Interview: Chef Aram Verduzco of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico’s Chang Thai
Chef Aram Verduzco is the Executive Chef of Chang Thai Restaurant at Grand Palladium Riviera Resort and Spa, located in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. The property is a beautiful one and the food is a welcome surprise for an all-inclusive resort. Guests can choose between nine a la arte restaurants all with different themes from Mexican to Italian to Thai and five different buffet restaurants as well. If Asian food is your proverbial cup of tea, you’ll be very delighted with the dining experience at Chang Thai.
It offers sort of a buffet and a la carte combo, which is especially welcome if you tend to arrive at restaurants wanting to eat immediately. There is an island full of apps ready for the eating as soon as you arrive, including, Thai fish ceviche, shredded chicken salad, Vietnamese fresh rolls, and cucumber salad. Then guests can choose from Bun Bo Imperial soup, chicken soup with noodles, or shitake pho. After that, it’s on to the main event with entrees that include green, yellow, and red curries; shrimp pad Thai, shaking beef, roast chicken, and pineapple fried rice. The food is good enough to make you forget that you’re in Mexico, not Asia!
Before landing at Palladium, Chef Aram was a sushi and wok chef at East by Southwest in Durango, CO. Chef Aram loves the culinary world and is grateful for all of the experiences he’s had, and, he adds, “There is always something new to learn and which makes cooking all the more interesting. Always be curious and alive!” Here’s more from the Palladium’s Chef Aram.
The Daily Meal: From where did your love of all things culinary develop?
Chef Aram Verduzco: Since I was I kid, I always helped cooking at home and that led me to learning new techniques and bringing something extra to recipes. I’ve always been a food lover and really enjoy cooking and tasting new flavors. Finally, when I was in high school, I decided I really wanted to cook as a professional and train to become a chef.
What would you say is your overarching food philosophy?
Making beautiful and delicious food for everyone to indulge in and enjoy. Doing things the best I can, all while being respectful to the environment.
Can you tell readers a bit about the inspiration behind your menus and what you are hoping to achieve with their offerings?
As a food lover, I appreciate short menus with enough options to pick what I want quickly. I did my best to create a very inclusive and short menu with enough options to take care of most palates and different diets, while always serving the best dishes I can offer. My hope is that guests can pick something that will match their taste and that they will remember it as an extraordinary and flavorful experience.
What do guests tell you they love the most about the restaurant, the menu, and the food?
The pad Thai. It is my most praised item on the menu. A lot of people have told me that it is the best pad Thai they’ve ever tried, some even comparing it to ones they’ve had in Thailand. I have to say, that makes me really happy, especially since pad thai is personally one of my favorite dishes in the planet.
Guests also appreciate that I have great options for vegetarians and people with a gluten-free diet. It is very important for me that my food can be enjoyed by everyone.
What are some of your personal favorite menu items?
From the salad bar, I love the Thai ceviche. It is a fusion - I use a classic fruit salad from my hometown, then add marinated mahi-mahi and classic Thai elements like fish sauce, sugar, cilantro and basil. Of the soups, I love the shiitake pho and the carrot and coconut milk bisque. They are both very flavorful. Of the main entrees, the shrimp pad thai, of course, and the Aram ribs, both blend all my favorite flavors and textures in a great balance. For dessert, I have to say that I really like the avocado smoothie. I love how something so simple can be that delicious.
What are some of your favorite ingredients and/or cooking styles to experiment with right now?
As a Mexican and Thai food lover, I just love chili peppers, the heat, aroma and flavor that they bring are so irresistible. I have also found myself trying to create umami when cooking by using natural ingredients. When I started creating the menu for this restaurant, I researched and experimented a lot with umami in mind. It really helped me understand the nature of flavoring.
Why do you think the food offered at a hotel is so important for visitors?
That is simple. We all love to eat, and food is one of the most memorable experiences we can have when we travel. We pride ourselves on surpassing guests’ expectations of all-inclusive dining and ensuring that their experience is high in quality and memorable.
What is the best compliment about your food that you have ever received?
That it's fresh, beautiful, and delicious. That’s exactly where I put all my effort into the dishes I create.
What do you wish people knew and/or understood about food?
Delicious food is for everyone! Palladium Hotels & Resorts has a food allergy card program that allows guests to know exactly what they can eat while they’re staying with us. The best part of our menu is that guests with dietary restrictions have so many menu options that they never feel like they are missing out.
Why Thai food?
Thai food is vibrant and delicious, vast, fresh, and full of culture. Also, the combination of flavors is not that different from the ones we have in Mexico. Sweet, sour, spicy... YUM!
What is it that you think makes this restaurant and this property so special?
This is the first time I have had the opportunity to open a new restaurant with a menu that I created entirely on my own. I put my whole heart into it and I am grateful that we have a very beautiful space to work with and the support of so many great people. I have grown a lot since this project and I'm pretty sure that it’s going to accompany me on my life's cooking adventure.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about all things culinary in general and at Chang Thai in particular?
Go out and eat, try as many things as you like because the experience just keeps getting better. There are guidelines, but you should make your own rules. And please, be kind and support sustainability, this way we can all enjoy more!