Meet Chef John Buenaventura,
Executive Chef, Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island
Earning your stripes in a kitchen is not easy for any aspiring chef. Chef John Buenaventura, CCA batch 2005, proves that you can earn respect in a kitchen with grit.
With about 17 years of experience in the F&B industry, he’s worked in top quality hotels from Fairmont Hotels, Raffles, Four Season, InterContinental, and now at Hilton.
And he’s received exposure from the likes of BBC Good Food Awards, Time Out Dubai, Time Out Abu Dhabi, Entrepreneur Middle East, Hotelier Middle East, & Illustrado Magazine.
It is his belief that: “Fame and fortune will come if you work hard. So stay humble and let your culinary career take its course.”
Last April, he was in the Philippines to take inspiration from traditions for his 10-course dinner at One World Kitchen, Poblacion.
We ask him 4 Questions To Get To Know Him:
1. Last April, you spent a few weeks in the Philippines. Where did you go?
We started in the culinary capital of the Philippines, “Pampanga” where we were graced by the presence of Chef Sau del Rosario, who gave us an in-depth culinary tour of Pampanga. From the Tamales, San Nicolas cookies of Aching Lilian, together with her heirloom recipes, to the local “carinderia,” which serves the authentic Kapampangan delicacies.
From Luzon, we flew to the Visayas and landed in Cebu, where we did a full food crawl and discovered Visayan cuisine, from the abundant seafood, larang to balbacoa.
And, of course, I ate the notorious Lechon Cebu “cochinillo,” where we went straight to the roasting pit and witnessed how they prepared the succulent roast pig and ate it with “puso” rice.
There was also chicken Inasal and the Cebu Bibingka, traditionally cooked over charcoal, giving it a burnt crispy layer on top while keeping it moist and soft inside.
From Cebu, we flew to Mindanao, landing in Cagayan De Oro, and did a trip to Bukidnon, where a whole different world opened up. I fell in love with it.
From the vast pineapple farms, discovering Adlay, visiting the heritage house of the Acosta family, and tasting the “Ulam” pineapple which cannot be bought anywhere and is only found in Bukidnon.
We then moved to Iligan, where we tried roasted wild boar cooked in different ways, from grilled to “kinilaw.”
We then finished our trip visiting Babu Kwan, the first and only halal restaurant in Cagayan de Oro, which is highly recommended. They prepare Mindanao food in a very rich, all-natural, and surprisingly, many influences from Indonesia and Malaysia.
2. You recently prepared a 10-course degustation menu, called “Vuelta Al Mar” in One World Kitchen, Poblacion. What inspired the menu?
I have been away from the Philippines for more than a decade now. I felt the urge to start diving deep into my roots and origins. That is why the title “Vuelta Al Mar” came about, back to the sea, re-discovering origins.
Having a very strong Mediterranean background, I have used produce from the Philippine seas and used it differently. Another highlight of the dinner was the sustainability piece, as every item we used was sustainably and ethically sourced.
3. Going back to Abu Dhabi, what are you excited to work on? And what’s next for you?
Now that I am back in my kitchen, I am currently working on the demo I will be doing at the World Chefs Congress 2022 as a chef and guest speaker, as I will be the only Filipino showcasing the Philippines.
Other than that, many exciting things are going on in the pipeline. I would rather keep silent, put in the hard work, and let the results or end product make the noise.
4. What is your advice to aspiring young chefs?
Take time. Trust the process and learn well. Understand the philosophy and history of cooking.
Fame and fortune will come if you work hard. So stay humble and let your culinary career take its course.
Don’t rush; everything will fall into place at the right time. And EAT A LOT! Invest in food, discover, and travel.
Our favorite quote from Chef John:
“I was not supposed to be a chef, I wanted to be an interior designer or a graphic artist however I felt that void and something was missing. I knew there was another way to showcase my artistic side and thus I ended up in the kitchen. After my internship, I fell in love with the pressure, the drama, the heat and the stress. I finally found my place. Cooking is my way of life, it is and will always be in my DNA. There is not a day in my life that passes without me using a knife or holding a hot pan.”