Zack Hirt

Zack Hirt, Chef

profilepic_largeIt’s not often a new restaurant racks up numerous ‘best of’ awards within months of opening, but at Chef Zack Hirt’s Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar in Akron, Ohio, reservations are still required two years later.

The inspiration for Zack’s winning concept came at a tasting in Cleveland six years ago where, according to an article in a local business magazine, Zack fell for the Mexican food as much as the tequila. He and his wife, Lisa, a registered dietitian, dedicated the next three years to exploring Mexican cuisine and, by 2013, had crafted a menu that’s like the name says: new and modern.

The restaurant’s interpretation of traditional Mexican cuisine is heavy on fresh, local vegetables, high-quality meat and fish and refreshing flavor combinations like citrus chimichurri aioli with calamari, chipotle agave syrup with plantain fritters or a spicy orange sauce with fish.
Zack says The Perfect Purée lets the kid in him experiment with entrees, using purees and concentrates for a starch, a sauce, or even a glaze.

“When my staff and I are working on new menu items, we like to play around with ‘wild card’ ingredients – items one wouldn’t think could work well on a dish, but oftentimes do,” he says. “The Perfect Purée’s selection is a great wild card. Their flavors are perfectly balanced to work in just about any application.”

Zack uses the same approach in his beverage program, finding a surprisingly complementary match in Roasted Red Pepper Puree and tequila, for instance. “I love the fact that I can use not just the sweet but the savory purees to make a cocktail that surprises my guests,” he says.

Nuevo Modern is located in a historic building in downtown Akron, not far from the Highland Square neighborhood where Zack grew up and learned to cook. Zack took his first paying job at a local natural foods store and restaurant where the kitchen was helmed by a CIA graduate. For eight years, he says he studied how food “works” — learning how to cook pasta and pair flavors and textures.

From there, Zack went to work at a vegetarian restaurant in Kent called The Zephyr, where he honed his knife and baking skills. Zack later became the executive chef of a local steak house and in 2003 seized the opportunity to work alongside award-winning chef Roger Thomas at Piatto, then a jewel in the downtown Akron fine dining scene. Zack also helped open another downtown Akron standout, Crave. In 2013 he opened Nuevo, which has been rated “Best New Restaurant,” in Akron, “Best Mexican Restaurant” and “Best Patio.” Zack continually rates among the best chefs in the Akron area.

Recipes by Zach Hirt

Corto Plazo
Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Beet Greens and Hibiscus Rice Cake