Old Marco Lodge Crab House
401 Papaya St., Goodland. Phone: 642-7227. Hours: Open 4 p.m. to closing Wednesday through Friday; open 11:30 a.m. to closing for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday; and closed Monday and Tuesday.
Began working at present restaurant?
In September 1999 — it’ll be 10 years this September.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
I come from a little town in Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. When I was little my mother gave me a little push and I got to like cooking in the kitchen. Even now, when they come visit me in the summertime, she always has a few hints. “Do it this way Juan,” or “Is this better, Juan?”
What was your first restaurant job?
Konrad’s restaurant on Marco Island. I came here in 1995, and at the time, my mom was living here. My uncle, Vicente, was a chef at Konrad’s, and he was the one who hired me.
How long have you been cooking professionally?
All told, almost 16 years.
Do food trends affect your cooking style?
I guess we’ve always been ahead of the current trend toward fresh and healthy because we’ve always been known for serving fresh local seafood, with an emphasis on fresh produce and meat, not frozen ingredients.
Are you planning changes to your menu for the new season?
Yes, for the summer we have to change a couple of things — for instance veal scallopini prepared various ways. In addition, we’re planning on expanding our salad menu. I’ve been running specials and people have been eating them up, especially my Greek salad. I’m certainly adding that to the menu and customers will be able to add grouper, with their choice of fried, blackened, sautéed or grilled, and the same with shrimp and scallops, or chicken or steak for the landlubbers.
What is your most popular dish?
My Grouper Oscar, and probably yellowtail snapper because it’s versatile and customers like that so they can order it pan-fried coconut-crusted. In fact, yellowtail is what I feature on holiday menus.
What is your favorite food or wine?
I don’t drink wine, and for food I’m a steak and potato guy.
Do you cook at home? If so, what would we find in your pantry?
Yes, when I have the time I like to cook for my wife Aida and our daughters Johanna and Joceline and our new three-month-old baby boy, Enrique.
What is your secret ingredient? Why?
Fresh herbs, especially oregano, the Mexican variety.
What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I’m enjoying working in a restaurant too much. Maybe down the line I’ll think of something else.
What annoys you most in the kitchen?
Consistency pretty much covers it so it should be done right. I do a lot of my prepping and I’m the only one who does my sauces – your “hand” means a lot: I’ve been doing it for years.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
When customers look happy when they eat a meal. That’s my challenge every day — to make sure that customers always look like they’re enjoying their meal!