Johnny Hernandez, named one of the top five Latino chefs in the United States by Siempre Mujer magazine, returned to the college that launched his thriving career Thursday and served as commencement speaker at The Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, N.Y., campus.
“You have chosen the most exciting career in the most exciting industry in the world today,” Hernandez told 88 recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts. “We are at the center of every celebration, because nothing significant happens without food.”
The 43-year-old San Antonio native remembered the advice of his late father, who only had a second grade education but whose work ethic that inspired him to become the chef and entrepreneur he is today: “You have to do what you love, so you don’t have to work.”
Hernandez’s love has resulted in an expanding restaurant empire that includes La Gloria Ice House, adjacent to the CIA’s San Antonio campus, along with Casa Hernán and True Flavors Catering Company. Two more restaurants and his first cookbook are in the works.
In presenting Hernandez with the college’s Gold Medal following the address, CIA President Tim Ryan called him “a favorite son of San Antonio.”
“Today marks the beginning of a great future that is only limited by your ability to dream big … with the solid foundation of the great culinary education you received here at the CIA,” Hernandez, who earned his CIA degree in 1989, advised graduates. A member of the college’s Alumni Council and Latin Foods Advisory Board, he has been a strong supporter of the CIA San Antonio, raising funds for college scholarships through his annual Paella Challenge contest.