Chef Q&A: Francisco (Paco) C. Gill

Dolphin Tiki Waterfront Bar and Restaurant Chef Francisco (Paco) C. Gill is pictured with his signature special Stuffed Salmon including fresh salmon fillet topped with spinach, onion and mushroom melange and cheese, broiled till bubbling and served with steamed asparagus, smashed red potatoes, garnished with tomato rosette and parsley sprigs.

Jenine Ouillette/Special to the Eagle

Dolphin Tiki Waterfront Bar and Restaurant Chef Francisco (Paco) C. Gill is pictured with his signature special Stuffed Salmon including fresh salmon fillet topped with spinach, onion and mushroom melange and cheese, broiled till bubbling and served with steamed asparagus, smashed red potatoes, garnished with tomato rosette and parsley sprigs.

Dolphin Tiki Bar and Cafe

1001 North Barfield Drive, Marco

Head Chef, Dolphin Tiki Waterfront Bar and Restaurant, 1021 Angler’s Cove, N. Barfield Dr. Phone: 394-4048, Lunch and dinner: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; bar: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; breakfast served from 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday only

Began working at present restaurant?

At least nine years: I moved from California to Naples in 1998, and started working at the Dolphin Tiki as head chef in 1999.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?

I was born in Mexico, but grew up and lived in California until I moved to Naples. I was 15 when the family moved to San Diego and I began working in a local restaurant part-time after high school. After I graduated, I decided I liked it and started working there full time prepping and helping the chef, so he promoted me up to the line. I stayed there a few years. Then I worked part-time in several area restaurants learning, improving my cooking skills and getting more experience.

What was your first restaurant job?

My first serious restaurant job was line cook at the Karl Strauss Brewery and Grill, a microbrewery that also served quality food, much better than the usual pub stuff like burgers and brats but those were also on the menu.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

About 16 years.

How would you describe your cooking style?

I’d say American traditional family-style with a California twist. I do a little bit of everything — Italian, French, and barbecue — styles I picked up when I was working in the California restaurants.

What is your most popular dish?

Stuffed Grouper with fries and home-made coleslaw. During season we go crazy with that dish! I stuff it with a crabmeat mix, similar to my homemade crab cakes, which are also very popular and are on our dinner menu year round like the homemade soups I make from scratch every day. We have dinner specials that I create every day — always something different — and Sunday only I cook breakfast. Really, I just like to keep everything like you would cook in your own kitchen.

What is your favorite wine or food?

When I’m in the mood, I enjoy eating Italian pasta dishes.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your fridge/freezer?

I only cook at home for friends and relatives for special occasions and make whatever they want — something simple but always fresh ingredients. For Thanksgiving, I’ll make roast turkey and for Christmas I make my special roast stuffed pork loin.

What is your secret ingredient? Why?

It depends, but it’s always a different herb that will spice up the dish. I’m very creative!

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a chef?

Probably something in fitness training: I work out at the gym every morning before I come to work. I guess maybe working in a gym as a personal fitness trainer.

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

When we run out of something. We make our soup fresh every day and it’s very popular. When it’s gone it’s gone. I guess I should be happy, because if any was left over I’d have to throw it out, but it bothers me just the same.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Mostly my job and the people I work with because they’re all very nice. They treat me well and I treat them well in return.

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