Heat ruled Anthony Abare's formative years in Orlando, Florida. From an early age, his penchant for spice left him chasing the next great extreme. As chef de cuisine at Chardon's Square Bistro (205 Main St., 440-279-0101, square-bistro.com), the chef has found a place to showcase that same enthusiasm for risk taking.
"I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, so I got accustomed to a lot of heat from going over to my friends' houses and having dinner with their families," says Abare. Tamales and pork cazuela, meat braised for hours with jalapenos and citrus, were regularly passed around the table.
Like many youth in the Orlando area, Abare landed his first job at Disney World, where he bussed tables at Italian scratch kitchen Mama Melrose's Ristorante. But after admiring his mother and grandmother's cooking for years during the holidays, his ambitions were to climb to the top.
Before long, he was working the line while taking part in the Disney Culinary Program. As he took on more responsibility at Melrose's, Abare's favorite dish to prepare was, predictably, a seafood dish made with a spicy sauce created from fresh roasted habaneros and jalapenos. Today, he still enjoys playing with new sauces, like the jalapeno, kiwi and lime aioli he created for Square's calamari special.
"I don't like to stick to the basics of any kind of recipe," says Abare. "I like to try things people wouldn't expect and see how far I can take it."
After eight years, Abare was ready for a fresh start. He moved to Cleveland and took a factory job, but it wasn't long before the kitchen called his name again. He began working at Joey's Italian Grille and then Punderson Manor State Park Lodge, where he learned the ropes of cooking for banquets.
When Square opened, he jumped at the opportunity for a change. He started splitting his time between the Chardon location and its sister restaurant in Willoughby, the seafood-focused Lure Bistro. At Lure, the cuisine has an Asian flair, a trait that continues to manifest itself at Square in dishes like miso-glazed black sea bass with an Asian salad.
The chef's love for heat is alive and well in Square dishes like the chipotle-dusted pork tenderloin served with fig and blackberry jam. Undaunted by the idea of flexing his appetite for spiciness at the expense of timid Chardon palates, the chef says of his clientele, "They're very adventurous when it comes to new things."
His job at Square has brought him under the wing of chef-owner Jaret Havanchak. "We work seamlessly together," Abare says. "He taught me to be able to try different things without being afraid to fail at it."
He credits Havanchak for giving him the chance to work with ingredients like foie gras. As a chef who thrives on innovation, Abare has a deep appreciation for its versatility.
With a taste for testing the limits, Abare has evolved into a natural when it comes to culinary experimentation. But he vows he's just getting started.