Chef Q & A: Juan Aguirre

La Casita Mexican Restaurant

1817 San Marco Road, Marco

Juan Aguirre

Chef

La Casita Restaurant & Pub

1817 San Marco Road, Shops of Marco. Phone: 642-7600

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Began working at present restaurant?

I began working in La Casita Restaurant in 1997 for the original owners, Frankie and Mary Ellen Ray and now for Chuck and Scott, the new owners.

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

I came here with my family from Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1995 and started working at Vito’s on Bald Eagle Drive, but that’s all gone now and has been replaced by condos. In 1997 I began working part-time days for Susie’s Diner and La Casita for dinner. Then I was offered full time in 1999 and I’ve been working here ever since then.

What was your first restaurant job?

I worked in several restaurants in Vera Cruz from the late ’80s to the time I began working at Vito’s in 1995. That was my first restaurant job on Marco Island.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

Oh, around 17 years.

Do food trends affect your cooking style?

Our customers come here for La Casita’s menu and the entertainment and, of course, our famous baby back ribs. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t get a restaurant reservation for our rib dinners.

Are you planning changes to your menu for the new season?

Yes, we have expanded our menu to offer more fresh seafood selections like the Orange Almond Tilapia, very tasty and good for you also. We’re also adding to the Fajita Grill and Ribs section with our Mixed Grill special dinner and for our Pub Lunch menu we’re offering a special of the day for $5.75 and that includes a soft drink.

What is your most popular dish?

There’s no doubt, it’s “Our Famous Secret Recipe Danish Baby Back Ribs” but our new Mixed Grill, including chicken, steak and shrimp marinated in a Herbal Lemon Oil and grilled and served with coleslaw and choice of starch is right up there!

What is your favorite food?

I love any of my native Mexican dishes, especially the ones made with Mole sauce.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we find in your pantry?

Yes, I love to cook for my family – my wife Carmen and my kids, Johnny and Betsy.

What is your secret ingredient? Why? That’s my secret, and I do have a seasoning mix I make with herbs and spices. But if I give you the ingredients it won’t be a secret.

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

I’ve never given it much thought, I really love working in a kitchen.

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

I’m really easygoing, but I do expect everyone to put things back where they found them.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Our nice customers, the people I cook for who enjoy my dishes and the people I work with every day. We have a great team and we all try to help each other — even the owners come out and pitch in when we’re busy.

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