One of Us

One of Us: Johnattan Hernandez


Johnattan Hernandez is the new executive chef at TPC Sawgrass. With more than 20 years of experience, he will be responsible for managing the culinary operations for the entire property.

Do you have some plans as you start your new position?

Absolutely. First, I would like to keep up the integrity of TPC Sawgrass. We always have a high standard.

My main focus will be the menu, which I’ve already changed with bold flavors. But I’m also keeping guest favorites on it.

What kind of things can people expect?

I’m from Puerto Rico, so they’ll find a lot of influence from the Caribbean. And during my travels, I’ve gotten ideas from each place. And then, you will see a lot of fusion flavors on the menu.

I lived in Hawaii for a year, so I’ve gotten some of my influence from the Polynesian culture. It’s so amazing. We have one dish on the menu that has become famous right now, ahi tuna poke. It’s like: Wow! I’m back in Hawaii!

What will be your responsibilities in this position?

My responsibilities will be making sure to keep up the standards, the quality and presentations of every experience that we have, from breakfast all the way to dinner. Pretty much, I oversee the whole banquet operation, and then we’re changing some of the stuff with the buffet presentation to be able to attract more local people. TPC Sawgrass, they will say, has the best dining experience here in Northeast Florida.

How about the tournament?

We start getting ready for the tournament by the end of December. All the planning and logistics to have smooth sailing.

Some of the items we brought from very far — from Spain, from different countries — to always have something new every year for our guests.

“This year,” I said, “let’s go all out. Let’s do something all the way from the salad station to the dessert station so everyone who comes here for the tournament will say, ‘Wow! We’ve never seen this before!’”

How did you first get interested in this line of work?

It’s funny, because everybody says: Oh, it’s always my grandma, and all that. Yes, Grandma was an influence in all this, but I think it was mostly that I didn’t want to work in computers!

I went to college for programming. I did three years in Puerto Rico. But I was also working as a server in the Ponce Hilton, and I realized this industry’s very fun. So, I decided to change careers. I went to Philadelphia for college. I worked at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia.

Tell me about your career.

After the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia — I will say that was probably the beginning of my career — I worked in the Ritz-Carlton in Puerto Rico (San Juan). Then, I had the opportunity to do some competitions locally. I did manage to win a few of them up to becoming a Hall-of-Famer for the whole Caribbean at a competition called Taste of the Caribbean.

I had one chef that told me once, “If you really want to be a great chef, step away from hotels at some point and run a small business. See the budget. See the financials that go into a small business. And then, once you know both, it will be a feather in your career.”

And I did. That brought me to the Keys to open the Marriott Autograph Collection and to lead the team at Penn State Corporate HQ.

I was able to travel to Hawaii and be back at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at Waikiki Beach.

Then, I flew back to Florida and spent five years here working with Chef Azhar (Mohammad) as a sous chef.

Moving forward, I had the opportunity to go to Vegas and be a chef director. That opportunity gave me another view of my career, because I was also doing F&B (food and beverage) operations at the front of the house. … I continued learning, even at this point in my life; you learn something new every day.

When this opportunity was presented to come back home, I would not say no! It’s always good, the feeling of coming back home.

Do you have some favorite dishes that you like to prepare?

The whole menu is my favorite! It’s so good. It has so much of me. But if I had to choose three dishes, one would be the pretzel (the famous TPC Pretzel). When I came over in 2018 to join the company, we decided we’ve got to do something so that when the guests sit at the bar they say, “Wow, what’s this?”

We gave it a trial, and we haven’t managed to take it out. It’s still on the menu — same recipe. At one point, I think we sold over 5,000 a year, maybe more. Very popular.

And then, a dish that pretty much represents me is pan-seared swordfish. I take chickpeas and make a silky-smooth puree with the nice pan-seared swordfish, and then we add a succotash. It has some roasted corn, some fava beans, and then I add my flair using chistorra. Chistorra’s a baby chorizo from the Basque region in Spain. It gives you that bold flavor that when you try each bite, it’s like: Wow, what’s this? It's awesome!

The other dish I will say that represents my travels somewhat is the ahi tuna poke tacos. We use a wonton instead of a taco shell with a bit of cilantro. It’s to die for.

What do you like most about what you do?

When the guests leave super-happy.

When I see them, sometimes I walk around and go to the tables. And they are like, “Chef, this is amazing. How do you prepare this?”

To be able to have that conversation with the guests, when they say, “Can you send me the recipe?” I think that satisfies me more than actually working, to be honest.

What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?

The weather. [Laughs] The beautiful weather. All the surroundings are beautiful. I live in Jax Beach right now, close to work. My daughter’s at Penn State, so she travels every time that she has a break from college and says, “Daddy, I want to come visit you.” I say, “Of course. The beach is there. Come on over.”

I love Florida. When I joined the company, I think my heart was here … Even when I went to Vegas, it felt so good to come back home.

How do you like to spend your free time?

Beach time. [Laughs] I like to go to the gym. I run at least two times every week during the morning. I’m either running at the beach or along the road.

But I like to spend my time at the beach, and when my daughter comes over, she’s my time.

Anything else?

It’s a great family here at TPC Sawgrass. We create a very nice environment to work, and I feel like everyone feels so happy to come into work. That pretty much is my goal: To have my kitchen crew, front of the house, pretty much the whole department completely happy.

I’m very hands-on. I don’t spend much time inside the office. If you walk inside the kitchen unannounced, you will see me either cooking something or helping someone or in the back doing some bread.