Savvy Sylvanian …Visits with a local culinary legend

by Mary Helen Darah

For Chef Juan Nanez, of Sautter's Market in Sylvania, good food is a way to bring family and friends together and to make people happy.
For Chef Juan Nanez, of Sautter’s Market in Sylvania, good food is a way to bring family and friends together and to make people happy.

I recently had the chance to visit with Juan Nanez of Sautter’s Market in Sylvania, located at 5519 Main St. Before our visit, a few individuals told me that the native Venezuelan could be a tad difficult to understand. Obviously, these people were not fellow “foodies.” People who are passionate about food share a common language. Within minutes of being in Chef Juan’s presence, his love of food, people, family and his “art” were easily expressed.

My kids and I have been enjoying his culinary creations since his days as owner of Juan’s Fine Pastries. I read the parenting books. I know it’s not wise to bribe your children with food. That being said, I honestly believe my children’s outstanding report cards from Sylvania Schools were boosted by academic celebrations that included Chef Juan’s chocolate Buckeyes, famous breads and fruit tarts. I was sad when his business closed, but I was thrilled when I found him creating his gourmet goodies at Sautter’s.

Although he no longer bakes bread, he now offers everything from mouth-watering entrees to unforgettable desserts. “I now focus on seasonal food more than anything. We always have salmon, which must be eaten fresh, dinner items and of course desserts.” The day I visited, the glass case was filled with his beautiful, culinary treasures that looked like a work of art. There was salmon with pomegranate and squash with lemon, orange vinaigrette, mango salsa, paella and a meatloaf that was anything but ordinary. My mom used to describe her meatloaf as “not pretty but it gets the job done.”  Chef Juan took meatloaf to a whole new level. His was stuffed with boiled eggs, asparagus and roasted bell peppers–colorful and tasty.

I asked him about his childhood in Venezuela and his face lit up. “Food was everything,” he recalled. “Mom cooked daily and dad cooked for fun. We never bought anything pre-made. Food is tradition. Food is happiness. I like to see people happy. I come from a poor country where I have seen little kids eat out of the garbage bins. I think this is why I have been known to take people in for dinner. I appreciate people and food and its beauty.”

I also learned that the chef has a few hidden talents and a secret vice. “I do oil paintings, I love it, and I shouldn’t tell you this, but my secret pleasure is to eat Oreo cookies,” he shared. I once ate three of his cookies in a 12-minute time frame so I didn’t judge. Chef Juan also enjoys his three children and is proud of their accomplishments. In the future, he plans to continue creating at Sautter’s where he has established relationships with his clientele. “People come back to the store with memories of their parents buying my challah bread every Friday. It is all about the relationships in life and enjoying what you do. When you have passion and enjoy what you do, it makes people happy. That is what is it all about.”