One of the newest, hottest restaurants in Lake Worth — 3 of Hearts Game Shop + Eatery — is tucked away at 512 Lucerne Avenue, within easy walking distance from the Florida Food & Farm office. This, of course, makes it a perfect hangout for our team and for the local Lake Worth community.
While we are drawn to any concept that brings people together around food, wine (or beer) and board games, we are particularly enamored by 3 of Hearts because it is about family. Owner Robin Popelsky, who recently moved to Florida after working in the New York City dining scene for a number of years, wanted to carry on the tradition of connecting with her family around a table.
So she created the concept of 3 of Hearts and brought on her niece, Denise Barcenas, as the master mixologist and her nephew, John Whitmore, as the chef.
We sat down with John for our most recent Florida Tastemaker feature to get to know him better and to get the inside scoop on 3 of Hearts.
Interview with John Whitmore of 3 of Hearts
Name: John Whitmore
Restaurant: 3 of Hearts Game Shop + Eatery
Tell us about your first kitchen experience.
I have been working in kitchens since a young age. I grew up with my aunt working in hotels and restaurants, with one uncle working as a butcher and another uncle working in kitchens. I was always around to see how things were being done.
Executive Chef Joseph Marchese gave me my first shot at working in the kitchen, moving me from delivery driver to cook. That’s where I learned the ins and outs; the basics not only about food but also how to think about things from the business aspect. I was 16 when I started to cook. We have always remained friends, and currently he is my sous chef. I couldn’t be any more ecstatic about this venture.
What’s in your glass?
My drink of choice is Jameson (Irish whiskey), neat; I find it a relaxing drink.
What about secret talents. Do you have anything that you’re hiding from us?
I am a black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate.
Did you go to culinary school?
At the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, in 2014.
Do you have any advice for those looking to become a chef?
You have to work hard to make it, so pay attention to what the chefs tell you and absorb everything. Learn from everyone; work in a place that allows you to work around different ethics. Nobody becomes executive chef right after school. You have to start at the bottom and really work hard to move up the ladder.
Through hours on hours — without seeing friends and family; thousands of cuts, burns; the yelling, the passionate frustration and the ridiculous requests — you need to be the one who shines. Don’t be afraid to fail at testing flavors. Do the research and learn. It will pay off.
As far as the restaurant, what are you most excited about?
To have people enjoy their night out and all that we are offering: food, drinks and of course the games.
Tell us about some of the local farms you work with.
I work with Oceanside Produce; they work with the local farms. They have great products, and they can accommodate any request needed that requires a little further gathering. They have a great “micro” selection, and their facility is awesome.
Tell us about your most memorable culinary experience.
I was given a chance to be part of the opening team for a new clubhouse at Ibis Golf & Country Club. The production of it was out of this world, and there was a photo we took for it which is one to remember. That same season, I was given a chance to show myself in the fine-dining kitchen called Panache.
It was my first fine-dining experience, and I instantly was given the opportunity to show what was in my head and to learn the finer styles of plating and cooking. While working in Panache, I was a part of the team that received tons of awards and acknowledgements — Best Food and Wine Society, Italian Society, Chaine des Rotisseurs and many more.
Who has helped you get to the place you are now?
I have received a lot from the chefs I’ve worked with. Executive Chef Jerome Nicolas, from Ibis, has given me more than I can ever ask for. He saw the potential that I had at such a young age and believed that I could make something out of myself.
I worked as his sous chef with Executive Sous Josh Giro. We were in charge of running two fully operated restaurants at the same time: The Atrium and The Pub. With one kitchen operating two restaurants, we developed systems to run smoothly.
But to truly get a full-service to run that well, you have to build a relationship, and after spending thousands of hours, we could communicate without speaking. The amount I learned from Josh — about food, management and the hard work — I would do it all over again n a heartbeat.
Executive Chef Chris Park was there to give me my first chance in the fine-dining world. He really went in and picked my brain, and taught me things about the passion you have to have that I will take with me forever in this career. These three chefs have put a countless amount of time into making sure I receive the knowledge and tools to make great things happen. I owe it them. Thanks, guys!
Who/what inspires you?
My family inspires me. My fiancée has always been there to make sure I keep going. After a 14-hour day, she would make sure there was dinner always ready for when I come home. My parents have always told me I could do whatever I set my mind to and to never give up. I do this for them, and I do this for family who is no longer with us.
Back to 3 of Hearts — why should we love 3 of Hearts, and what are you doing there that’s truly unique to the restaurant and to you as a chef?
3 of Hearts is about family. What’s not to love? I am doing things differently; I am creating a plate from three different views of food. Usually, a dinner will consist of three to four components: protein, starch, vegetable, sauce. Prep will consist of one-item quantities. I am doing this but in three-item quantities. I am showcasing one classic, and then the twist on those. Some will say I’ve created triple the work, but I don’t feel it during the prep time, or at plate-up time. I am creating a plate using all components — just in a different way.
Is there anything on your agenda that we should know about … something you’re planning to do at the restaurant soon or in the future?
There is a lot, as a restaurant, that we want to do in the near future, but I can’t give away all the good stuff yet. Stay tuned! 😉
What is your favorite kitchen tool and/or ingredient?
Strawberries. I have an obsession with strawberries, and everyone who knows me would say the same thing. I’m on a mission to prove that strawberries go with everything — savory as well as sweet. I also love my small offset spatula; it stays in my sleeve pocket. I use it for everything: tasting, plating, to slide sizzle-plates over. You will never see me without it in my sleeve pocket.
3 of Hearts Game Shop + Eatery is at 512 Lucerne Ave. in Lake Worth. For more information, call 561-923-8573 or visit 3ofhearts.co.