By Ginna Parsons
Chef John Mabry began cooking at the age of 5 while standing on a stool in his great-aunt’s kitchen in Savannah, Tennessee.
“She was an old-fashioned Southern cook,” said Mabry, 56. “She was a baker as well. I’m not.”
Mabry has turned that early love of cooking into a profession. In February 2015, he opened Vicari, an Italian restaurant in downtown Corinth.
“The restaurant is named after a town in Palermo in the Italian region of Sicily,” he said. “I love Vicari and it’s similar in size to Corinth.”
Mabry’s first job out of college was at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. From there, he went to culinary school at La Mirande in Avignon, France.
“My best friend, who was Italian, decided to go to culinary school in France and I said, ‘OK, I will too,'” Mabry said.
He learned classic cooking techniques at La Mirande, but it was his friend’s mother and grandmother in Vicari who taught him authentic Italian cooking.
“I learned to make his grandmother’s red sauce – it takes five hours – and it’s the basis for our lasagna and spaghetti,” he said. “We make 25 gallons a week at the restaurant. There’s nothing like a red sauce recipe from an old lady who’s been making it for 80 or 90 years.”
Mabry spent 30 years cooking at hotels and restaurants in Manhattan, Florida and Texas. He moved home to Savannah in 2010 to help take care of his mother. He opened a small restaurant in Savannah, which didn’t do well, and then moved to Corinth and opened Chop House at Shiloh Ridge Golf Course, before opening Vicari.
“The response has been incredible from the beginning,” Mabry said. “We have a great local clientele and we also draw from a 60- to 70-mile radius.”
Customer favorites are steaks, pastas, and the fresh fish, which is delivered three times a week. Offerings include crab and shrimp manicotti, chicken piccata, veal scaloppini, roasted prime rib and lobster ravioli.
“We change our menu every six months, but the standards are always there,” he said. “I’d probably get killed if I took them away.”
Recently, Mabry added dishes featuring clams, scallops and mussels to the menu.
“I wasn’t sure how well they would go over but they’ve been a great addition to our offerings,” he said.
Vicari is a two-story restaurant that can seat 200; it has one private dining room that seats 50.
“Vicari is a destination,” Mabry said. “It’s a beautiful restaurant and a wonderful addition to Corinth.”