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Interview: Eber Villalobos, Chef de Cuisine, VaKaVa, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers


Born and raised in Peru, Chef Eber’s journey into hospitality began more than 12 years ago before going on to open notable restaurants at five-star hotels across the UAE. Team Yalla finds out more.

What inspired you to become a chef?


The land inspired me, as did my mother and grandmother who I used to watch cooking. One thing I recall as a child is going to the market with them in my hometown of Chiclayo in north Peru.

They would buy cavala, a similar fish to mackerel, the best lime, coriander and onions and once home, they would create the best ceviche dish in a very traditional, very simple way.


Chef Eber, what is the inspiration behind the dishes served at the recently opened VaKaVa restaurant?


Well, the taste of Latin America is the inspiration. Diners at VaKaVa can experience the taste and feel of all countries across Latin America through dishes that are meant to be shared.


How did you choose which dishes to be on the menu to represent each Latin American country?


We take the most popular dish from a particular country. For example, ceviche in Peru; in Brazil they are well known for Picanha, which is rump steak that we slice and grill.

Peruvian seafood is big on the menu, such as lobster. So, we take all these different types of food and add our touch, our style to them, putting something extra in the dish.

When you’re not cooking Latin American fare, what is your go-to cuisine?


Asian food, especially Japanese cuisine. The Japanese influenced us a great deal and we like to eat a lot  of Asian products, such as sashimi style raw fish, but with lime rather than  soya and wasabi.


If you weren’t a chef, what profession would you have chosen?


I think I would have been in technology, but I became a chef as my parents have a small restaurant in my hometown and I was inspired by that.


Yalla, it’s revelation time. As a professional chef what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?


One day we were cooking buns with a demi-glace. I placed them in the oven but you have to know that in those days, ovens did not have timers and alarms to remind you to remove your dish. Anyway, I forgot about the buns and smoke filled the room and we had to use fire blankets to smother the flames.

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