A chef’s love of UAE fuels his drive to elevate Filipino cuisine

A chef’s love of UAE fuels his drive to elevate Filipino cuisine

'The UAE is a melting pot of cultures and great dining,' says top Chef John Buenaventura

Chef John Buenaventura
Chef John Buenaventura, Executive Chef of Hilton Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Image Credit: GN/Anas Thacharpadikkal

Craving for the best Filipino cuisine? Chef Buenaventura can satisfy your appetite. You must try his creation of Adobo Prawns in vinegar and soy sauce with coconut milk. It’s sublime!

What am I rambling on about?

Well, as a Filipino expatriate in the UAE, I’m on a permanent quest for the best cuisine from my country. And most roads led me to Chef John Martho Buenaventura, currently Executive Chef of Hilton Abu Dhabi, Yas Island: A man doing his best to elevate Filipino cuisine from comfort food to fine dining.

A man of less toque and much action…

Chef John hard at work, doing what he loves best - cooking
Chef John hard at work, doing what he loves best - cooking Image Credit: GN/Anas Thacharpadikkal

He’s been in the profession for 17 years now, with most of it spent in the UAE, which means his repertoire includes both international and Filipino cuisine. A man of many moments, when he met with the Gulf News food team, he was in a black shirt, brown apron and a black football hat emblazoned with the phrase Chef Life.

When asked why not wear a toque?

He replied: “This is more vibrant, stylish and fits my taste.” Perhaps it has to do with his love of arts.

“I wasn’t supposed to be a chef in the beginning. I love arts and interior designing, but I fell asleep in front of the computer while doing graphic designing. So, I had to find an outlet for my artistic side, and eventually fell in love with cooking and food presentations.”

Love of the UAE

At the age of 17, he enrolled at the Center for Culinary Arts in Manila (an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu - Paris) and pursued a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship in the Food Industry. After graduating, he flew to Dubai in 2007.

Chef Buenaventura, 34, has been in the UAE for more than 10 years now. He said, “I have been here on and off, been to different countries such as Monaco, Singapore and a few other countries but for some reason, UAE keeps pulling me back. I love this country as it supported my growth and there is a whole bunch of opportunities here. I am here to stay! UAE is a melting pot of different cultures, different nationalities, it’s very diverse and that’s why I love to live here.”

A book on Filipino fine dining

He recently partnered on the book, ‘Cuisinero – Taste the Philippines’, by well-known UAE-based author Filipino Flavel Monteiro.

“Monteiro has been a very dear friend and mentor of mine more than anything else. We have crossed paths a few years ago during a charity event that he curated, gathering the best chefs of Dubai on an 11–hour brunch in support of a charity foundation. He gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent at this event and from there on we have really clicked and started a very good working relationship together, and then we have collaborated to create this revolutionary cookbook.

Chef John 2
Chef John Buenaventura describes the UAE as a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and great dining Image Credit: GN/Anas Thacharpadikkal

“Monteiro has received a lot of awards and achievements, but one thing I learned from him and most treasured is to always have your head on your shoulder, focus on what you do best, stay humble and the rest will follow. And that is currently my recipe for success in this field.

“I believe this book is very special as I was made to go back to my roots and cook Filipino food the way I do it. I have never been an expert in Filipino cuisine as I am trained in classical French early on in my career, eventually veering off to Spanish, Latin American influences and now fine tuning and finding my own cuisine. The title of the book ‘cuisinero’ comes from two words: cuisine and kusinero (meaning chef). In summary it means ‘the chef of your own cuisine’.”

On the way to a Michelin star…

“Cooking the recipes in this book was a challenge as I was retracing my steps back to the roots of my origin and reliving the flavours of my home country. It is extra special because I have used Filipino ingredients in a global philosophy. These dishes are curated for an international diner.”

Pandesal Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

“My big dream is a really big dream and I’m pushing for it. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but it’s my dream to be the first Filipino Michelin star chef. Will it happen? Maybe, I am just going to cook my way up to it.”

Try out Chef John's recipes here:

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