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Prabakaran Manickam, Area Head Chef-UAE, Tribes

What do you do?

Chef Prabakaran Manickam is one of the gang at Tribes at Mall of the Emirates. Although he’s the head chef for other restaurants under the Food Fund International brand, he feels most at home rustling up traditional recipes from the African continent at Tribes, amidst the vibrant coloured shields and steel drum music that gives this restaurant such a charming vibe.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

There really is a dearth of good restaurants in Dubai serving up traditional African food, so Chef Praba, as his staff call him, took it upon himself to be the guy to keep some of these recipes alive and well in contemporary Dubai. From the delectable prawns of the sleepy Mozambique coast to the yams of the bustling centre of Accra, to the braised oxtail of the farms of South Africa and, not to forget, the Kenyan and Ugandan specialities, this place is an ever-growing list of things to try.

What did you study?

For Chef Praba, it’s where he always thought he’d be and when I asked him how he came to love African food, this is what he had to say. I did my Hotel Management at Bharathidasan University followed by an MBA at Annamalai University.

What was your career path after studies?

“When I left my hotel management/culinary school in India, I knew I wanted to do something different. There are so many Indian chefs in India and I didn’t want to be part of that same old mix. I had a particular interest to work with meats, and that’s when I applied to The Meat Co. My family wasn’t vegetarian, but no one worked with meat. When I came here, I was put under the tutelage of our South African executive chef and I fell in love with African cuisine and meats, in particular. Every cut and part of the animals we use is different and we try to use everything – including the tails!

“When we opened Tribes, we wanted to bring African food to people in Dubai, and keep the recipes mostly intact, with a contemporary twist. Almost all our staff are from the continent and we’ve actually taken recipes from their hometowns – and homes – and incorporated them into our menu, with a modern feel. During my travels and training with the recipes too, it was such a wonderful experience learning about all the nuances of African cuisine from the coastal food of Mozambique, to the slow-cooked oxtail from South Africa and the flavours of Kenya and Uganda.

What do you like about your job?

“We’re very proud to be able to preserve some of these recipes and it’s really sad that so much remains lost or unexplored. Sometimes, I get immigrants from Kenya or Nigeria – in fact, I’m actually chasing a customer now for a recipe of a particular dish he brought from his home – who share their recipes and we spend time with them to learn the recipe and bring it to our patrons. It’s a wonderful way of engaging with our diners and a great learning experience for the whole kitchen staff as well.”