Francisco Anton, Chef/Owner, Cardón y el Tirano
A native of Isla Margarita, Venezuela, Chef Francisco Anton moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. After growing up between Louisiana and earning a business degree in Orlando, he decided to follow his passion for cooking and went to live and work in NYC. After stints in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he came into his own under Maximo Tejada who taught him how to merge his flare for Latin cuisine with French technique. After a few years, Chef Anton moved to Miami and, before opening Cardón y el Tirano, worked alongside Michael Shikany at SHIKANY and was also heavily recruited to work with Alex Chang at the Vagabond. Instead of continuing on a path of working for others, however, Chef Anton decided to follow his dreams and open his own restaurant, offering a contemporary take on more traditional menus from all over Latin America.
Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in Miami right now?
I’m friends with so many chefs in town with great restaurants, so I don’t think I could choose one favorite. Plus, there are still so many places that I haven’t tried yet.
If you had to pick one food item to best describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Chilies. Some some people find me painfully hot; others find me just right.
Describe the Cardón y el Tirano experience in 3 words.
Relaxed. Innovative. Cozy.
What made you choose Calle 8 for the restaurant location?
Calle Ocho is internationally known as a cultural and festive street in Miami. I grew up in Venezuela knowing about the Calle Ocho music festival an of its Cuban cultural identity. Today, Calle Ocho is a different place. The same way Miami’s demographic has changed, Calle Ocho has enriched itself with cultures from over the world, making it a culturally diverse environment open for experimentation and innovation.
Because of our fusion of Latin flavors and modern approach to food, I considered Calle Ocho as the perfect place for the restaurant. Cardón wants to be part of the movement to modernize and bring choices for tourists and locals alike on Calle Ocho. We want to offer access to a different layer of the Latin culture of Miami – a Latin Miami that is modern and cosmopolitan.
Our location is wonderful; we have a large parking lot right in front of the restaurant and more parking in the back. We are located a block away from the iconic Versailles, famous for its traditional rice and beans menu, and we are right across the street from Hy Vong, another Miami old-timer serving home-style Vietnamese food.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Architect. I love design and building construction.
What are the staple ingredients in your pantry?
Dried chilies, chocolate, coconut milk, corn flour, lots of coffee… I have a long list and always try and keep a well-stocked pantry.
What is your all-time favorite food to eat? To cook?
Thinking about what I like to eat and cook the most, I have to say that without a doubt seafood is on the top of my list. From the biggest fish to the smallest shell in the sea, I love to eat it in any way, shape or form. At the same time, I enjoy cooking seafood, especially after going fishing; throwing the catch of the day on top of a wood fire with some salt and lime juice. It’s just perfect.
You have a fine dining background, but your menu reads more like Venezuelan/Latin comfort food. How do you merge the two concepts?
For me, comfort food is about memories. It brings you back to that place or moment in your life that is of joy. It is about evoking through food an endearing feeling of being home. That is precisely what we are serving at Cardón y el Tirano; it’s what we focus on to develop the experience of dishes for our menu.
Fine dining is not an antagonist of comfort food. It concentrates on highly specialized cooking techniques and products that in most cases are meant to impress guests. In addition, there is always an enormous respect for the ingredients, the quality of food, and the immeasurable love for cooking every dish that come out of the kitchen.
It is no different for us; we incorporate ingredients that traditionally will not form part of the dish. For example, we incorporate a layer of avocado mousse to our Arepa Duos instead of using just sliced avocados. We also smear an ancho chile aioli on the plate to contrast with the flavors present in the crispy arepa. For our Tacos al Pastor, we serve it with spiced pineapple chutney and a red onion, scallions and chile relish instead of the traditional grilled pineapple and pico de gallo. We charge a ISI siphon with N2O for the shallot mousse that is served together with the Cream of Calabaza. We age our picanha steak for our Tostones and Picanha dish and the list goes on.
The comfort food experience is relaxed, casual and accessible like the experience we want our customers to have.
Who is your biggest culinary influence?
My grandmother is my biggest culinary influence; her cooking is all about love. She starts her tomato sauce for her pasta at nine in the morning to serve it at one in the afternoon. Four hours cooking tomatoes that she peeled and canned during the tomato season, the combination of her fresh and light potato gnocchi with the tomato sauce and freshly picked basil just shows how years of practice lead to perfection. She can create the best tasting dishes with just a few simple ingredients. And with every bite you can taste all the love she puts into it.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Miami?
The beautiful ocean and warm winters are some of my favorite things about Miami. Having the opportunity to be on the beach all year long and enjoying the infinite horizon is a privilege.