Andrew's Restaurant in Boca Raton: Q&A with Chef Roberto Hernandez
Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. Every week, she interviews a different kitchen insider for her Q & A series, Behind the Line.
exciting to see a restaurant opening against the odds, especially a American bistro. But to entertain the uh, let's call them "particular" palates of Boca residents, chefs will need a culinary trump card.
(Left to Right) Chefs Tony Terho, Roberto Hernandez, Matthew Gauthier
Photo by Patty Canedo
Enter Chef Roberto Hernandez, who is behind Andrew's restaurant. The key to this 250-seat venture is its trio of powerhouse chefs: Hernandez at the helm, plus sous Chefs Tony Terho and Matt Gauthier.
What is it the dynamic like between you and your Sous Chefs?
We all have great ideas of food. We want this place to be a representation of all three of us. When it comes to the three of us, we all have the same knowledge of food and bring the same thing to the table.
What is it like here in Mizner Park?
We need to have a couple things for the people of Boca, but the rest of the menu is ours. We do that for the safe comfort of the owners. But once we opened, people tried our food and the response was great. People tell us it's similiar to eating in New York.
Why Mizner Park?
I still question that one myself. It's a big challenge to change the way people eat.
What is your Signature Dish?
The swordfish, which is one of Matt's, with white beans and tomato caper relish. The Pork Duo, which is Tony's, is a pork shoulder and pork belly. Also, the snapper, which is wrapped in a thin layer of brioche.
How did you approach your kitchen?
It was already an existing kitchen. It was a disaster when I got there. The moment I got the keys for it, almost five weeks before we opened, by sheer push everyone pitched in -- vendors, getting equipment... It was hectic.
What was the rush?
To be ready for the season, so we were established. I got new equipment, rearranged the flow, brought Matt and Tony in. We tweaked the place till we were happy with it.
Did you change anything on the menu once you went through an actual service?
We will try to change the menu often. There are things we changed for different dishes because we want results fast. We are all young, ambitious and hungry.
Will you be changing the menu based on season?
Some of it will be seasonal. Some things, people like and we'll keep. But we will keep it as fresh as possible to keep people interested and coming back.
What is something on your menu you have to have?
It took everything I had to even have a small steakhouse section; steaks a la carte and sides. We are against it. But we are seeing people buying more into our side of the menu. I hate broccoli rabe but we had to put it on to cater to wider variety of people. We make nice, high-end food to cater to foodies.
Will you be doing lunch?
Not anytime soon. We want to be more into the dinner side so we can make more of the food we like. There's a lot of lunch places around here. Plus we are open till 2 a.m. We have live music till 1 a.m.; bar menu until 1 a.m.
You have a bar menu?
Well, my version is different than what people are used to. We put things like wings on the menu, we take the time to make the food good-looking.
How do the three of you function as a team?
I run expo, Tony and Matt run expo from inside the line. They see how the food is coming out and they give me heads up on ticket times. We have a good thing going.
What is the rest of your staff like?
We are a staff of seven cooks, hand picked. Not a lot of people can put up with my push. I don't ask anything of them that they can't give me.
What do you look for in your line cooks?
Young, hungry and disciplined.
What is more important in a cook, education or experience?
Nowadays, culinary schools aren't like they used to be. Now people go to be celeb chefs. Culinary schools sell a dream that's just not reachable. For 70%, most get their heartbroken. Being a chef is not as big or as glamorous -- it's a lot of work and sacrifice, long hours, no personal life. A chef can go to Office Depot and go to work, but take a guy from Office Depot and put him in a kitchen, he wouldn't last an hour. Especially when they find out what it is, working Christmas, New Year's Eve. You've got to love this business to be in it.
Do you still love it?
Oh yeah, more every day.
Are you concerned about the summer months?
We are hoping we'll have steady local business. We'll be doing a Spring/Summer menu. Something fun and fresh, appealing to people for the summer. I live for today, not worried about the summer. Last summer I went to Sweden and did some consulting for a restaurant. I went with my mentor and we were there for about a month, designing summer menus, using Swedish summer ingredients; that was really cool. I got to do that before going on this adventure.
Does your backround influence your style of food?
I use my Puerto Rican flare for some dishes. It's an American bistro, which is the best excuse to do whatever you want with the menu. We use French techniques, a little Latin, Thai, Scandinavian, French; it's a good balance. There's something for everyone. If you don't find something you like, I'll make sure you find something.
Your dishes are so elaborate, what is your plating process like?
The business is 95% preparation, 5% execution -- plating takes only a couple seconds. You have to be organized. That's where a lot of chefs fail; you have to have plan B,C,D,E. It's important to cover your bases.
Will there be a second Andrew's?
I don't think they'll be a second Andrew's. I think there will be other concepts. We have aggressive plans to expand.
What's the most distinct item on your menu?
Our bleu cheesecake. It's like a regular New York style cheesecake but I use sourcream and Maytag Bleu. It's not like eating bleu cheese, I make it with a port wine crust; port wine, cheese and sugar. A lot of people like it and are surprised by the flavor. It is a preference business, you'll never please 100% of your customers.
What's the funniest/craziest thing to happen on the line?
I really don't know. Comparing to past experiences, nothing out of the ordinary. But there's still plenty of time to change that. I am crazy, Tony and Matt are crazy, not legally insane but we're pretty special individuals. I think that's why we get along so well.
What do you anticipate past the holidays?
Hopefully going into a busy season, get more people to try our food. We have a nice Happy Hour, cocktails and food starting at 4pm. We have nice food, not junk. You can get something you know is fresh and made in house.
Where do you find ideas for new dishes?
I think the best place to find ideas is to sit with people who have same mindset as you. We all have ideas and combine them to make one Frankenstein. To make a good idea it's about using all our strengths, putting them to work in a nice harmony.
What are some of your weak points?
At this point in my career I'm looking at the restaurant with a business point of view, trying to see it at a 360 angle: numbers, being practical, what will make money. Matt and Tony are 100% into the creation side of it. So we make a good team. They come up with good ideas and I make sure they happen. It's been very, very good. It was only meant to be we met in the different stages of our careers.
You used to work on Palm Beach island. What's your take on Boca vs. Palm Beach?
In Palm Beach, there could be 100,000 modifiers on one ticket. Every ticket was sauce on the side, chopped, split seven ways. 'I'm not very hungry, can you split a steak in two pieces?' Here we are trying to keep our integrity. In order for a diner to experience the dish, they should eat it as we intended it. If they want to make changes to the dish, we tell them they should get something else. If you don't want it how it's on the menu, you want something else. With our main dishes, they're well planned, thought out. It's meant to be eaten with the sauce we chose. Let us do our job and eat it. A lot of people go out like they have their own personal chefs; a lot of people don't even open the menu. This is for people who want to experience food; it's cool, sexy, fun. Our main thing is to make food porn. We are food porn enthusiasts. It's not just food on a plate, everything's where its supposed to be.
Where do you go to eat?
Where any other chef wants to send me. I don't go out on busy nights. I go when I can take my time. I usually will go out and ask for a tasting menu. Some times we (chefs) need that freedom, creativity, have someone in the dining room appreciate it. It's great, like I'm cooking for foodies.
What is a tasting menu at Andrew's like?
Small portions of a couple things. A tasting menu gives a general idea of what we have; salad, app, main course. It gives us that artistic space when we do tastings. We just plate as we go. It all depends on how we feel that night, what's the best mise, freshest fish. I've had a couple already, we always manage to conquer the different tastebuds and preferences.
How much of the menu do you personally execute?
I do 90-95% of the production. Tony and Matt were laughing at me when I got on the line the other night, yelling "Chef's getting a little old." Sure, in my prime I'd be running circles around those guys, but now it's time for me to step back and let the kids do their thing. When I do get on the line, I'm a rebel. You'll eat what I cook. I'd rather do a tasting than follow tickets, working the menu. It takes the whole artistic part of it out. Sweating on a Friday, your sous saying, "Chef, you ok?" If it wasn't for service, I would love being on the line cooking with the guys.
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