The Local Palate’s 2023 summer issue dives into the thriving culture of Filipino Restaurants in Jacksonville, Florida. Here, we highlight owner, Jojo Hernandez, based at Abstrakt Filipino Essence, where he serves authentic and bold flavors in his Steak Silog and Lumpia.
Looking for authentic Filipino restaurants that serve food made by the hands and hearts who know it best? Jacksonville, Florida, is host to a vast population of Filipino residents and home to a budding cultural-fusion culinary scene. With a community numbering more than 25,000, Filipinos make up 35 percent of the city’s Asian community and about 12 percent of all Duval County immigrants.
But, until recently, the region has been lacking in Filipino restaurants featuring cuisine native to the Philippines and representative of its people. For first-generation Filipinos, making traditional dishes at home has historically been the existence of authentic Filipino food in the city. Now, the Jacksonville culinary scene is setting the stage for the emerging influence of second-generation Filipino restaurants and chefs eager to give a taste of their culture, a place at the table, and a proclamation of their presence in the region.
With an iron grip on their roots and the essence of their childhood favorites, Filipino chefs in Jacksonville are crafting modern techniques that blend global ingredients and integrate new cultural interpretations of the dishes that raised them. As the cuisine’s popularity has grown, Jacksonville diners can now find anything from adobo (beef, pork, or chicken and vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns) to Pinoy Salted Egg Salad (extensively brined eggs with tomato and spinach), with plenty of options for ube (purple yam) in the mix.
Jojo Hernandez, Owner at Abstrakt Filipino Essence
My dishes are not straightforward Filipino or home cooking – that’s the Abstrakt part of the restaurant’s name. All the ingredients may not be completely Filipino, and that’s where my twist comes in. That’s why I consider my food the essence of Filipino cuisine. The recipes start with home cooking and what I enjoy eating; then I put my original spin on each dish.”Jojo Hernandez
Jojo Hernandez was five years old when his father enlisted in the Navy and transferred to America. “We moved here in 1995. Before I became a chef, my dream was to become a pilot. I worked as a dishwasher and then went to medical school,” he says. After a couple of years of training and working in the medical field, he decided to go back to school to become a chef. “When I started working in restaurants, I realized how much I love cooking, creating meals, plating, and especially seeing people happy as they eat my food. My philosophy is ‘put love in my food and you will be loved.’”
After working in a variety of culinary settings, including an 18-year stint as the executive sous chef at the Florida Yacht Club, Hernandez realized that his family’s dishes, including those of his mom and his wife, were what he really enjoyed eating and cooking. “I thought, why not start cooking Filipino food? I had been a chef for 20 years. I enjoy eating my family’s food; why not put this out to the community?” He created Abstrakt Filipino Essence, which, he says, “is 80 percent Filipino food with 20 percent my twist based on my experience. My goal is to make Filipino food as accessible as Chinese or Japanese food. I treat everyone as my family—if you eat my food, you’re part of my family. There’s no such thing as a VIP— everyone’s a VIP as far as I’m concerned.”
On the Menu at Abstrakt Filipino Essence
Pinoy Salted Egg Salad
Composed of eggs brined for 30 days with spinach, tomato confit, and a calamansi vinaigrette
A Tanduay-grazed New York strip steak with poached egg, arroz caldo karokke, and garlic herb mushrooms.
Fried rolls filled with ground beef and pork
- by Erin Byers Murray