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Getting to Know You: John Bueno

Updated: May 10, 2022

A series of Q&As with members of the vibrant Irish international community to share their cultural heritage.

John Bueno is the executive chef of Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. He was born the Philippines capital of Manila.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Manila and came from a family of educators. I took up hotel management in university where I was a state scholar. In the Philippines, food is life. When you visit Filipino homes, you’ll be surprised by how often you hear people say“kain tayo” or Tagalog for “let’s eat” instead of “welcome.”

I moved to Ireland when I was 23 years old. I was working in a five star hotel as a young chef, and I was informed by my other chefs about an ad in the newspaper that an Irish agent was in Manila looking for a chef. There were hundreds of aspiring chefs applying for the job, but after four interviews, I guess I got it…by luck? It wasn’t all good at first when I arrived in Dublin, but I learned a lot and I’ve met some good friends that helped me along the way. Ah, memories!

Do you cook? Who are the best and the worst cooks in your life?

When I was young, both my parents were working full-time, so my brother and sister used to have nannies at home. (I didn’t have one because I enjoyed the company of my granny.) I watched them prepare our food when my mother was away. Sometimes, they competed on who was the better cook! It amazed me every time I watched them cooking.

My dad was athletic and into sports outside of his normal office job, so he was always looking for a variety of food on the dining table. It could be a lot of work sometimes! Every Saturday morning, I would accompany my mum to the local wet market. After the market trip, my mum would teach me how to prepare, clean/portion and cook. I learned what to look for in terms of quality and freshness in ingredients at an early age.

Aside from cooking eggs at home, the first full dish I made was sinigang (a soup with tamarind, morning glory and prawns). when I was in primary school in Home Economics. I first watched my mother prepare it, for sinigang was my favourite dish. If my memory serves me right, when we made sinigang in Home Economics, we did it in the hand-stitched aprons we had made in class.

The best cook in my life was my mother, who taught me how to cook. There was also a cooking program on TV called Wok with Yan that was inspirational to me. It was always fresh!

Who is the worst cook? Honestly, I have met a number of them along the way, and because they are the worst, they are meant to be forgotten.

What is your favourite dish?

It really depends on the weather and my mood. I usually cook what I crave and most of the time they are dishes that my mum used to make. But I love baking, and I’d say I’m all about pastry. I used to have my own business aside from working in the hotel and would supply high-end cafes with cakes when I was still a commis chef.

Where do you shop? Is there an ingredient/dish that you most crave that you cannot get here?

I always support local and pick up what is in season; it is where I usually get inspiration. From time to time, I go the Asian grocery near me but when I am abroad, I spend a lot of time looking for the local market or food halls. Just like when other people go to museums, churches and other tourist attractions, my go-to place is the food market. That’s on top of my list!

It was harder to find ingredients during the early 2000’s, but you can almost source everything now.

Are you excited about the cuisines of other cultures, and if so, which ones? Likewise, are there dishes that have repulsed you?

I’m open to other cuisines as long as it is prepared in a clean environment.

Bitter melon is not my favourite ingredient; however, it’s always nice to see when people prepare it in different ways. I enjoy eating century eggs (Chinese eggs cured in lye) but just one egg is sufficient for me!

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