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A conversation with the man, the myth, the legend, Urvin Croes.
When I started writing “Xa On The Go” features, it was more about sharing my experiences on-island. But after chatting with Urvin Croes and hearing his story, I thought, hmm, we usually only get to see a snapshot of a person in a moment, but never how they came to be who they are today. Now a renowned chef, husband, father, entrepreneur, consultant and hero amongst his peers, Urvin’s past, present, and future are all worth talking about.
Some argue that Urvin already gets too much attention. I say, what’s so wrong about that? Anyone passionate about what they do deserves all the attention in the world—especially those who are creating positive change and paving the way for future generations on our little island. I bet if you told teenage Urvin, he would one day be a respected chef and business owner; he would probably laugh at you, flip you off, and skate off into the sunset. But that’s what makes his story so great! Let’s jump right in.
Growing up, Urvin never wanted to be a chef. He was actually interested in philosophy and psychology. His sister would bring him books by Neruda and Freud. This was his future! Until high school, that is… He went through a rebellious phase and started skating, body boarding, and got into music. What kind of music, you may ask? Classical? Hip hop? Country perhaps? Nope. Heavy metal! Before college, he took two years off to travel and enjoy life until his dad had enough. It’s time to go back to school or get a job! His plan then was to become a musician full-time. His band won Battle of the Bands, was approached by Vans Warped Tour, and even landed a deal! But Urvin lost the business card… You can imagine the reaction from the rest of the band. So, long story short, the band broke up, and it was now time for him to figure out his next steps. But he says everything happens for a reason!
FUN FACT: URVIN’S GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS THE FIRST CHINESE CHEF ON AN OIL SHIP AND WAS HIRED AS AN EXECUTIVE CHEF IN ARUBA. HIS DAUGHTER, URVIN’S GRANDMOTHER, LEARNED TO MAKE TRADITIONAL CHINESE FOOD FROM HIM AND WAS, ACCORDING TO URVIN, THE BEST COOK IN THE WORLD!
Urvin saw an ad in the paper that our local trade school EPI was looking for students for a new culinary concept. Back then, EPI was the best hotel school in the Caribbean. The piercing-covered, goatee-donning rocker walked into class on his first day, and the teacher asked, “What are you doing?” He said, uhmmm… I’m here to study culinary… She said, “No way! This is not a rock school! Go home and shave this instance, young man!” Who does she think she is?! Urvin was infuriated! His first reaction was to quit. But that night, he couldn’t sleep. He heard her voice over and over, so he got up and shaved his whole head and goatee! “I’ll show you!” He returned to school the next day and fell in love with the kitchen. Even more so when he started practical classes and internships.
During his first internship at the Marriott, an assignment to research and “identify” the best chef in the world led him to Ferran Adrià, Head Chef at the best restaurant in the world at that time, El Bulli in Spain. Some would say he is the father of modern cuisine. That discovery, my friends, is the real start of Urvin’s culinary journey. With this new obsession with molecular gastronomy and El Bulli’s philosophy, he left for the Netherlands, where he could continue his studies and work to gain experience.
He got a job at a Michelin Star restaurant in Utrecht, Restaurant Karel 5, and worked his way up to Junior Sous Chef within five years. The experience and knowledge gained there were on another level, from using fresh herbs, fruits, and veggies from the hotel garden to learning about wine. His passion and eagerness to prove himself in the field propelled the development of his skills.
INTERESTING FACT: DURING HIS TIME IN THE NETHERLANDS, URVIN WAS ATTACKED DURING A NIGHT OUT, AND AMONG OTHER INJURIES, HE WAS KICKED IN THE FACE, WHICH CAUSED DAMAGE TO HIS LEFT EYE (RETINAL DETACHMENT). HIS VISION REMAINS DARK AND BLURRY IN THAT EYE. SURGERY IS POSSIBLE, BUT IT WOULD END HIS COOKING CAREER AS HE COULD NO LONGER WORK IN KITCHENS.
After becoming a dad, his family decided to move back to Aruba so their son could have a proper childhood surrounded by family, just like Urvin had himself. He would need to accept that the level he was now used to working at would be much lower. But his family comes first! He just needed a job, and the pay wasn’t important. That proved easier said than done… He was, of course, overqualified for most positions, and many were intimidated by his Michelin experience. About to give up and actually on his way to buy return tickets to the Netherlands, he got a call that changed his life. They were looking for a Sous Chef at a new restaurant called Amuse Bistro. Together with Chef Patrick, he created the first menu, and the restaurant became super popular. Eventually, Urvin became Chef de Cuisine and got to design his own menu.
While at Amuse Bistro, he saw many eye specialists to try and save his eye and improve his vision. However, a specialist at one of the best eye clinics in the world, Barraquer Clinic in Bogotá, refused to do the surgery since the risks were too high. After returning home from Colombia, feeling disheartened and maybe somewhat disappointed, he launched his new endeavour. His white light in the darkness, White Modern Cuisine, was outside the box. He could do things that couldn’t be done at Amuse Bistro. After running into an old friend, he was introduced to foraging and began excursing to find edible plants/flowers to use in his dishes. This turned into a mission to find local farmers and fishermen to create a new menu using primarily local ingredients. It was a hit! After many awards won, it was time for the next challenge.
FUN FACT: THE TATTOO ON URVIN’S ARM IS OF HIS GREAT-GRANDFATHER ZUKYEK LEE, WHO “OPENED” THE CULINARY UNIVERSE FOR HIM AND HIS COUSINS. THE GOLDEN NOODLES MEAN ABUNDANCE, AND THE FORTUNE COOKIES ARE HIS KIDS.
He partnered up with Jan van Nes to start a new concept. He always had the idea of a chef’s table but didn’t dare do that yet up to that point. But it was time! They opened The Kitchen Table by White at Blue Residences, serving a modernised version of Caribbean and local food. This opened the doors to other endeavours such as consultancy, culinary travels representing Aruba, and cooking with François Geurds, 2 Michelin star chef. The Kitchen Table again won many awards and was even Best in the Caribbean for Fine Dining on Trip Advisor and Best Restaurant in Aruba in USA Today. After about five years, though, Jan had enough. Urvin tried to buy the restaurant from him, but negotiations didn’t go well. Jan kept the name, and Urvin kept the venue. Not wanting to go at it alone, he partnered with three other people who knew what to do and could help carry the risk and financial burden. Dejavu Gourmet and Entertainment N.V. and their new restaurant concept, Infini, were born. That was the beginning of infinite possibilities. ;)
While construction started on Infini, Azure Beach Residences next door also needed a dining concept but didn’t have a kitchen. That’s when Po-Ké Ono Aruba was created. With dishes that didn’t require a full kitchen, such as sushi, baos, and poke bowls. People loved it… Lines would even form outside! And then, the pandemic hit… What now? With the lessons he learned from White and The Kitchen Table, he knew always to be prepared for the unexpected. That’s why he made sure to have a working capital of 3-4 years for his new spots. All employees went home with 100% salary! After about a month, boredom struck, and they had to get creative.
Po-Ké Ono at home was a huge success. Packages were prepared with all ingredients and different menus, paired with YouTube guide videos to make the dishes yourself at home. They delivered all across the island. This kept the name alive until the lockdown ended and the restaurant could be opened to the public again. Construction on Infini was completed in the meantime, and in November 2020, doors opened. Borders were still closed to visitors, so Infini was supported by locals and was fully booked every day. Po-Ké Ono was about bringing forward his Asian heritage. With Infini, it’s about his Asian and Caribbean roots. But don’t get it twisted. Our Urvin is 100% Aruban.
Our island is small, but don’t let that fool you. Our community has so much talent that even we locals aren’t aware of. Our culinary offerings are becoming more impressive by the day, thanks to people like Urvin, who are breaking down barriers and elevating the image of what it is to be Aruban.
On that note, I think it’s time to jump right into the next Xa On The Go
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