Along the cobblestone streets of 14th century Florence, Italy, there blossomed a renewed flourishing of art, architecture and philosophy referred to as the Renaissance – or renascimento. Some of the greatest thinkers, authors, scientists and artists thrived during this era, characterized by tremendous creativity curiosity and innovation.
One giant of the Renaissance was Leonardo da Vinci, whose genius was evidenced not only as a painter but as an architect, inventor and mathematician. The term, Renaissance man, is used today to ascribe qualities typified in men of that period, like da Vinci, who show competence – even mastery – in multiple different fields.
Moving from a 15th-century Florentine studio to a present-day operating theater, there is still room for artistry and profound competence in multiple disciplines. Dr. Anthony Dardano was drawn from trauma surgery to plastic surgery because of the limitless potential for creativity. For plumbing the very depths of his talent and skill in order to restore function and form to a face ravaged by a gunshot wound, or skin seared by a third-degree burn. For him, it’s the marriage of science and art. The combination of beauty and purpose.
Dr. Dardano is one of Boca’s most experienced plastic and reconstructive surgeons. He has served as chief of surgery at Boca Raton Regional Hospital and Delray Medical Center and is also an associate professor of surgery at Florida Atlantic University. His father, who was also a surgeon, was a significant influence in his choice of career. But in liberal arts college, while preparing for medical school, he discovered something else. A love of, and talent for, art. During an art history course, he was tasked with creating something from nothing. In an uncommonly shaped piece of marble that he found on a construction site, the budding plastic surgeon saw – as yet uncovered – the supine figure of a beautiful woman. Over the course of a year, he carved, shaped, and polished it into its final form and – nearly 40 years later – the sculpture is aptly displayed in his office. Now, Dr. Dardano spends his days molding beauty, not from cold stone but warm flesh. Restoring the splendor of human form damaged by either tragedy or the ravages of time.
Besides his work as a plastic surgeon, Dr. Dardano brings his passion for creativity to the kitchen. He is a consummate chef, giving minute attention to both taste and appearance. There’s beauty and artistry here too.
“Food should be visually pleasing. You should look at it and want to eat it. And the first bite, when it goes in your mouth just needs to wow you. That should be the case at every meal, not just on special occasions,” he declared.
Dr. Dardano took time out of his very busy schedule to welcome our publisher, Jon Virtue, into his home and compose an intricate and delectable five-course meal for him and a few friends. In between courses such as brie with homemade guava jelly and scotch bonnet oil, lobsters poached in garlic and butter with black squid ink linguine, and tuna carpaccio with guacamole, he gave us insight into the man, the surgeon and the artist.
What have been the biggest influences in your life?
First and foremost, my parents, particularly my father, who was my role model growing up. I'm so thankful for my them. I am blessed to be born into a family that nurtured and cared for me, guided me, and showed me faith and love. Because that was the foundation for everything I do now. There are certain elements and people who have helped shape my character over the years: Faith, Family, Food, Friends, and now, my Fiancé.
Do you mentor anybody at this moment?
Once I began my career, I had surgical mentors in my life that directed and guided me. And I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for those individuals. I think it’s vital to pay forward what I myself have been given. I have several students and residents that want to become plastic surgeons and I take great pride in mentoring them and giving them some guidance.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about doing things correctly no matter what it is. Whether I’m operating, giving guidance to my kids, cooking a meal, or working on my relationship with Gina, I want to get it right.
You’ve done a good deal of charity work both locally and abroad. In your work doing reconstructive surgery, can you talk about a moment that really impacted you?
I was part of a medical mission trip in El Salvador and in the line of patients that were waiting to have surgery to repair cleft lips, there was an elderly gentleman who had a cleft lip. Children in third-world countries usually do not survive into adulthood without being able to eat and drink with cleft defects. Somehow, this gentleman beat all odds and grew to adulthood, got married and had kids. This man waited in line for 5 days until all the children had their surgeries first.
I spotted him and through a translator, I asked why he was here, and he said, “I only have one wish in life – to be able to kiss my wife and children on the lips and I've never been able to do that. If I could just do that, I’d be a happy man.” I went back to the director, and I told him the story and we all broke down. We operated on him and fixed it. And when his wife came to visit him post-op she walked right by him because didn't even recognize him When she knew it was him, she just broke down and cried! It was one big emotional moment and it made me realize that what we do as plastic and reconstructive surgeons is just transformative. Yes, other doctors save lives, but we do something different; we give people a gift that they can't give themselves and that's powerful.
When did you fall in love with cooking?
My grandparents owned a small restaurant, and all our weekend activities were based around food. Most people eat to live. We live to eat, and we fed other people. I saw the joy in my grandparents’ faces when they cooked food for people and people enjoyed it. And I saw the joy in those people's faces. It's a service – much like medicine – when you cook a dish and you give it to somebody and they just close their eyes and go, wow. And you created that for them. That's powerful.
Who is your biggest influence when it comes to cooking?
My mom was a great cook. She would go to a restaurant, eat some food, taste it, come home and cook it better than the restaurant.
How have you honed your cooking skills over the years?
Practice, practice, practice. I watched as many cooking shows and travel shows as I possibly could on TV and read books. I watched my family cook, and I would get recipes and just learn how to reproduce it.
What do you consider the most, most essential items in the kitchen?
My go-to ingredients are garlic, some kind of chili pepper and butter. As far as equipment, a great sauté pan and a sharp knife. That’s all you need.
What's your favorite cuisine if you had to pick one?
Well, of course it's going to be Italian. That's what I grew up with. I think it spans everything: there are great Italian seafood dishes, meat dishes, and pasta dishes. So Italian covers all the bases, but I definitely like the Southeast Asian food and cuisine as well.
How do you find the time to master your creative interest with such a hectic surgery schedule?
It can be frustrating, but I try to plan my day. Sometimes I have to get up earlier or forego something else to cook or pursue another creative interest. It just goes back to that self-discipline in life. There are only 24 hours in a day. You should really put them to good use. Right now, I get called unexpectedly for emergency surgery. So, I try to find time later in the day or I try to get up the next day. It’s important to actively find the time for yourself. It clears your mind, and it helps you perform the other things in your life better.
What are you looking forward to most in the next year?
Traveling to an exotic place I haven't been to before with Gina. Just enjoying more time with her. That's what I'm looking forward to.
Dr. Dardano certainly strikes us as an integrated, well-balanced individual. A Renaissance man of our time who has used his creativity, curiosity and dexterity to bring forth beauty, not just in the operating room but in other spheres. He balances his work ethic and rigorous self-discipline with fun and recreation, as well as giving back to others, whether through medical missions, mentoring or lending his time and dancing skills to Boca’s Ballroom Battle – a local charity event which raises money to fund scholarships for underprivileged youth.
“I have a beautiful life. I have my health, and I have a great job and I am surrounded by great friends and family. I have a beautiful woman beside me. Why wouldn't I want to get up and just face the day? Whatever challenges await me, I just look for the new adventure, whatever it is every day.”