“To cook, you must have the love and passion. And you need to respect your ingredients. ” – Chef Alberto Hernandez
Spanish chef Alberto Hernandez first discovered his passion for food when he worked as a junior chef while balancing his studies in the biological and biochemical sciences. He then embarked on a gastronomy and restaurant management programme at Galicia Business School, graduating as valedictorian. Chef Hernandez now specialises in Italian cuisine and continues to build on his food experience in his role of Executive Chef of Western Cuisine at aqua here in Hong Kong.
Chef Hernandez has recently curated a seasonal menu called 42 Degrees, featuring dishes cooked at this temperature in order to bring out the full flavours of the ingredients.
Share your culinary journey growing up.
I began working at 16 years old under the influence of my family. They all love to cook, especially my father, who was also a chef at a five-star hotel. While studying biochemistry at university, I also worked as a commis chef. This is where I got the taste for the hospitality industry. This is where I decided to pursue my passion for cooking. I then embarked on my culinary journey with different European cuisines, beginning with Spanish cuisine.
But I do love all kinds of cuisines – Western or Eastern cooking. I cannot define a favourite. But because I grew up with a background of traditional Mediterranean and Italian cooking, I would consider this as my field of expertise.
What is your cooking and eating philosophy?
I insist on the high-quality broths used in my cooking. The broths are the basis of many key dishes including pasta sauces, risottos, as well as the cannelloni on my 42 Degrees menu. And one particular ingredient I can’t do without is olive oil.
I believe in having proper meals – sitting down and respecting the food I eat. I like to cook my dinners at home after work. On the weekends, I spend time with my friends (they are also chefs) to barbecue.
Describe your typical day as a chef.
I like to start the day early, because I feel extra energised physically and mentally in the morning. I get up at around 8am, have breakfast at home and read the news. My first task when I get to aqua is to to receive the daily ingredients and have a short meeting with the staff to plan the day’s menu and specials to note. I begin preparation for the dinner guests not long after lunch, as each day there is a different recipe for our aqua omakase menu.
I am also easily inspired when I look at the fresh delivery of ingredients each morning. I especially love the markets in Barcelona, London and Paris. I always look forward to ingredient shopping at local farmers’ markets to see which new foods and flavours are being created and what’s popular in the community. And then I select based on my instincts and experience with the particular items.
How is your new menu inspired and curated?
The 42 degrees dishes were curated because I love raw food and the idea that it is easy and quick to make, healthy and the ingredients are easily accessible. Raw ingredients maintain high levels of nutrients, and if you use techniques above 42 degrees Celsius, they start to break down. I applied my science background to a current trend to create innovative dishes.
One of the dishes I would recommend is the soya sprout and pine nut “risotto” with Parmesan and truffle. It is a combination of “rice” created by sliced soybean sprouts and crisp pine nuts, blended with an emulsion of double cream, butter and Parmesan. The risotto is finished with a silky-soft egg yolk, Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and summer truffle.
How do you continue inspiring yourself?
I like to shop at markets, as it is the best way to discover new foods and ingredients. I also like to discuss with chefs from other cuisines and engage in chef challenges to exchange and generate ideas. With a science background, I use the techniques I learned to innovate dishes and am constantly finding new ways to create something new. The dishes don’t necessarily have to be technically difficult, but the ingredients need to be carefully prepared and paired to bring out their best.
aqua, 29–30/F, One Peking, 1 Peking Road, TST, 3427 2288, book online
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