10 Minutes with: Jonathan Villar

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th February 2017

Jonathan Villar is head chef at newly opened Ember in London. Prior to this he used to work at Peter Gordon’s Fusion Restaurant, Kopapa which had 2 Rosettes from the AA Restaurant Guide before its closure in May 2016.

The aim behind Ember is to combine pan-Asian fusion cuisine with an extensive wine list and signature cocktails. Jonathan spoke to us about his career, his passion for fusion food, and his work at Ember.

Jonathan Villar
Jonathan Villar 

Jonathan took a slightly unusual route into the kitchen. His first job, having graduated, was in a huge Abu Dhabi hotel, but not at the stoves or even washing dishes. Instead, his initial position was in the health spa. He quickly realised that this wasn’t for him, and asked the chef at the hotel if he could be cross trained. Much more to his liking, Jonathan transferred to the kitchen, and the rest is history.

Jonathan continued to cut his teeth in the Middle East. He moved to the Intercontinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi where he stayed for 6 years. Describing his time there, he said: “In our hotel we had 15 restaurants, and they’re international restaurants, so I learned most of my cooking skills there because of the variety of the restaurants in the hotel.”

This variety of cuisines seemed to have set Jonathan on a path to fusion cooking success. He said: “My first executive chef that I worked with at Intercontinental in Abu Dhabi, he influenced me a lot in terms of style because he’s into fusion. That moulded me those days, that’s why my style of cooking has become fusion as well.”

Ember Cellar Bar
Ember Cellar Bar 

Following his time in Abu Dhabi, he spent 2 years in Oman as head chef at a Crowne Plaza resort. Finally, after a brief stint on a cruise ship, Jonathan made his way to London. He mentions that he tries to make an effort to bring a British aspect to his primarily pan-Asian style. In fact, a signature dish that he tries to take from restaurant to restaurant is a chorizo and tiger prawn scotch egg.

At Ember, he has had to adapt this into a dumpling rather than a Scotch egg, but there are still British aspects throughout his cuisine. Jonathan received a masterclass in fusion food while working under Peter Gordon at Kopapa. He said: “I learned a lot from Peter Gordon. He takes some Asian influences, but most of his style is Turkish, middle-eastern. It helped me a lot.”

A new challenge for Jonathan at Ember has been matching his food with their drinks menu. Meetings with Ember’s sommelier means he is learning more every week about matching his unique style of food with wine, and perhaps more unusually, cocktails.

Ember Cocktail Kitsune
Ember Cocktail Kitsune

Ember’s name is a nod to the Great Fire of London, which began in Pudding Lane, the location of the restaurant. Its design by Ross McNally consists of contrasts of metal, wood and copper to reflect the fire that ravaged the capital 350 years ago.

On his style of cooking and how he builds a dish up from scratch, Jonathan’s broad experience helps him to create the often unusual flavour combinations that come with fusion cooking. He said: “You’re trying to combine different flavours which are unknown. It needs to work, they need to work together. It’s not easy to combine those flavours. I love the challenge of cooking fusion food.”

He is keen to avoid the traps of unusual food pairings though. He stressed the importance of the basics, saying: “When I create a dish, I work on the flavour first. That’s always my base, it needs to be delicious. I work on presentation afterwards. I really focus on the flavours.” This attitude has clearly served him well in his career so far, and given the strong reviews Ember has received, it seems to be continuing its upward trajectory.

By Sam Clark

>>> Read more in our 10 Minutes With series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th February 2017

10 Minutes with: Jonathan Villar