Sergio Abramof: a remembrance

I wasn’t a personal friend of Sergio Abramof, though I would have liked to be one. I am, however, and will always be, an ardent fan who had three brief person-to-person encounters with him.

In the five years since we moved to Cleveland Heights, Saráva, at Shaker Square, has become my favorite local restaurant. (Sergio’s in University Circle is also in my top five.) The first time I met Sergio was when I was dining at Saráva. He was walking through the restaurant; we made eye contact and he stopped to chat with us. We complimented the food and he thanked us for choosing his restaurant.

Last February, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood presented an evening with three local Jewish chefs, including Sergio, Doug Katz (fire food and drink), and Michael Herschman (Lopez). They told wonderful stories about family dinners, the foods they grew up with, and about getting started in the restaurant business.

Sergio told the now well-known tale of his interview, many years ago, with Carl Quagliata, who was opening an Italian restaurant on Chagrin Boulevard, Ristorante Giovanni. As Sergio told it, Quagliata knew him by only his first name and assumed he was Italian. It was only after hiring him that he learned Sergio’s last name, that he was Jewish, and that he knew nothing about Italian cuisine. A quick learner with an innate food sense, Sergio soon became the executive chef and stayed at the restaurant, encouraging and teaching others, for 14 years.

The three chefs stayed around after the presentation to mingle with the crowd. I had the opportunity to talk with Sergio for a few minutes about the hard work and scar-toughened hands of professional chefs. He showed me his and we had a good laugh together.

I met Sergio for the last time at the beginning of August in Whole Foods Market on Cedar Road. I was standing behind him, waiting to check out. Recognizing him, I spoke his name. Sergio turned and looked at me as if he should know who I was. In response to his quizzical look, I said, “I’m just a fan.” He gave me that warm and wonderful smile, took my hand in both of his and said, “That’s all I need to know.” We talked a little about how our summers were going, and then went our separate ways. That’s the way it was with Sergio—it was personal.

The news of Sergio’s death hit like a thunderbolt. His memorial service on Sept. 3 was SRO—standing room only. Brazilian music played as hundreds of mourners entered the chapel. Longtime friends and colleagues shared stories about him, often with tears. It was a fitting tribute to the man who had given so much to so many people, and died too soon.

There are those who will remember Sergio for his friendship, for his support and encouragement, for his infectious laugh, and for his remarkable life. I will remember him for his grace, good humor, and the twinkle in his eye.

Jewel Moulthrop

Jewel Moulthrop is a Cleveland Heights resident, a member of the FutureHeights Board of Directors, and chair of the Heights Observer's editorial advisory committee.

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Volume 5, Issue 10, Posted 9:52 AM, 09.11.2012