William Wargo

Culinary Creativity Inspires Cookbook Club

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Wednesday November 22, 2017

Alongside a versatile career in advocacy, law and teaching, William Wargo explores adventures in dining.

It’s the kind of masterpiece we see on the covers of epicurean magazines: embroidered by fresh parsley, a golden-skinned delicacy showcased on a bed of leek and pecan stuffing. This delicacy is pheasant, prepared, with patient hands, by William Wargo, then slowly braised, rendering the meat so tender it falls off the bone and dissolves in your mouth like a delicate dream.

A retired attorney from South Burlington, Wargo created this masterpiece for the South Burlington Community Library Cookbook Club meeting in November. First a member of the Pierson Library’s Let’s Dish Cookbook Club in Shelburne, he says he “loves it.” His positive experience with Let’s Dish is what drove him to start the cookbook club here in South Burlington last May.

Though Wargo has no professional training in cooking, he has taken classes. His culinary curiosity goes far back, though, to his childhood years. Growing up, he’d watch his Polish mother make pierogi, kielbasa, and pot roast. He recalls being “fascinated by her preparation of foods.”

Wargo, who also enjoys drawing and painting, approaches cooking as a work of art. He likes to experiment with various dishes like venison, quail, and oysters. All who attend the club contribute to the artistic experience by bringing dishes based on a recipe from a particular cookbook chosen for the month; this most recent feast, it was The Silver Palate Cookbook. In addition to the pheasant, the meal included gazpacho coolers, carrot orange soup, eggplant parmesan, lasagna, pesto pasta, baked ham with glazed apricots, chicken with lemon and herbs; and chicken Marbella (“beautiful sea”), named after a town near Spain’s Costa del Sol. Of course, the meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert, chocolate fudge sauce with ice cream, and decadent chocolate cake decorated with white mum florets. As Wargo describes, this kind of gastronomic gathering is “like dining in a gourmet restaurant.” Beyond the food itself, these monthly feasts are a social experience for the group. “I mostly enjoy coming together,” Wargo says, “to share the dishes we’ve prepared and the stories we have about preparing them.” During this month’s meeting, the discussion varied from what is the exact measurement of a pinch to the difference between the taste of eggplant with and without the skin.

It comes as no surprise that Wargo possesses an affinity for creating meaningful connections. A lifelong advocate for the underserved, he holds a Masters in Social Work. While in graduate school, he worked for the Brooklyn Veteran Administration Outpatient Clinic, counseling veterans struggling with emotional issues and drug and alcohol dependency. What he remembers enjoying the most while there is the writing group, which he started for disabled veterans, offering them a safe outlet to write and share their difficulties. He also assisted foster children in New York City and worked at the Bowery Project in Manhattan, helping individuals recovering from substance abuse, and providing emergency therapeutic services for people in crisis. Wargo reached for creative ways to engage his clients. He started a softball league at the Bowery Project and took people to plays. In this way, Wargo helped them “get them back on their feet, helped them return to New York City life.”

Many of the individuals Wargo counseled inevitably faced legal issues. To help his clients navigate the legal system, he enrolled in law school. After graduating from NYU, he provided civil legal services to the poor in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He describes that role as “very rewarding,” and recalls how he had hoped to find similar work after leaving NYC with his wife, Susan, to travel around the country. When offered a position as managing attorney for a Prisoners Legal Services office in Plattsburgh, they relocated to the North Country. But after visiting Vermont, and falling in love with the area, a year later the Green Mountain State became their home.

Wargo’s advocacy on behalf of Vermonters over the 40 years he has lived here is a legacy. When he first arrived in Vermont, and was studying for the state’s bar exam, he worked for Howard Mental Health Services as an emergency services social worker, counseling people who were suicidal. Winooski City Manager Peter Clavelle eventually appointed him as Winooski city attorney, a position in which he dedicated much of his ten years there to environmental issues. He then served as the Vermont Health Department’s legal counsel for more than 15 years where he worked on several of the state’s public health initiatives including immunization issues and the Vermont’s Smoking in Public Places Law (or Clean Indoor Act).

Wargo also taught law for 20 years at Saint Michael’s College, and various courses such as constitutional law, Shakespeare, sociology, and Vermont history at Community College of Vermont (CCV). His commitment to education has earned him a nomination for the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award. Though he’s a retired practicing attorney and social worker, he continues to contribute toward the benefit of others as an educator. He is currently an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the University of Vermont, where he’s been teaching in the College of Medicine’s Public Health program for more than five years. “It’s great to teach students who love to learn,” he says.

In addition to nurturing his students with knowledge, filling his cookbook club peers with soul-sating cuisine, and feeding his artistic drive with drawing and painting, Wargo thoughtfully connects to his community as a contributing writer to The Other Paper and attends classes on women and art at CCV. He also provides his family with wholesome dishes, including the French classic Coq Au Vin, nourishing them with thyme and tenderness, braised slowly in a cozy blend of red wine and brandy.

Whether he’s cooking for friends or family, for Wargo the experience is always “soothing” and “meditative, the final product delicious!”

To learn more about the SBCL Cookbook Club, visit www.sburlcomlib.com/html/programs.html or call the library at 802-652-7080. Due to SBCL’s transition to the UMall, the next SBCL Cookbook Club will be a joint meeting with Shelburne’s Pierson Library’s Let’s Dish Cookbook Club, Wednesday, December 6, 6:15 pm, at Pierson Library, Shelburne Town Offices, 5420 Shelburne Road, Meeting Room 2. The featured cookbook will be Cooking with Shelburne Farms by Melissa Pasanen.


SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor