Along the waterfront, right in the hub of Brisbane CBD, sits Chef Ryan Squires’s three-Chef-Hat restaurant Esquire, complete with a view of Story Bridge spanning the Brisbane River. Pra’s friends in Brisvegas had bombarded her with rave reviews of this fine dining establishment with its modern European cuisine and slick interior which, naturally, made my ears prick up!
And so, intrigued, I set out to discover more about the man behind it all, the incredibly down-to-earth and immaculately presented owner and executive chef Ryan Squires.
Upon entering the restaurant, it’s evident that Esquire is a place that receives as many accolades for the design as it does for the quality of the food. The interior is fabulously fresh, modern, and minimalist. It’s like a reflection of the Brisbane chef who, it turns out, hates unnecessary waste and loves efficiency.
This Gold Coast boy, just shy of 40 now, recounts grabbing the bull by the horns when he was younger and wholeheartedly embracing his American dream by travelling and working around the world. It took him everywhere from the kitchen at The French Laundry in California to the one at El Bulli in Spain. Once he landed back on the shores of Australia, he launched Esquire in Brisbane.
But Chef Ryan Squires wants a push for more tourism in the city.
Whilst chatting away, I see a slight shift in Ryan’s stance and demeanour and he points towards the river:
“With only 40 km between the CBD and Moreton Island or Stradbroke Island, there should be no reason why the boats passing us now shouldn’t be promoting this. We need to offer more. We have so much in our backyard including a world-class aquarium (the Great Barrier Reef)!”
(I couldn’t agree more! Brisbane is seriously underrated.)
I can tell he’s one of those quietly super driven types. He doesn’t need to shout from the rooftops about what he is doing, he doesn’t need to mix with any of the ‘in’ crowds. He keeps to himself and lets his passion guide him (and not anyone or anything else).
With four years left on his lease, he’s open about what the future could look like for the restaurant, gazing outside whilst verbally visualising greenery and an open bar. His brain doesn’t stop.
Oh, and did I mention that he went and opened up a second restaurant named Esq., which promptly earned two Chef Hats? Esq. is the casual, loose-haired sister to formal, suit-wearing big brother Esquire…and since you already have one kid, why not just make it an even two, right?
But it’s not necessarily all about big and beautiful for this Australian chef. In fact, he clearly articulates that he’d actually prefer a smaller restaurant in the future. You might not guess it but Ryan is very much an introvert.
“In fact, I hate crowds…maybe I am too awkward at times…maybe cautious…”
He wishes that people would understand that there’s a difference between quiet and arrogance.
“Boats are my passion but I had to sell one in order to buy the restaurant. Nonetheless, I’d still prefer to be in the deserted part of Moreton Island on my time off!”
The restaurant team is intimate and tight-knit, with just five other staff alongside Ryan. He is a firm believer in truth, honesty, and transparency, and will always respect ideas.
One of the hardest things for them has been the front of the house. Ryan admits to being particularly fussy about this and how the restaurant is perceived.
“Maybe I’m over the top but it’s important that the person reads a variety of personas, from a bin man to a surgeon—it doesn’t matter. It’s all about knowing what to say.”
He might call himself over the top but it’s really just love and dedication to the craft. Surely this is why he has five Chef Hats!
And another thing. According to Chef Ryan Squires, fine dining is not dead.
“It comes around in circles and there will always be a place for fine dining. Every major city has to have it and if you do believe it’s dead, then you won’t attract the people.”
Ed. note: Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You’ve worked in the some of the best establishments but where and when did the spark to become a leading Chef and run your own business come from?
There was never a spark. It was simply getting monotonous working for other people and then having the chance present itself.
Looking back, 50% of the time I wish I was employed…running your own restaurant is completely different.
It’s a tough business—what has been the number one secret to your success?
Not worrying about anything else except what you are offering that day and how you are orchestrating it with your staff surrounding you.
When the going gets tough you…
Think how fortunate you are
Describe the style of Esquire
What keeps your regulars coming back time and time again?
The 3 questions above have something to do with it. I’ve never understood my clientele.
What’s your secret behind creating your menu—where do you gain inspiration?
Don’t overthink. See what’s best in offer that day and go from there.
What’s the number one culinary trend you cannot stand?
Too many to mention
In your eyes, what’s the most underrated ingredient?
Which ingredient gives you the most diversity?
Your dream table of 5 people would consist of…
Food critics are…
Meant to know more than chefs about food and its trends and be able to identify original ideas from taken ones in order to critique properly.
Tell us a little bit more about your love with wood
It’s like a brown paper bag. It has a certain feel, LOOK, and smell. My Italian grandfather was a woodworker in retirement that’s where the appreciation came from.
Your take on Middle Eastern cuisine
If you’ve had one dish, you’ve had them all. It’s a little like Chinese food and possibly Italian.
I’ve read that you would work within the marine or farming sector if you were not a Chef. Tell us more…
I’m positive I have OCD with a little ADD. I love neat rows of hay or straight fields of cabbages, plus being hands-on and having to problem-solve most of the time. And obviously marine involves saltwater and especially boats!!!
What will Ryan Squires be doing in 10 years’ time?
I will not be cooking & hopefully not in restaurants. Perhaps a part-time critic or a hotelier or some sort of inventor. Or even that macadamia/tobacco farmer who builds wooden boats 😉
If we want to hunt you down, where’s the best venue in Brisbane to find you (excluding yours!)
Bar Alto enjoying crab gnocchi.
Well, Chef Ryan…you may be introverted, prefer boats to people, and have slight OCD but in our eyes you are doing a sterling job!!!!
145 Eagle St, Brisbane QLD 4000