Gerald Cardenas – Chef de Cuisine at The Ritz Carlton Aruba
The native Costa Rican Gerald Cardenas works as a Chef on the Caribbean island of Aruba – or as the locals call it: One Happy Island. Chef Gerald speaks today about his culinary roots in Costa Rica, the culinary world he has already traveled and discovered and what makes the Aruban cuisine so special.
Gerald Cardenas – Being a chef on One Happy Island
Today you work as Chef de Cuisine at The Ritz Carlton Aruba. First of all, where is Aruba?
Yes, I’ve been working for the past 4 years at The Ritz-Carlton Aruba, this is in the beautiful island of Aruba. Aruba is located in the Southern Caribbean (also called the Dutch Caribbean) and the island is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It’s known as the One Happy Island because of its friendly people, beautiful beaches and sunny climate.
You are a passionate chef. Where does your passion come from?
My passion comes from the time my mother taught me how to cook. It all started in a small town of San Carlos back in my home country Costa Rica, I was delighted to see the way that my mother was always passionate in the kitchen cooking for me and my family. She was my first mentor in my culinary journey since my childhood.
Which culinary school did you attend?
I went to the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA), back in Costa Rica. This is a culinary school sponsored by the government in Costa Rica.
How would you best describe Costa Rican traditional cuisine?
Costa Rican cuisine is very rich in flavour and colours and most important the Achiote, everything together in a very small country with only 5M people living there. We have the Caribbean with a lot of influence of Jamaicans who came to work 150 years ago to build the train line and stayed in Costa Rica. The Caribbean of Costa Rica we can found spicy flavours, a lot of coconut milk and coconut oil in the local cuisine. We also have the Central valley of Costa Rica that have more of the Spanish influence, with a lot of cheese, bread, cold cuts and many different ways to cook rice. In this region, Costa Rica is famous for different soups like Olla de Carne (short rib soup), also the Picadillos (Mixed of potatoes, carrot, ground beef, cilantro and sweet corn) which is part of daily lunch here.
Lastly, we have la Pampa of Guanacaste, this is where we have all the feed yards for the local cattle. Guanacaste is where the rice, beans, corn and beef comes, there the food is more traditional and didn’t change a lot in the last 100 years. This is a part of Costa Rica that is proud of its tradition and food with homemade tortillas, sweet bread and great cooking in wooden stoves in which different stews and prepared. We cannot forget the tamales for the Christmas time and also the delicious pork chicharrons that is prepared for any special occasion.
And the modern cuisine of Costa Rica?
Modern cuisine is growing little by little, with some greats Costa Rican Chefs that are applying new techniques to our local cuisine and implementing the use of new products or fruits to create wonderful dishes. I believe Costa Rica in the next 10 years will surprise the culinary world, with all those combination of tropical, fresh seafood, great cattle with an extraordinary flavour.
The kitchens in many countries are changing due to external influences. Does it also apply to the cuisine of Costa Rica?
Absolutely, we need to remember than many young Costa Rican Chefs are exploring the world and also going abroad to study culinary arts. The beauty of the kitchen is that you always learn something new, and I see this selecting group of Costa Rican Chefs coming back to Costa Rica and starting to create the foundation of the new Costa Rican Cuisine.
In Costa Rica, you worked for Melia and Marriott before you moved to Cayman Island as the Head Chef for Marriott. What did you learn from that time as a chef in the Cayman Islands?
Cayman Island is the Monaco of the Caribbean, and yes was my first international assessment with Marriott International Hotels. My four years in the Caymans, was a wonderful experience and working at the Marriott Grand Cayman with 52 different cultures working together in the hotel was truly impressive. It was amazing being part of the culinary team and I must say that I learned a lot during this journey working with chefs from France, India, Pakistan, Korea, Mexico, US, Canada, Indonesia, Philippine just to mention a few some countries.
I remember that during my first year there I learned something new every single day. My experience in Grand Cayman opened my eyes to understand that we live in world full of different cuisines and cultures. The best of this experience was all the good friends that I make there, the knowledge gain and especially the opportunity and trust in my potential to run that kitchen is thanks to Mr. Nicolas Marzioni, now based in Frankfurt, Germany in Marriott Headquarters.
Today you work as Chef de Cuisine at The Ritz Carlton Aruba. What is the culinary set up?
Here at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, our culinary team is always creating the most diversity culinary experience to our guest, looking for local and outside high-end products. We are proud to have 6 unique food and beverage outlets, including two remarkable restaurants and a contemporary sushi bar, each offering a different dining experience.
Our culinary team strives to offer an exquisite culinary voyage to our guests by offering fresh and high-quality ingredients and by highlighting Aruba’s culinary gifts, for example for breakfast at Solanio we offer some local food items, like funchi and pica di papaya that can be enjoyed with omelettes and other breakfast favourites. At our artisan coffee bar Ritual Coffee Culture, we offer Aruba’s favourite dessert called rum cake and for lunch Madero Pool and Beach Grill’s menu highlights tropical flavours in its delicious dishes and refreshing cocktails. The options for dinner, BLT Steak offers quality steaks with the most high-end cuts on the island, fresh seafood and its weekly blackboard highlights seasonal and local flavours. Casa Nonna our recently opened restaurant is our tribute to authentic Italian cuisine. And lastly, Divi sushi bar & lounge with a diversity of handcrafted sushi rolls, amazing ceviche dishes and snack menu.
Our culinary team loves seeing our guests delighting their palate all the delicious food and beverages options available in the hotel.
Sounds amazing! Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean island – what is the local cuisine about?
Aruban cuisine is inspired by culinary traditions that were brought to the island from various countries. The result is a unique fusion of Spanish, French, Dutch and African cuisine. The most popular dishes in Aruba are the Cabrito Stoba (Stew goat) and the Sopi di Oester (Creamy Oyster soup).
As an island, Aruba is surrounded by sea and lots of fresh fish. Which fish is popular?
Also, Aruba has a diversity of sea food selection, these are: Red Snapper, Black Grouper, Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, Barracuda; the reef octopus and the Caribbean Lobster which are all the most popular. A local fish dish is Aruba’s famous “Pisca Cora,” which is a fried red snapper fish served with creole sauce and “Pan Bati” which is similar to pancakes but different in taste.
How would you describe your own culinary line today?
My culinary line is a fusion of the Latin American cuisine and Asian cuisine, I’m also very passionate about steaks, to become an expert in beef cuts that will offer the ultimate steak flavour. I put so much passion into my cooking that being a chef is not simply my occupation, it’s my life, who I am and what makes me happy.
What are some of your unique cooking techniques?
I love to work with all kinds of grills, and do ceviche’s. Why Grills because the window of this technique is very open, I can do smoker, Texas style, wooden grill and under the ground cooking like the (china box).. And ceviche’s because also allow me to try fresh sea food with many different combinations of styles.
What are some of the lesser-known spices and ingredients you use?
One time I work with Tonka beans, was very interesting and fun Preparing a sweet potato puree with Tonka beans for a high-end American Wagyu Beef steak. Top selling in my menu at that time.
What is a typical Aruban dessert?
One typical Aruban dessert is the “Bolo di Cashupete”, this is a sponge cake with raw cashew nuts and a cashew nuts cream.
Are there any places in the world you would like to work as a chef one day?
Yes, of course! I would like to see the world and found myself in a culinary journey beyond my dreams. But I also believe the live is a box of gifts and opportunities, so I take one at the time. Maybe I see myself in the Middle East or Asia for a while, is to many places I want to go and Work and bring my Costa Rican proud cuisine to others.
Thank you so much for your time and sharing with us your thoughts, Chef Gerald!
Aruba is a dream destination and certainly a wonderful place to work.
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