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Culinary Production with Aruban Chef's

Who’s cookin’ in Aruba’s kitchens – an insider scoop on the islands’ culinary nursery

With its mere 69 square miles Aruba is one of the smaller islands in the Caribbean, and in size comparable to the Isle of Wight.

But don’t let looks be deceiving. Somehow Aruba has always managed to claim its fame for doing something the best, the biggest or largest. Going back in time some 100 years ago, Aruba housed the largest oil refinery in the world. In later years Aruba attracted visitors and celebrities to the island with its white sand beaches, some of the longest in the Caribbean and recently tapped as best in the world. With the arrival of tourism, Aruba also was a first adapter of new trends such as time share, locking in the largest amount of repeat visitors of any Caribbean island to date.

Aruba’s first celebrity chef

Transformed into a hopping island by the early nineties with ever-growing visitor arrival numbers, the hospitality and gastronomy scene in Aruba started to transform. Bigger resorts with international brand names like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Westin arrived at the beaches of Palm Beach, replacing the iconic Basiruti, Aruba Caribbean Hotel and Americana. The arrival of international hotel chains also marked the arrival of a new generation of chefs: those that had travelled the world, were educated abroad, and brought a wealth of experience with them from different cultures, countries, taste and trends. Leader of the ‘pack’ of international resort chefs at the time was American-born and French-trained chef Matt Boland, an award-winning culinary professional who had a strong influence on food presentation, tastes and culinary trends in Aruba. Over the course of 40+ years he gained celebrity chef status on the island and many repeat visitors and resort guests will have sampled his rich dishes, most recently at Hilton’s Sunset Grill. Now in his late sixties, Chef Boland retired from his honourable culinary career in 2021.

Meanwhile, a modest, local chef of a small restaurant entered the stage and highly influenced Aruba’s fine dining scene and the careers of many culinary talents on the island today. The venue: White Modern Cuisine. At its helm Chef Urvin Croes with a kitchen brigade of bright and ambitious locals. With its opening in early 2012 Urvin not only introduced a new wave of fine dining to Aruba’s culinary landscape, but he also simultaneously created a gateway for culinary talent, producing highly trained professionals under his guidance and inspiring other local chefs to follow his lead.

Creating the fine dining hotspot

Chef Urvin (41), born and raised in Aruba, worked his way up in the kitchens of various renowned hotels and resorts on the island and at 1-Michelin star restaurant Karel V in The Netherlands. With the necessary schooling, experience and ambition, he opened his first owned business, White Modern Cuisine in Aruba at the age of 29.  His culinary brainchild quickly made name as the fine dining hotspot, despite its non-sexy location on the second floor of a shopping mall, the -for Aruban standards- small portions and relatively steep pricing. The culinary team produced the most flavourful meals, while bartenders created handcrafted cocktails with a fabulous taste and sexy presentation. The gastronomic bar was raised for sure, but there was more going on.

For more about Chef Urvin read: Local in the spotlight: From skater boy to rockstar to renowned chef? The possibilities are infinite…

Honouring cultural and culinary heritage

Husband-and-wife owners Urvin and Mary-Anne Croes are first and foremost Arubans and proud of their cultural and culinary heritage, which they were able to translate in warm hospitality and a surprising menu. Using modern techniques, Urvin’s talented hands transformed common ingredients and traditional recipes of existing dishes into small works of art that looked and tasted completely new and exotic. In addition, Chef Urvin wanted to step away from the deep fryer, heavy sauces and introduce a healthier, lighter and more natural and plant-based way of eating. For instance, he introduced a signature salad on his menu, consisting of some 30 (!) different, locally sourced ingredients and edible flowers.

A new direction for Aruba’s gastronomy

Soon, White Modern Cuisine had become a culinary destination in and by itself. Diners, locals and visitors alike, literally went out of their way to reach the restaurant, and indulge in a one-of-a-kind, fine dining experience. At the same time, culinary local talent on the island started finding their way to Chef Urvin’s kitchen, eager to join the new direction Aruba’s gastronomy was taking. Combined with Urvin’s ambition and desire to further expand his horizon, he soon said yes to the opportunity to start a new restaurant The Kitchen Table by White, in co-ownership with hospitality veteran Jan van Nes. At this restaurant, located ocean front in Eagle Beach on the pool deck of Blue Residences Chef Urvin and his crew introduced a chef’s table concept with a multi-course menu. This concept was fairly new in Aruba, introduced in 2010 by Dutch-born chef Dennis van Daatselaar. More to follow on that subject in a bit.

Culinary Production with Aruban Chef's

Boundless opportunities for local talent

Having made a strong name for himself and the culinary team he trained and molded along the way, Chef Urvin opened his latest restaurant, Infini, in 2020. The menu here changes every three months and is a celebration of Urvin’s Asian-Aruban heritage (he has a Chinese grandmother on his father’s side), packaged into a 12-course dining experience, referred to as ‘culinary theater’. Urvin being the maestro leading his orchestra; the open kitchen a centre stage pleasing the select audience of no more than 21 seats.

The name for his latest restaurant, Infini, could not have been a better expression of his culinary ambitions in every sense of the word. Meaning ‘limitless possibilities’ in Aruba’s language Papiamento, Chef Urvin is doing just that: offering endless menu variations through gastronomic art while at the same time providing boundless opportunities for local, talented chefs to grow and venture out on their own.

Learn more about Infini

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The next culinary generation

Ludovico Hendriquez who was Urvin’s right hand for five years at The Kitchen Table, became Chef at Lima Bistro, then at Azar, the ‘latest and greatest’ of 2023 restaurant openings in Aruba.  And Alvaro Yi, who started at The Kitchen Table as a student is now Chef at Lima Bistro. Jean Claude Werleman who worked alongside Chef Urvin for four years at The Kitchen Table, is now the pastry Chef for Infini and Poké Ono. And Ashwin Maduro, the very first EPI student Chef Urvin hired at White Modern Cuisine, was trained to go to the Netherlands. Ashwin worked for years at multiple Michelin star restaurants, yet returned to Aruba as Chef at Infini, while Carlos Dagnel, who worked at The Kitchen Table flew out to become Souschef at a Michelin star restaurant in The Hague.  

Female star power

Two female talents that sprung from Chef Urvin’s culinary education and developed impressive career paths, are Aruban-born Roosje Loopstok and Jacky Lopez. Roosje started as a student at White Modern Cuisine, then grew into the positions of cook, sous-chef and finally chef at White before landing the position of Chef de Cuisine at Urvin’s Japanese-Hawaiian inspired eatery Po-Ké Ono. As of June 2023, Roosje was appointed Chef at The Coco Café, the onsite restaurant at Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba offering all day bites, including an extensive vegan and vegetarian menu.

Culinary Production with Aruban Chef's

Jacky Lopez served as a line cook at The Kitchen Table by White after obtaining her Culinary Arts degree with a specialisation in vegetarian & vegan food. By 2018, Chef Jacky ventured out on her own. Together with her husband Maarten Thoonen she co-founded two businesses, The Little One and Picnic Aruba, providing customised gastronomic events, unique décors and culinary concepts at pop-up locations.

The Peruvian connection

Another chef that made his mark on the culinary and gastronomic scene in Aruba over the past decade is Teddy Bouroncle (43), executive chef and co-owner of hot spots du moment Lima Bistro and Azar Open Fire Cuisine, open since November 2020 and January 2023 respectively. Just like Chef Urvin, Teddy gained his work experience in the international kitchens of renowned hotels and resorts in Peru, Singapore, Spain, Colombia and the United States. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Chef Teddy started his culinary career in Aruba in 2014, overseeing kitchen staff of all restaurants and bars of all three Aruba Marriott properties as complex executive chef.

Learn more about Lima Bistro

Xa On The Go: If you follow the North Star, it will lead you straight to Lima Bistro.

In Lima, often referred to as the culinary capitol of the world, Chef Teddy learned from the best of the best, and had the opportunity to work at restaurants around the globe as well, such as Arzak, a 3-Michelin star in San Sebastian, Spain, and top restaurant Les Amis in Singapore. Chef Teddy translated his knowledge of new flavours and experience in new cultures into new ideas, that defined his creative cooking style. And he was determined to pass on his international culinary knowhow and insights by training and guiding a new generation of local talents and young professionals in Aruba.

Learn more about Azar Open Fire

Xa On The Go: For the love of chicken, let’s take this steakhouse to another level. Azar is FIRE!

Mastering the fusion cuisine

One of them was Ever de Peña (37), a Venezuela-born local culinary talent, raised and schooled in Aruba.After completing his culinary education at EPI Horeca, and graduating top of his class, Ever worked at some of Aruba’s finest restaurants and resorts and gained international experience in Italy and California. He eventually landed a job as executive chef at Ike’s Bistro in Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, at age 26 the youngest highest ranked chef in Aruba at the time, further developing his passion for avant garde fusion cuisine.

Ever Restaurant

Learn more about Ever Restaurant

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Telling stories through cooking

While competing for the title of Iron Chef in Aruba in 2016, Ever formed a friendship with Teddy Bouroncle, who then hired Ever as executive sous chef at the Aruba Marriott that same year. Under the guidance and leadership of Chef Teddy, new culinary initiatives were introduced to the island, like Aruba Marriott’s culinary pop-up events in the hotel lobby that attracted a new and younger crowd of gastronomic enthusiasts and led to raving reviews. After Teddy left Marriott to open his own businesses, Ever eventually followed his example. In 2023 he opened his own Ever Restaurant, a small restaurant annex art gallery adjacent to Lima Bistro, offering freestyle fine dining experience with room for 14 diners at a time. In this intimate setting Ever expresses himself through his food and showcases his love for culinary arts in 4- or 7-course dinner menus.

Another culinary talent that flew out from under Chef Teddy’s wings is Miguel Coronado (28), who started out in the Aruba Marriott kitchen at the age of 20, fresh out of school. His ability to bring new ideas to the plate and constantly thinking out of the box, caught Teddy’s eye. Miguel was soon paired with international top chefs, brought in for Marriott’s culinary pop-up events which provided the young chef a tremendous learning curve. It catapulted his career with Marriott, becoming a chef leader in no time. Most recently he created his own -amazing- menu as Chef at the newly opened Caya House Aruba, showing lots of potential of becoming one of the top restaurants in Aruba.

Learn more about Caya House

Xa On The Go: Bringing Tulum to Palm Beach. Caya House is where good taste lives.

A League of her own

Joyce Hüsken (44), owner and executive chef at Yemanja Woodfired Grill, put her very own mark on Aruba’s culinary landscape. When opening Yemanja in 2009, not only was she the first female chef to own a restaurant in Aruba, Joyce also was an early adapter of vegan, gluten free, and dairy-free cuisine. Joyce’s culinary journey is a remarkable one that began at the young age of 14 when she entered Culinary School in The Netherlands. Her very first job was already in a leading position as sous chef, at age 18.

Fast forward a few years, Joyce moved to Aruba where her brother Erwin Hüsken already had made a name for himself as Head Chef at Flying Fishbone and later-on at Screaming Eagle and at culinary pop-up events such as The Secret Garden. Joyce soon found her own space on the culinary scene in Aruba and started out as chef at Yemanja in 2008, soon after it opened. Less than a year later, in 2009 she took over Yemanja from the previous owners, who continued with their other businesses at the time, Que Pasa and Marandi.

Over the past 15 years Yemanja Woodfired Grill has become one of the all-time favourite restaurants in downtown Oranjestad, consistently providing high quality and tasty meals, while Joyce also spared no energy or effort in training a young kitchen brigade on the island. On her travels to international culinary destinations Joyce picked up on the trend of vegetable driven dishes, lighter meals, and a more conscious way of eating in general which she translated into Yemanja’s menu. Besides less fat food options, grilled meats and vegetables, you will find vegan items and gluten-free dishes, and even raw desserts.

Introducing the Chef’s Table concept in Aruba

When Chef Dennis van Daatselaar (45) first opened his Chef’s Table restaurant Carte Blanche in Aruba in September of 2010 at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, it was a novel fine dining concept on the island: bringing guests together for an intimate multi-course dinner prepared in front of their eyes from an open kitchen arena. As the concept proved an instant success, over the last decade many other restaurants followed his lead, such as 2 Fools & a Bull, Fred’s, Infini, Ever Restaurant and Koal.

While Carte Blanche remained a huge draw for gastronomists, Dennis pursued his dream of owning multiple unique restaurants in the same building. The corner of Wilhelminastraat in downtown Oranjestad, once the location of iconic hardware store Brenchies, became home to restaurant Wilhelmina in October 2015 and Maroc Restaurant & Tapas in 2016, which later transformed to Mediterranean Restaurant Olivia. In January 2018 Carte Blanche relocated and opened its doors in the same Brenchies building. Here, Chef Ries, the current chef of Carte Blanche serves his 5-course surprise menu, while Glen, maître d' since the opening of Carte Blanche in 2010, provides suitable wine pairings. Most recently, Carte Blanche started offering a la carte options too.

Riding the Chef’s Table wave

After the chef’s table concept was introduced in Aruba in 2010, and patrons soon found their way to this upscale dining experience, new chef’s table restaurants popped up like clockwork.

Peruvian Chef David Lizano worked in several classy restaurants in Lima, dubbed the culinary capital of the world, before landing a job as chef on the opening team of Aruba’s Asi es mi Peru at the end of 2016. He proved to be a very creative and valuable team player and continued his career in 2019 at sister restaurant The Kitchen Table, leading the culinairy team there. The Kitchen Table, previously located at Blue Residences and now moved to Paradise Beach Villas, offers a Chef’s Table concept available to both adults and children.

The culinary duo at the helm of Senses Fine Dining, executive chef Kelt Hugo Maat and Maitre D’ Sebastian Kruisselbrink, developed the only chef’s table experience in Palm Beach that also offers an a la carte option. These two culinary concepts under one roof can be found at Radisson Blu. Dutch-born Maat and Kruisselbrink lived and worked all over the globe, accumulating the knowledge and influences guests will find on display in their internationally inspired culinary creations and handcrafted cocktails.

Culinary Production with Aruban Chef's

Chef Roy Engelen, a graduate from a Dutch culinary school, gained experience in several 1 and 2 Michelin Star restaurants and other high-level restaurants in the Netherlands. He arrived on Aruba’s culinary scene as one of the chefs at 2 Fools & a Bull Gourmet Studio, and started a successful journey two years ago as owner and head chef of Fred Royal Aruba, formerly known as Fred’s Restaurant, located on the second floor of the monumental Que Pasa building on Wilhelminastraat. Fred Royal offers an exquisit and intimate dining experience in a small scale setting that seats maximum seventeen guests at a U-shaped high-top bar for guests 18 years and older. 

Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Aruba, Chef Juan Ludena has embarked on a remarkable culinary journey that has taken him across continents, seeking to expand his horizons and refine his culinary skills. With an education at a prestigious culinary school in the Netherlands under his belt, along with training under the mentorship of Chef Jermain de Rozario at 'de Lindehof’, a two Michelin stars restaurant, Chef Juan returned to Aruba. He now hosts a weekly chef’s table event at Papillion Restaurant, an exclusive culinary experience that is only available on Wednesday’s.

Local chefs on the rise

While over the last three decades some of Aruba’s culinary addresses remained, classics like Chalet Suisse, Madame Janette and Papiamento, the island has proven itself in recent years as a trendy culinary destination with an ever-evolving restaurant scene offering surprising menus. Besides the before mentioned Infini, Ever Restaurant, Lima Bistro and Azar, yet another new star is shining brightly: Koal Restaurant.

Koal Restaurant is the newest hot spot for exclusive dining in Aruba, with a chef’s table concept. Koal is co-owned by international executive chef Albert Raven and located in an eye-catching, well restored monumental building in Oranjestad that once served as a downtown pharmacy. Born and raised in Aruba, Albert made a name for himself on the international culinary scene before returning to his native island. He has led culinary teams in The Netherlands, United Arabic Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), Germany and the US to name a few. Albert’s culinary style draws inspiration from local cuisine and international fusions, while co-owner and maître d' Tom Rensen is in charge of wine pairings and warm hospitality, so well-known to Aruba.

Aruban-born Aldwin Donata is the third generation in a line of chefs in the Donata family. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Aldwin and his two brothers all became chefs with culinary passion running through their veins. In his current role as Executive Chef at Holiday Inn Resort Aruba, Aldwin is in charge of the kitchen team and responsible for delivering outstanding culinary experiences for its guests.

Chefs of Aruba

From left to right top row: David Lizano, Aldwin Donata, Joyce Husken, Dennis van Daatselaar, Erwin Husken, Roy Engelen; bottom row: Urvin Croes, Kelt Hugo Maat, Ever de Peña, Teddy Bouroncle, Juan Ludena


Blog written by: Karin Swiers

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