lounge, Levee at the River House, would also be opening. River House is Louisville’s premier riverfront dining destination and will represent the realization of Chef Varanese’s ultimate dream of opening a riverfront dining option in Louisville.