Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Jose Hernandez of Triniti on His Quest for Perfection

Jose Hernandez Triniti 2815 South Shepherd Drive 713-527-9090

This is the part two of my chef chat with Chef de Cuisine Jose Hernandez of Triniti. Part one ran in this space yesterday.

Yesterday, we chatted with Chef de Cuisine Jose Hernandez of Triniti Restaurant about the pastry skills he acquired from a Viennese pastry master. Today, we chat more about his style and his role at Triniti.

EOW: So you said that your background is Viennese pastry, but you've been doing a lot of French. At least, I've seen more of your work in a French setting. Tell me how your style evolved.

JH: I think the taste, I get from Viennese pastries. All my background is Viennese, so all my basis in the recipes is Viennese. The style of plating, that's different, that's French style.

EOW: Is that something that you learn, or is that your own aesthetic?

JH: That's something that you learn. Watching other people. I'm the kind of guy that I get home and open a cookbook, and I start writing before I go to bed.


EOW: What are your favorite books, what has been most influential, the one that you go back to?

JH: I can say Pierre Herme, Francois Payard. Francois Payard has a book that you can see techniques. You don't just see pictures. I like the books where you can find techniques, a book that answers questions. I know some people buy books because they see pretty pictures, but I'm more into how things are made. I have the Larousse dictionary for cooks, it's one of my favorite books.

EOW: So, here at Triniti, you're not a pastry chef, you're the chef de cuisine. How does that work?

JH: It's been working very well.

EOW: Did you do savory before?

JH: I did it for fun. I'd always go to the kitchen and make a couple of things. I cook at home all the time. I like to be with the chefs in the kitchen.

EOW: What's the difference between being a pastry chef and the chef de cuisine?

JH: Being the chef de cuisine, you are the second hand in the kitchen. If Ryan is not here, I'm the one who takes the responsibility. It's like me being Ryan. If he's not here, I need to do what he does, checking the front of the house is ready for service, having the meeting with the staff before service, answering the questions about the food, about what the amuse bouche is today, if we have one dish that we change the mushrooms, we need to communicate with the front of the house, etc.

EOW: Versus the pastry chef that does what?

JH: All the pastries.

EOW: Was it you that chose the chef de cuisine position or Ryan that said he wanted you to be chef de cuisine?

JH: Ryan offered me the job. He saw the potential for me to grow. Me as well as him, we are looking to be perfect, and we are trying to make everything perfect in the kitchen. So I think he saw the potential for me to be in control of the whole kitchen. Somehow I think pastry might have been getting too small for me.

EOW: But you do it so well!

JH: {looks modest, smiles and shrugs his shoulders}

EOW: Okay, I want to address something that has everyone confused about -- that you guys closing for two weeks within months of opening. Was that always something that was planned? When were you supposed to open originally?

JH: We were supposed to open in October/November. We had a couple of issues to take care of, and the city pushed us back eight weeks. But way before that we were planning how Chef Ryan wanted to run the place. We are probably going to close twice a year. We still have the idea to close in September.

EOW: How can you afford to do that?

JH: I think for us, and the way that we see it, for us it's much better if you have to train the people without the pressure of one menu when you're training for the next menu. We had the idea that we need to train people. A good example is Samantha [the pastry chef], she went to Chicago while we were closed. The company paid for her to take some classes in chocolate.

EOW: Do you think the two weeks [closing] accomplished what you set out?

JH: I think so. You know, when you first open a restaurant, you have a lot of time, and you know what you're going to do. But when you change the menu, it's a little bit more hard, because you're still running one menu, it's not quite so easy.

EOW: Why completely change the menu? Most other restaurants keep a core menu and change a few dishes. And I know you kept a couple of dishes, but why wipe the slate clean?

JH: It's a little bit of a creative thing. We have a lot of chefs in the kitchen, so are trying to make our minds work.

EOW: Me looking in, it's almost like you're such perfectionists that you needed that time to stop everything and perfect the new stuff.

JH: Sometimes you have to see me fight with the purveyors. Like the produce people, the people who deliver the fish. When they are doing something wrong, it's just the way that we are. Some people they say. "Oh, you're the meanest guy in town." And I start to believe that.

EOW: So if they bring the fish and you don't like it, what do you say?

JH: If it's not the right quality, it goes back. We prefer to have something 86'd on the menu than to have it be bad.

EOW: So, on to some personal things -- you're a new papa.

JH: Today I'm okay because yesterday I was off, but last week, I was just sleeping two hours a day.

EOW: Two hours a day? How do you do that?

JH: I had to be here, and you know, baby is baby. I have to take care of him. If he cries, I need to feed him, I need to change the diapers. I need to do it.

EOW: So last question, what's Jose all about? Oh! We didn't talk about your hair!

JH: What's all about me? I'm looking to learn more. There's a lot more that I can learn. I have plans. This summer, I'm planning to go and stage at one of the big restaurants in New York, that's what I'm looking for, to be better every day.

Check back with us tomorrow when we try some of Hernandez's delectable desserts.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham