Interview with ALiuba Vega Viera

Chef of Cabaret Tropicana (Cuba)

Liuba Vega Viera

Chef of Cabaret Tropicana (Cuba)

When did you first discover your passion for cooking and how did you start your career in the culinary world?

Since I was a child, my grandmother and my mother instilled in me the love for cooking, although they were not professional cooks, their dishes were of excellence, it can be said that they were my main source of inspiration, the career of Bachelor in Food allowed me to delve deeper into this culinary world. In the fourth year of my career, I was accepted to take a course that would allow me to work in tourism in the food area in the future. Once I graduated, I started working in hotel kitchens.

Who have been your biggest influences in the kitchen and how have they shaped your culinary style?

My first influences were my mother and grandmother as I mentioned before. Then my cooking teacher Acela Matamoros, who introduced me to the professional culinary world for the first time, and currently the honorable academic Jorge Luis Méndez has had a great influence on my career. He has been a driving force in my professional life since he has passed on his knowledge to me as the excellent professor that he is.

As chef of Cabaret Tropicana, how do you ensure that your menu reflects both culinary tradition and innovation?

I have tried to maintain the traditional Cuban food but always from a more innovative approach in order to stylize it according to current trends, respecting the ingredients and the way of making each recipe, there are many ways to apply current trends in our dishes. 

How do you define the essence of Cuban cuisine and what dishes do you consider essential for those who visit Cuba for the first time?

The essence of Cuban food is the result of transculturation due to the colonization process. It is a mixture of various flavors and essences that come from our ancestors, Cuban food is defined by its tastiness. If you come to visit Cuba you can not miss the Moorish rice, roast pork, cassava with mojo criollo, ropa vieja, fried plantain, among others.

Sustainable cuisine and the use of local ingredients have gained a lot of attention in recent years. How do you integrate local products into your cuisine?

The facility is appropriating the term zero kilometer, through the implementation of this program, we have our own small plot where we grow vegetables, aromatic herbs and even edible flowers, thus ensuring fuel savings and chemical-free products.

In your career, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for me has been the different national and international events in which I have had to participate, as it is a constant challenge, you feel all the time the need to test your skills and knowledge in front of other professionals. 

Working at a place as iconic as the Cabaret Tropicana must be unique. Could you share a memorable experience or anecdote during your time there?

Working at Cuba's most famous Cabaret is an honor for me. Every day represents a challenge, because there are many important people who attend there, but an unforgettable experience is the dinner that was offered to the Ministers of Tourism from various countries, participants in the International Tourism Fair in Cuba this year. It was a great experience to satisfy such distinguished clients with our services.

Innovation is key in gastronomy, how do you keep up to date with culinary trends and how do you incorporate them into your cuisine?

Social networks, books, and courses for self-improvement and updating keep me informed about new culinary trends. Innovation is constant, because the place and the visitors require it. Our clients are diverse and our standards are high. The events in which we participate are also a source of inspiration and every dish that is created and is accepted, we try to incorporate it into our menu.

Of all the dishes you have created, which one do you consider your signature or most representative of your culinary style?

The most representative dishes have been the “pensamiento habanero” and the “deconstruction of the chancellor fish fillet”. Both are traditional Cuban dishes but they were presented in competition events with some modification where they obtained recognition, since it was necessary to respect their original ingredients and recipes but applying the new trends, thus contributing to the stylization of Cuban cuisine.

Liuba Vega Viera with Danay Milagros Bulnes Mann, doctor of the Faculty of Tourism of the University of Havana

Cuban culture is rich and diverse. How do you think Cuba's history and culture are reflected in its cuisine?

One of the most emblematic characteristics of Cuba is its wide cultural diversity that has enriched its gastronomy throughout its history; this is due to the influence of several cultures in our cuisine, in which rice, beans, viandas meats, salads and sweets prevail. The cuisine is one of the distinctive elements of Cuban culture, and the rescue of traditional dishes is one of the main challenges to guarantee an exclusive gastronomic offer that is known internationally. Tradition is reflected in our dishes, and also in the show every night. 

As an experienced chef, what advice would you give to young chefs who are just starting their careers?

My advice to young chefs is to prepare themselves well in each of the areas of the kitchen to be truly integral and good professionals. Knowledge of management methods is also important for the good performance of their functions and of the organization. And as a fundamental premise, the love for the profession they perform. That is the key to success. 

How do you achieve a balance in your menu between traditional Cuban dishes and more innovative proposals?

The offerings are varied. Our traditional recipes are still in force, although we also offer other international dishes, there is something for all tastes, always respecting the new trends and with innovative proposals. 

In a place as emblematic as the Tropicana, there are bound to be special events. How do you prepare for these events and how do you customize the menus?

We have several menu offers in our facility and depending on the client and the event we present our proposals to choose from. However, we have to constantly innovate in new variants because our facility, being a flagship, is the scene of several important events.  

Looking to the future, do you have any culinary project or ambition that you would like to realize in the coming years?

My constant improvement is paramount. That my work is liked and recognized is fundamental. Participating in national and international events will contribute to my professional growth.

As we conclude our conversation with Liuba Vega Viera, chef of the iconic Cabaret Tropicana in Cuba, it is evident that her passion and dedication to cooking goes beyond simply preparing food. Through her words, we have traveled through the flavors, aromas and colors of the dish that comes out of her kitchen. Liuba not only represents culinary excellence, but also the vibrant and welcoming spirit of Cuba, making every meal an unforgettable experience.

Thank you, Liuba, for being an ambassador of Cuban culture through your exceptional cuisine and for reminding us that food is, in essence, an expression of the soul of a country and we invite you to experience for yourself the magic of Cabaret Tropicana and the richness of Cuban cuisine. 

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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