Chef Johnny Hernandez poses for a photo alongside a mural outside of La Gloria. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Johnny Hernandez poses for a photo alongside a mural outside of La Gloria. Photo by Scott Ball.

Chef Johnny Hernandez has become synonymous with authentic Mexican dishes, rich flavors, and some of the best dining experiences in San Antonio. But Hernandez will soon expand his list of culinary accomplishments with a new, highly coveted title: Official Guest Chef for the White House.

Hernandez has been invited to prepare this year’s Cinco de Mayo dinner at the White House. He’ll lead a kitchen staff to cook and serve dinner for President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and other political dignitaries during the annual celebration of Mexican history and culture. Hernandez will be the first San Antonian guest chef to cook at the White House.

“To be (considered) an authority in the Mexican cuisine is what I am most proud of, and to be a guest chef in such a special place is an honor,” Chef Hernandez said on Monday. “We are going to do San Antonio proud.”

The official menu has yet to be approved, but will include authentic dishes from Puebla, Mexico, and several plates that can be found in his restaurants. The dinner will be served in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Through his work, Hernandez has helped put San Antonio on the culinary map, and is among the best known Latino chefs in the country. Despite an increasingly busy schedule between owning several restaurants including one in Las Vegas, being a partner in the RK Culinary Group, Hernandez continues to work as a culinary consultant for restaurants around the world. He is looking to expand his brand to other countries, and plans to make an official announcement about a new project in the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

Other recent guest chefs at the White House Cinco de Mayo dinner include José Andrés of Jaleo and Rick Bayless of Frontera, who have a been credited with elevating Latino cuisines in the U.S. and throughout the world.

“These are all people that I respect, and to perform at the level that they perform and to achieve what these chefs do nationally, and for some chefs globally, is just incredible,” he said.

Hernandez grew up cooking with family members in their Westside San Antonio restaurant. The fresh produce, slow-cooking and roasting techniques unique to Mexico are important culinary traditions that must be preserved, revered, and shared, he said.

Chef Johnny Hernandez points friends in the direction of paella tents. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Johnny Hernandez points friends in the direction of paella tents at the Pearl. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

He left San Antonio after high school to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he trained to become a chef. Hernandez worked in some of the best resorts in the country after graduation, but he returned to San Antonio to open his first catering business, True Flavors, in 1994.

After years of successfully running the business, Hernandez opened his first restaurant, La Gloria, at the Pearl Brewery. San Antonio is a city that runs on Mexican and Tex-Mex foods, but La Gloria welcomed diners to linger and appreciate how the most simple Mexican street foods – made with fresh produce, slow smoked barbacoa, and spices – were dishes worthy of celebration.  Hernandez has since expanded his local culinary empire to include The Fruteria-Botanero, Casa Hernán, El Machito, and has opened franchise locations in cities across the country. 

Chefs must expect to put in long hours, money and sacrifices to achieve success, Hernandez said, and he is honored to be included in a group of chefs who are dedicated to creating great things.

“These are life-long careers of folks that are are so driven by perfection,” Hernandez said. “For a moment, you hope that (diners) are transported by wherever the authentic food transpired from. That as chefs, we are able to create these authentic experiences, and be a part of these celebrations and memorable events – that’s really the only thing that makes it worthwhile.”

This story was originally published on Monday, April 25. 

Top Image:Chef Johnny Hernandez poses for a photo alongside a mural outside of La Gloria.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.