TWINSBURG — D’Angelo’s is introducing the community to a new executive chef and her inspired menu.
D'Angelo's Italian Ristorante, at 7995 Darrow Road, recently hired Heather Abshire as its new executive chef. Prior to Abshire's arrival, D’Angelo’s had a line cook, a position primarily filled by the D'Angelos’ son, who remains with the kitchen staff.
“We brought Heather in to be the executive chef here because we want to shake things up a little bit,” said co-owner Paul D’Angelo, “so we could be more of a chef restaurant rather than a line cook restaurant.”
D’Angelo said they kept some of the classic Italian dishes at the Twinsburg location and added many “chef-centric dishes.” He noted his family's other restaurant in Macedonia — Casa D’Angelo — is not changing cooks or its menu.
“She’s got a lot of experience. She’s very talented,” D’Angelo said.
In the four months that Abshire, of Akron, has been working in Twinsburg, she has assembled a fall menu, he said, adding that she will redo the menu for winter in the coming months — and then again for spring.
Before coming to Twinsburg, Abshire worked as the executive chef at Sylvester’s North End Grille in North Canton. Before that she was a chef at Moe’s on Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls, Butcher and the Brewer in Cleveland and at 3 Palms, One Red Door and Flipside, all in Hudson.
Prior to the start of her professional career, Abshire honed her culinary skills at Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna, from which she graduated in 2009.
“They gave me a solid foundation,” said Abshire, who grew up on a farm in the Randolph-Atwater area of Portage County and first learned about cooking from her grandfather, a baker in the U.S. Navy.
After graduation, Abshire interned in the kitchens of a number of chefs in Cleveland, including world-renowned Northeast Ohio Chef Michael Symon. This type of internship is called staging, she explained.
D’Angelo, his wife, Donna, and his brothers, Sam and Jim, opened the original D’Angelo's Italian Ristorante in North Royalton in 1989. Twelve years ago they moved it to its current home in Twinsburg. The family also owns Casa D'Angelo, which has been located in Macedonia for 24 years.
“All of our recipes come from my cousins in St. Louis and my uncle in Indiana,” D’Angelo said. “They’ve been in the business for 40 years.”
While a number of the D’Angelo family recipes remain on the menu, others have been removed to make way for some new and different dishes.
“We like to keep our classics on the menu because that's what people love about coming here,” Abshire said. “These are dishes that have been around so long that I couldn't improve upon them.”
“I was really impressed coming in here,” Abshire continued. “Usually I have to check out the kitchen to make sure it has what I want. Everything here is good quality. They've taken really good care of not only their food but also their staff … I'm just here to bring in some seasonal, chef-driven items.”
Abshire said she wants to use local meats and produce.
“I'm big on bringing in full cuts of meats and I fabricate them myself,” she said. “I can make sure the quality is what I'm looking for. If there's anything negative, I send it back. That way I get exactly what I would want to be eating.”
Over the summer, Abshire said she availed herself to Hudson's Farmer’s Market “a lot” where she found produce and other featured items to use at the restaurant.
“I'm trying to bring the community together,” Abshire said. “This place is family-oriented … I want you to bring your friends here, your date here, your grandma here. I want it to be a place for everyone.”
Abshire said everything is prepared “day of,” including produce, meats and handmade pastas, so that everything is fresh at meal time.
“I think it makes all the difference,” she said.
Many of the dishes she's introduced for fall are not as Italian.
“I've pulled away from the Italian-driven dishes because we are so Italian here,” Abshie said. “I wanted to see where we were at with it.”
Abshire said her focus will be on Italian dishes when she rolls out her winter menu. “Comfort food [and] stuff you don't really want to make at home because it's a pain in the butt, but we'll make it here for you and it'll be good. And we'll clean up the dishes.”
She said she learned a lot about Italian and French cooking, as well as burgers and other classic American fare, when worked as a sous chef for Shawn Monday at the three aforementioned Hudson establishments.
Abshire said when she applies her craft in certain area, whether it's Hudson, Cleveland, Cuyahoga Falls or North Canton, she gets familiar with the resources an area offers and what the people of that area like to eat.
“I've gained experience through travel in the area,” she said. “I'm not very worldly but I like what Ohio has to offer.”
Growing up with her family and grandfather, Abshire said they went for years without buying canned goods because they grew all their vegetables and made their own tomato sauce.
Because her grandfather was a Navy baker, he knew how to make large quantities of baked goods. Abshire said he once took the family's old clothes dryer and turned it into a dough proofer for his homemade bread.
“I grew up around food,” she said. “Food makes me happy and it makes me comfortable. And I want other people to be happy. I dance when I make food. I want other people to feel that.”