Rich Vana opened the Heritage Table in Frisco in 2017 with the idea that it would serve locally sourced, scratch-made food. It was a gamble, partly because he was transitioning from food writer to chef, and this was his first restaurant. And there’s the fact that he opened in the Gulledge House on Frisco’s Main Street — a residence that’s over a century old.
In the time since Vana has pivoted the restaurant from three meals a day to serving only dinner. Post-pandemic, he started a whole food program that challenges the staff to devise ways to use every part of each plant and animal that comes through the doors. He’s planted a garden out back so that some produce is raised hyper-locally, mere feet away, and continued to partner with local farmers and ranchers. He’s focused on using animals raised ethically and sustainably, with quality always at the forefront. It leads to some exciting meals — the menu is rarely the same from visit to visit, save a few dishes that are standard bearers.
Eater Dallas caught up with him to learn more about how he’s doing what he’s doing in a city with a food scene that is perhaps better known for hosting second locations of successful Dallas restaurants and flashy chains.
How the restaurant has evolved since it opened
“What we are now is a result of what we’ve learned about our mission, how to achieve it, and what the community wants. When I first opened, I wanted to be everything to everybody. That meant making a lot of concessions to my original vision to cast a wide net. Covid also sidelined that vision. Now, we embrace a specific philosophy driven by the farms and ranches around us, and we then define our menu. We hope that the people who say they want locally, ethically raised, sustainable, high quality food really do want it.”
Deciding what meets the restaurant’s standards
“What matters the most to me is the eyeball test, where I can go to farms and see the animals living like animals want to out in the field, that they don’t look like they’re being mistreated. That increases my awareness and reminds me that these are animals that are dying in order for us to feed them to people. People lose sight of that the further away you get from farms. The meaning of something giving its life for us to consume it means that if we forget it, we don’t treat it with respect.
“As far as geography, we don’t have a milage range that we stick to. We could say we want all the food to come from within 100 miles but in some cases, we have beef and seafood from the Gulf coming from Houston, which is a couple of hundred miles away. The ethics of this are important but the quality is also important. While some of our beef comes from Houston, we also get it from River Creek in Sherman, but it can’t give us enough meat so that we could use solely that. Our hope is to keep supporting local folks so that they can grow.”
The dish that epitomizes its menu
“We want to help people understand that there are only 12 pork chops, and there’s a whole rest of the animal to be used. When we enacted a whole animal program, we analyzed the menu, and it was clear we needed a dish to incorporate the rest of the animal. We ended up with a ramen-style dish. “The Whole Beast is a reflection of what we do. We added it to the menu eight months ago. It’s function more than form. When we get a pig in, we’ll end up with a couple dozen pounds of bones we roast and use for broth. We use scrap from short ribs and dark meat from chickens after the breast and wings are used in another dish — right now, we’re turning it into a sausage. It is a catch-all for the fun ideas we come up with to use the smaller amounts of meat. It looks different every time the diner comes in. This fall, it includes stems from the mushrooms we get from Texas Fungus, which we smoke, dehydrate, and powder. We also do that with the tops and bottoms of our tomatoes. As we have less tomatoes and more mushrooms, that will change the flavor profile. It comes with kimchi made with our Brussels sprouts and cabbages and will probably be spicier in the cold weather. The dish is always a reflection of what we’re getting and how we can use it seasonally.”
On the dishes that he can’t take off the menu
Our chicken piccata is something I’ve tried to get rid of, and people got angry. Meaning they would yell — loudly. I got a lecture or two. [laughs] It was a learning thing for me. From a chef’s perspective, you get wrapped up in what you want to do and forget about the hospitality aspect at some points. It’s not about you. Ultimately, it’s about giving people what they love, particularly if it’s within the bounds of what you said you want to do. Am I going to serve people foie gras? No, no matter how much they want it, because that’s now what we do. If I can make chicken piccata with birds from farms that treat them humanely, and it’s a delicious dish, then I need to do it no matter how disenchanted I am with the dish because I’ve seen it a thousand times. Also, our milk and honey rolls are always going to be here. It’s a great representation of our pastry program, a fairly simple dish that is well done, and people love it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.