Spices in Spoons

Outrigger Chef Series: Chef Geert-Jan Vaartjes at Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort

Marisa Guerrero

5/21/2015

Nothing captures the essence of Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort more than its dining experiences. Although it’s one of the newer hotels in the Outrigger family, Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort offers a sophisticated variety of cuisine options. From high art beverage concoctions like Star Anise & Ginger Pineapple - to the catch of the day which often includes spiny lobster or calamari - guest palates are more than pleased.

The resort’s Executive Chef, Geert-Jan Vaartjes, explains what makes Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort cuisine so special in the latest edition of our Chef Series:

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Chef Geert-Jan Vaartjes, we understand you’re originally from Holland. How did you end up in Mauritius
It’s a funny story: I worked seven years in a hotel in the North of Holland, and a colleague asked me: “What is your dream, what do you want to do in a few years?”. I said that I liked Holland, but that my dream has always been to work abroad and to do something a bit crazy, work in a big resort. My colleague said that he knew somebody – the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort’s Executive Chef Jerry Bastiaan, who is also from Holland – who was looking for an Executive Sous Chef. I said why not? So we did a Skype call, and he told me to come for the Grand Opening in April 2014. I went there for a week, and when I came back we discussed it with my wife, and we said: “Let’s do it!” It’s been 8 months now that I am here. For me it was a big step but for my wife a bigger one, as for 33 years she lived in a small village in the North of Holland… But she enjoys Mauritius very much also!

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 11, I was impressed by my brother who is also a Chef… He won at 18 the second price in the Dutch cooking championship for young Chefs, so I was stimulated to start cooking too. I remember that he did a party at home and that all of the guests were there because he was a Chef! I liked the idea of it. I decided I would try to be the best in the Netherlands! And 9 years later, in 2000, I won the Dutch cooking championship for young Chefs… I was 20 years old. In 2004 I competed again - but this time it was for adult chefs. And I won.

Where did you receive culinary training?
After attending a Masterchef School in Holland (4 years), I started in the hotel Bilderberg Landgoed Lauswolt (in the city of Beetsterzwaag), and with the chef (who is now GM there) we had a lot of things in common, we shared visions on how to work in a kitchen… I learned a lot with him. Then he told me that I should go see different things, go to big cities, like Amsterdam or Amstel, in Michelin Star restaurants (the top of Holland and of European restaurants) to see what there were cooking. So I took his advice! I worked in Bokkedoorns (2 Michelin stars), La Rive at the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam (2 Michelin stars), De Librije in Zwolle (3 Michelin stars)… It was fun and I learned a lot!

And then I got back to Bilderberg Landgoed Lauswolt where I did the most of my career. I also did an “internship” for a week in the top restaurant Alinea in Chicago and it was magical – you can learn a lot just by staying a few days in a kitchen…

How has your talent evolved over the years, and what has been your greatest inspiration?
At the beginning I was more interested in learning about fine dining cuisine. Now I like to manage the kitchen staff and make sure that they have fun in their work (but also that they do their jobs) – that is something which is important to me now.

My brother have been one of my greatest inspirations of course (when we talk to each other it’s always about cooking!), but also big Chefs, like Grant Achatz (Chef of the Alinea restaurant in Chicago): the way they cook and taste something differently, it’s very interesting to me. I don’t want to do it exactly like them, but the way they look at the kitchen and do everything differently is really inspiring.

What’s your favorite dish or type of cuisine to eat?
Well, it has changed now a little bit. It was more the fine dining and the 3-star Michelin restaurants, but now that I’m here in Mauritius, I really enjoy local food – simpler but interesting and fresh. And I like a lot Asian food – I am a big fan of Thai food for instance.

I should say also that, like a real Dutch man, I am fond of boiled potatoes with red cabbage and speklap (pork belly), made by my mother!

What are your favorite ingredients to work with when cooking?
The strange thing is that it has changed now within the last year. In Holland my cooking was different; here at Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort, we use more fresh and locally sourced vegetables, herbs, flowers from the gardens… We have a big herb garden at the hotel (near the Plantation Club). Some of my new favorite flavors include lemongrass, limes, and chilies!

What type of cuisine can guests of Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort expect?
We do International cuisine with a lot of Mauritian flavors – guest come to Mauritius to also see the local culture and try the food. On the island you can find a lot of street food, but here at Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort we make the local food a little more exciting, with more quality and presentation - all the while respecting the culture and Mauritian influences in the dishes. And as we have also Mauritian Chefs here, they tell us what is the real Mauritian food and we see together how we can rearrange it a little bit for the hotel. It simply tastes different.

Do you have a signature dish at Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort?
Guests should definitely try the “Mauritian Bites” here – I like them very much! Samosas, “half moons” vegetables, “gateau piment”, chilies…

In your opinion, what makes Mauritius, and this resort specifically, such a unique getaway?
I think Outrigger Mauritius is different because the staff makes it special. That is also the reason why I am here. In a lot of places, you can get good food or nice beaches, but here, you also have the Outrigger staff that makes sure that your stay is going perfectly. They care very much.

Any other “insider information” you could share with our readers?
If you go on vacation to Mauritius, you should travel to the south where the Outrigger Mauritius is located. It’s the most beautiful coast of the island, because it’s more natural, with beautiful mountains or roads. Real Mauritian life is still here.

And finally, what do you do for fun when you’re not cooking?
I bought a mountain bike but I have not tried it yet (the tire was flat)! I want to do more sports and to try kitesurfing. But for the moment, when I’m off I’m often exploring Mauritius with my wife and my two children. It’s a beautiful country.

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