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Four Curaçao Chefs Reveal Secrets to Eating Well on the Island

Staff Writer
We chatted with some of the island’s fine dining chefs to learn what makes Curaçao cuisine unique

When we took off for Curaçao, we expected beautiful beaches and friendly people and great snorkeling and diving. We had high hopes that we might find a couple of good spots to eat, some fresh seafood, maybe some local produce. What we didn’t expect to find on this beautiful Caribbean island alive in the blue, blue sea was truly exceptional food and even more exceptional chefs, who were a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things culinary and Curaçao.

We thought it would be fun to ask four chefs the five same questions and see what secrets of the islands they might be able to reveal. So here are Executive Chef Sjoerd Wassenaar, Executive Chef, Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino; Chef Stephen Nicolas, Floris Suite Hotel and Spa; Chef Heinrich Hortencia, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort; and Executive Chef Rene Klop, Baoase Luxury Resort.

1. Chef Sjoerd Wassenaar, Executive Chef of the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino

Chef Sjoerd

The Daily Meal: What makes Curaçao cuisine so special?
Chef Sjoerd Wassenaar
: We love stewed dishes in Curaçao. We stew meats such as chicken, beef, fish and the local favorite - goat. Fruits and vegetables, such as green & red beans, cabbage, papaya and plantains, also go well in the stews.

What are your favorite ingredients and/or styles of cooking to work with now?
My style of cooking is a balance between 3 aspects: acidity, texture and protein. The combination of smooth potato veloute, with smoked duck breast and the acidity of cranberries makes a surprisingly delicious dish.

What do you wish people knew about dining in Curaçao?
We are currently experiencing a restaurant boom in Curaçao, and are experimenting with different variations of cuisine. The quality of produce is getting increasingly easier, and we can now quickly import produce from The Netherlands, Europe, USA, Argentina, Brazil, etc. We can do this for a relatively fair price.

What’s your favorite thing to cook, and what’s your favorite thing to eat?
I like to cook and eat goose liver ballotine. And for my everyday meal, I love a nice piece of quality rib eye steak.

What is it about food and cooking that inspires you?
I was inspired by my mother, who never burnt our food or failed to impress us with her tasty home cooked meals. I like to challenge my creativity and use different combinations of products that result in beautiful, tasty dishes. Take for example a simple stew: from different spices and vegetables you can create a truly typical, tasty Curaçaoan dish.

2. Chef Stephen Nicolas, Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Sjalotte inside the Floris Suite Hotel and Spa

Chef Stephen Nicolas

The Daily Meal: What makes Curaçao cuisine so special?
Chef Stephen Nicolas:
The majority of Curaçao's local food is stew-based, and draws a lot of similarities to the Creole cuisine found in New Orleans. Different ethnicities, including Surinamese, Dominican, Venezuelan, Columbian and Jamaican, brought a lot influence to the local cuisine, as well. 

What are your favorite ingredients and/or styles of cooking to work with now?
I like to use a lot of aromatic fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, cilantro. These will give you a special twist to the aroma and flavors of each dish.

My cooking style now incorporates a lot of colorfully garnished plates - Michelin Style. Instead of using traditional sauces we used a lot of compotes, chutneys, and coulis.

What do you wish people knew about dining in Curaçao?
Be adventurous and try our local dishes. Besides our standard weekly menu, we can alter the dish out to meet our guests’ satisfaction.

What’s your favorite thing to cook and what’s your favorite thing to eat?
I like to cook the tenderloin, which comes regularly on our weekly menu. Depending on the cooking technique and garnish we use, the dish will change names to chateaubriand, fillet mignon, beef Wellington, Tournedos Rossini, Stroganoff, etc. My favorite thing to eat is the local stew: goat with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk.

What is it about food and cooking that inspires you?
The use of fresh ingredients and the ability to try new cooking techniques inspire me the most. As a chef, we get to experiment every day in the kitchen. It is like a laboratory.

3. Chef Heinrich Hortencia, Chef de Cuisine, Shore Restaurant, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort

Chef Heinrich Hortencia

The Daily Meal: What makes Curaçao cuisine so special?
Chef Heinrich Hortencia
: Curaçao has a multicultural society, which brings with it a variety of styles in cooking. Curaçao's cuisine is quite diverse - and food is a way of life for us. You can find a mix of African, Indian, French, Asian and Dutch influence. All corners of the world are represented in Curaçao cuisine.

What are your favorite ingredients and/or styles of cooking to work with now?
Everything seafood. The waters surrounding Curaçao offers us a great variety of fresh fish. I really like working with this local product. I also love working with other local ingredients like pumpkin, sweet potatoes and plantains. They remind me of my childhood. My style of cooking is best described as Fusion Caribbean; you’ll find a very rich mix of flavors in my dishes.

What do you wish people knew about dining in Curaçao?
I wish they knew that our cuisine is very colorful and that our heritage makes it very unique. Our cuisine has history to it.

What’s your favorite thing to cook and what’s your favorite thing to eat?
I like to cook everything. I don't have one favorite thing I like to cook most, but I do have many favorite things I like to eat! At the moment, it’s grouper. This fish has the best flavor of our beautiful Caribbean seas -- a mild and unique flavor. I like to grill grouper, and serve and eat with fresh pico de gallo.

What is it about food and cooking that inspires you?
It inspires me that my food comforts people and that when they have dinner at Shore they have a unique culinary experience. I hope that my food also tells a story, my story, and the story of my island.

4. Executive Chef Rene Klop, Baoase Luxury Resort

Chef Rene Klop

The Daily Meal: What makes Curaçao cuisine so special?
Chef Rene Klop: Cuisine on Curaçao is highly influenced by the “catch of the day” principle: our ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality. For example, we have our own fisherman and grow fresh herbs and fruits in our greenery. Our cuisine is local and fresh and guests taste this when they visit us.

What are your favorite ingredients and/or styles of cooking to work with now?
What I like to work with now are high quality products. As we serve French cuisine with an Asian twist I get to experiment with ingredients like goose liver and lionfish. I like to pair the goose liver with a local honey, pata negra, Pedro Ximénez, figs, and cream of bacon with fresh herbs from our greenery. As for the lionfish, my preference goes to ceviche with a pairing of avocado, citrus, paprika, seasonings and fresh mango. 

What do you wish people knew about dinning in Curaçao?
I would like people to know that even on Curaçao you are able to experience fine dining. What better way is there to enjoy international cuisine than under the Caribbean stars? Baoase has the perfect setting for that.

What is your favorite thing to cook and what’s your favorite thing to eat?
I like to prepare fresh caught local fish. My favorite thing to eat is fried goose liver.

What is it about food and cooking that inspires you?
The beautiful thing about cooking is that you can make people happy and be creative at the same time. People come together when there is good food involved and I am happy that I am able to be part of that process.

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