Dallas – Chef Johnny Hernandez has spent the last 10 years promoting culinary education among Hispanics in San Antonio, Texas, so that later they can be independent and run their own businesses.
Hernandez, born in San Antonio of Mexican parents, believes in the gastronomic talent and knowledge of Latinos, but is concerned that most of them won't "get out of the kitchen" and graduate as chefs.
"We shouldn't just be good cooks - we must also be good administrators. The problem is that this isn't a fad or a fashion, it's a profession requiring sacrifices that most people are unaware of," Hernandez said in an interview with Efe.
"While other people relax and enjoy their vacations, those of us who work in this industry are busy serving them, because that's our vocation. If you can pass that test, then this is the career for you," the chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, said.
Hernandez owns two restaurants and a catering company.
One of his restaurants is La Gloria, which critics have rated a gem of gastronomy for its menu of Mexican dishes unmatched by any other eatery in the San Antonio tourist area.
Hernandez has taken the kind of food sold in the streets into his San Antonio restaurant to offer the true flavors of Mexico, from tacos and tortas to tlayudas, sopes and ceviche.
"In San Antonio there are establishments that offer dishes with a lot of Tex-Mex influence, but there's nowhere that serves dishes of authentic Mexican cooking, such as you find walking through an ordinary (immigrant) neighborhood," he said.
To work up his menu, Hernandez traveled several months south of the Rio Grande to collect recipes from Yucatan, Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Michoacan, Aguas Calientes, San Luis and elsewhere.
Hernandez's interest in Mexican cooking began when he was still very young. His parents had a restaurant and that is what initially attracted him to gastronomy. Later studies instructed him in the best of European, American and international cuisine.
"My dad saw my enthusiasm for cooking, and I think it was because he never achieved his dream of being a professional chef that he did everything he could to help me excel. He didn't know how to read when he started working as a cook, though he did learn later. But that was as far as he got," Hernandez said.
Together with his brothers, Hernandez operates True Flavors, a catering company he launched 15 years ago and whose client list includes multinational companies and even the San Antonio municipal government.
He is often seen away from the kitchen taking part in charity events and in different food-and-health campaigns related to educating the Latino community.
At present he is traveling around a number of states on a tour dubbed "Asando Sabroso" (Tasty Grilling) sponsored by the McCormick spices and seasonings company.
Hernandez and a group of chefs use a motor home fitted out with a sizeable kitchen to sell grilled tacos for $1.00 each.
"McCormick matches every dollar we sell on the tour, and what we take in goes to a scholarship fund for Latino students interested in making a career as chefs," Hernandez said.