5 minutes with… JUAN FLORES — Magazine — The Galleria Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
5 minutes with… JUAN FLORES
5 minutes with… JUAN FLORES

5 minutes with… JUAN FLORES

Dining | October 10, 2018

Mexican dining outside of Mexico is often synonymous with ‘Tex-Mex’ fast food-style eateries. Loca burst onto the UAE food scene in 2009 and categorically broke that mould. 

Loca at The Galleria serves up a sizzling slice of authentic Latin American dishes, enthusiastically prepared by Executive Chef Juan Flores. The 54-year-old gathered his culinary skills from watching his madre as she served up her magical Mexican dishes; recipes he has lovingly recreated in Loca’s extensive menu.

Where did you grow up?

In Mexico City, the capital of Mexico located in Central America and the home of fabulous food.

Did you eat your veggies as a child? 

Yes, fresh vegetable nopales, the naturally flat stems of prickly pear, and cactus, of course.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

When I was a child and I got to see my mother cook, and of course eat her delicious food. It was all like magic to me and I knew then, this was what I wanted to do my entire life.

What favourite foods do you remember eating as a child?

Quesadillas, tacos, chilaquiles and traditional Mexican food made by my mother.

Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training?

I trained at Fullerton in California, USA. There were challenges with the training, but I enjoyed it. When you’re passionate about something it feels easier than maybe it should.

From where do you get your inspiration?

From my surroundings and by exploring new cities and cultures. But also from other chefs who use their own unique cooking skills and techniques. I admire that.

What’s your favourite kitchen gadget or piece of equipment?

The charcoal grill! I like the smoky flavour you get from this kind of grilling. 

Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?

Practice, practice, practice and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The best chefs in the world are the most creative who dare to be different.

Best cooking tip for a novice?

Start working in a busy dining environment and follow all standards and procedures. You’ll succeed if you keep your wits about you.

What’s the most popular dish at Loca and what’s your spin on it? 

That has to be our tacos and fajitas, but also the handmade cornhusk tamales which have earned a reputation for being delicious and savoured by all; a very traditional dish made by me with inspiration from my hometown in Mexico. It’s made with a secret recipe of corn masa that differs from region to region.

Five ‘must-have’ items in your basket…

Fresh jalapeños, epazote, tomatoes, tortillas and nopalitos.

Funniest kitchen incident?

I have some really funny stories from over the years in the kitchen. One of my funniest moments with a customer was when they point blank refused to accept that guacamole actually hails from Mexico.

Who in the food world do you most admire?

Two renowned Mexican food greats - Richard Sandoval and Patricia Quintana.

Favourite food to cook?

I love making lamb barbacoa and chicken tamales.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d love to stay with Loca, developing more interesting recipes for our customers to enjoy.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy having tasty dinners with family and friends, or going to the cinema to watch a movie.

If you had just one wish, what would it be?

I’d love to open more Mexican restaurants worldwide, so everyone could have the chance to experience really good Mexican food.

What would be your ‘Last Supper’ meal or - as Anthony Bourdain put it - your ‘Death Row’ meal?

That would have to be enchiladas with fresh cheese and tomatillo sauce.