Chef of the Month: Chef Roberto began career in Mexico

Pam Griffin
Roberto Hernandez is executive chef at Pompano Joe’s.

In 1975, Executive Chef Roberto Hernandez knew he wanted to be a chef while at his first job in a restaurant in Mexico.

Hernandez, The Log’s Chef of the Month for September, began working at Maxim’s Lugar de las Estrellas Night Club and International Cuisine in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico when only 19.

“The first thing that I ever cooked for customers was a Puntas de filete a la Mexicana appetizer,” Hernandez told The Log. “I worked all the kitchen positions from 1979-1984, the last one as acting general manager.”

Although his first training as a chef was in Mexico, his training with seafood was in Chicago at Annabelle’s Fish House in the 1980s.

A chef for 30+ years, Hernandez has been at Pompano Joe’s for 17 years. Building a kitchen staff with skilled personnel for the peak tourist season is the most difficult part of his job there.

“To build up skilled personal, it is important to be very selective on picking the right person for the responsibility,” Hernandez said. “Then I fit them in to what I call my pre-existing system through a very exhausting training program, where you gain respect for what you are trying to accomplish by letting employees know the importance of doing the right thing.

“On the Emerald Coast, you can only have so many very qualified employees due to the fluctuation in business during the seasons.”

Q: Do you have a signature recipe you are known for?

A: I have several but a couple of the most popular are the Reggae Rolls and the Garlic Crusted Grouper at Pompano Joe’s.

Q: What is your favorite food to eat?

A: That’s a tough question, because I love so many different food items. If I have to pick one, I would say it’s red snapper

Q: Are there any foods you just don’t like?

A: I’m not a big fan of liver.

Q: What is the most necessary ingredient for the majority of recipes?

A: At Pompano Joe’s we have a Caribbean style menu so the most necessary ingredients are garlic, spicy seasonings and olive oil.

Q: What is your favorite cuisine to cook? Why?  

A: I really don’t have one favorite. My style is usually a mixture of several types of cuisine. I like to be creative and come up with my own original recipes.

Q: Best piece of advice you would give a home cook?

A: My best piece of advice is to make sure that you use quality ingredients. That is the secret to our success at Pompano Joe’s.  

Chef Roberto Hernandez’s

Coconut Crusted Amberjack

These sautéed Amberjack fillets have a crispy coconut crust and are topped with mango-papaya chutney.

4 firm white Amberjack fillets

1 cup shredded coconut

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground pepper, or to taste

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 egg

2 oz. Mango-Papaya chutney

Mix 1/3 cup flour, coconut, cumin, curry powder, salt and pepper together on a plate. 

In shallow bowl, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Place the remaining 1/3 cup flour on a second plate. 

Dredge the fillets first in the plain flour (shaking off excess), then in the egg mixture, and finely in the coconut mixture to coat both sides. 

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat, then sauté the fillets until golden brown on both sides and cooked though on the inside, about 2-3 minutes per side. 

Serve fillets warm with mango-papaya chutney and garnish with pan fried bananas.