I fall in love with San Juan, Puerto Rico every time I visit. And, I admit, I have been lucky to have had the chance to visit time and time again. I’ve hiked the fort and walked along the Paseo de La Princesa. I’ve enjoyed the best coffee of my life at Café Don Ruiz and kayaked in the bioluminescence of the Caribbean waters in the dark of night. I’ve had too much mofongo to eat and had too much rum to drink. And it was those last two adventures that started my love affair with the food and drink of San Juan. So I was excited to talk to Executive Chef Jan Erichsen of the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and find out more about all things food and drink in Puerto Rico’s irresistible city of San Juan.
The Daily Meal: From where did your love of all things culinary develop?
Jan Erichsen: I grew up spending most of my time in the kitchen with my grandmother. I learned how to make dishes with only using ingredients we had available and often used remaining food from the day before to create a brand new dish. That’s when I started thinking that there are so many ways to experiment with food to create delicious meals.
What would you say is your overarching food philosophy?
Simple and easy. Natural and flavorful food that is easy to eat. I think our customers should enjoy their food without having to work for it.
Can you tell readers a bit about the inspiration behind your menus and what you are hoping to achieve with their offerings?
On our lunch menu at La Isla, we offer simple, easy food that can be executed in a timely manner so our customers can maximize their time enjoying the sun either at the pool or the beach. Dinner at La Vista Latin Grill is a more upscale, sophisticated experience for guests with options including our signature dishes and grilled specialties. Guests have the option to either dine inside or under the open sky.
What do guests tell you they love the most about the restaurants, the menus, and the food?
Guests love the quality and flavor of the meats and seafood we use. From the sea scallops and octopus carpaccio to churrasco and lobster, there are many favorites. If guests have special requests or needs, we’re able to accommodate and I know they’re appreciative that they are receiving a special meal prepared by the chef.
What are some of your personal favorite menu items?
My favorites are the sea bass, tuna, and game meats when in season. Our homemade gelato is also delicious. We opened an authentic gelato cremeria, Gelato & Co. last year and have many delicious and creative flavors with a special monthly flavor.
What are some of your favorite ingredients and/or cooking styles to experiment with right now?
Everything that has to do with seafood, especially tuna. There are so many things you can do with these items from appetizers to salads to entrees to the way the seafood dishes are prepared. We’re constantly experimenting with different presentations too. For example, we recently introduced a Seven Floor Salad and it is presented in a mason jar, layered with all the ingredients. We have also incorporated many new sauces into dishes such as green bourbon and peppercorn, squash, and avocado.
Why do you think the food offered at a resort is so important for visitors?
Because we are serving food at a resort, we want to cater to our guests looking for more relaxation time by offering quick and convenient options that can even be taken to the beach. While we’re able to prepare the dishes quickly, we put a lot of passion into our cuisine. We want to give guests an innovative and flavorful menu as well as a taste of local flavors just steps away from their room. It’s about the whole culinary experience too. There’s an incredible lush garden environment that comes with dining at La Vista Latin Grill at night where guests can hear the sounds of the wind, the waves, and peeps from our indigenous frogs, Coquis.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about all things culinary at the San Juan Marriott?
It’s been great working with an experienced culinary team from all over the world from Germany and Italy to Chile and islands throughout the Caribbean. With that experience, we are able to almost do and prepare anything and together, we can conceptualize and create unique presentations for our guests.