On a warm, typically windy evening at Divi Aruba All Inclusive, four chefs from the Netherlands put the finishing touches on their culinary creations for an event that was billed as the “Largest Michelin Pop-up Restaurant in the Caribbean.” Named for the number of collective stars earned by the restaurants run by this talented quartet, the “8 Michelin Star Dinner” promised guests an experience unlike anything Aruba, or even the Caribbean, has ever seen.
The chefs delivered.
Over several hours in the Windows on Aruba restaurant, servers seamlessly rolled out the five courses and their accompanying wine selections. For the chefs, as they each told me earlier in the day during the preparation process, it was just another day at the office. They had ice water in their veins and not a concern in the world.
For the resort, though, there was the question of whether or not this would live up to the hype. But as the evening progressed and Windows on Aruba filled with loud conversation and laughter, it was clear that the event’s masterminds had achieved their goal.
Said Alex Nieuwmeyer, Managing Director of Divi Resorts Aruba: “Hosting this world-class event allowed us to raise the level of sophistication of the Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives and Divi Resorts’ culinary offerings while simultaneously highlighting our top-quality restaurant options and dedication to providing outstanding food, service and atmosphere that exceeds guest expectations for all-inclusive resorts.”
After enjoying four assorted appetizers — each one selected by a chef — and Casa Rojo’s Molto Negre, guests eagerly anticipated the first of five courses, and the chefs started their big night with a bang.
First Starter: Black Beauty, by François Geurds
Wine Pairing: Legras & Haas Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru
François Geurds has the distinct honor of owning two Michelin star restaurants, FG Restaurant and FG Food Labs, in Rotterdam. He was also recently named the official Cultural Ambassador of Aruba. That’s why, given his culinary résumé and the sophistication of this event, it was a little strange to hear him talk about using a Big Green Egg.
Black Beauty is a vegan meal that blew my mind. Witnessing Guerds’ creation during the meal prep earlier in the day made me appreciate the first starter more than any of the other items. Celeriac was barbecued on top of coconut nut wood in the Big Green Egg for three hours, and when it was removed it looked like a big lump of coal.
However, once the skin was removed and half of the celeriac was pureed for cream, the “beautiful pieces” were removed and placed in the dish, eventually covered with the FG Restaurant’s vinaigrette comprised of 43 different herbs and spices.
It was upon first taste of this dish that I uttered my unintentional catchphrase for the evening: “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten.”
Second Starter: Codfish en Papillotte, by Edwin Vinke
Wine Pairing: Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling
For more than 25 years Edwin Vinke and his wife, Blanche, have operated the Hoofdplaat restaurant De Kromme Watergang, which is an old schoolhouse reimagined with a stylish, modern vibe. It also has four guest suites for foodies who want to make a vacation out of Vinke’s menu.
When I met him, Vinke was in the Windows kitchen, perfecting the brine for his codfish starter. Singing along to a Nirvana song on the radio, he was stress-free and easygoing as he dipped the fish into the sea-salt brine that had the slightest hint of lemon. Asked whether his nerves get the best of him for an event of this magnitude, he laughed and replied, “Maybe when I was young.”
The brine, he explained to this novice, soaks into the fish’s protein and really brings out the flavor, but what made this starter unique were the greens he paired with the fish. Vinke spent his morning gathering seaweed to incorporate with the codfish and potatoes, and the result, presented in a paper pouch with a small pair of scissors, was a very simple, flavorful dish.
Third Starter: Stoba FG Style, by François Geurds
Wine Pairing: Casa Rojo’s Alexander vs The Ham Factory
If Geurds hadn’t stolen the show with Black Beauty, he might have done so with his second starter, Stoba FG Style. The son of Dutch-Aruban parents, his roots were on full display with this crispy sucade cut of beef (like a blade steak) complemented by sereh foam and beef gravy.
Of the wine pairings, Alexander vs The Ham Factory was my favorite in both aroma and name. This is an instant addition to my home bar, although it’ll always serve as a reminder that I will never be able to cook sucade (or celeriac) as masterfully as Geurds.
Entrée: Dutch Lamb, by Erik van Loo
Wine Pairing: Red Mountain Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon
By this point in the evening, our table developed a routine of waiting for everyone’s plates (pretty standard), each guest taking the first bite, and then everyone turning to me, at which point I declared: “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten.” I was not lying, certainly not when it came to the Dutch lamb.
Since 2009 chef Erik van Loo has maintained two-star status for Restaurant Parkheuvel in Rotterdam. Unfortunately, his devotion to Parkheuvel forced him to back out of the event at the last minute, but he was replaced by his son, Juliën, who has also worked at Parkheuvel for several years.
Upon trying the Dutch lamb, which was served with a glaze of green herbs and atop two large pieces of Dutch white asparagus, we wondered what Erik could have possibly brought to the meal that would have topped Juliën’s effort. Perhaps a trip to Rotterdam is in order.
Dessert: Coconut Cream, by Jermain de Rozario
Wine Pairing: Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti Bosc D’La Rei
The newest chef to the Michelin-star club, Jermain de Rozario was proudly displaying new ink on his neck — a little red star. As humble as he is creative, the owner of the simply named De Rozario in Helmond, Netherlands, never stopped smiling when he discussed his plans for the evening’s dessert. He would have preferred to create another starter, but he also appreciated the challenge and pressure of picking the final course.
But what was on the menu wasn’t actually his first choice. Upon arriving in Aruba, he realized his original, caramel-based dessert didn’t reflect the island’s vibe, so he turned his attention to local favorites and focused on mango ice cream with coconut and pineapple accents. To pay tribute to Aruba, he used a very special, familiar ingredient: Pica di Papaya.
The papaya emulsion first raised eyebrows, but once we tasted it there was no doubt.
It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten.