Meeting 3 Menu Master Minds

Creating a brand new restaurant concept from start to finish involves a lot of planning and brainstorming: from the architectural outlines and interior design of the physical space to sourcing local farmers and produce, finding the right talent to run it and last but not least: inventing a tasty, innovative menu that matches Boardwalk’s positioning and philosophy.

In the early stages of planning for our brand-new restaurant The Coco Café in the heart of Boardwalk’s lush hotel gardens, we were incredibly blessed to find ourselves in the company of three local top chefs in Aruba. Each bringing different culinary and cultural backgrounds and experiences with them, yet all sharing the same passion for cooking, food quality and a shared love for Aruba, local chefs Urvin Croes, Griet Vanbrabant and Cristiano Guidetti captivated their expertise and Boardwalks’ wishes into a surprising menu.

At the basis of the menu laid our wish to reflect Boardwalk’s coco plantation history, Aruba’s culinary heritage, as well as a focus on healthy and vegan choice, blended with some of our own Belgian roots and Mediterranean travels. With Urvin’s strong roots in Aruba as a local born and raised island boy, combined with Belgian-born Griet and Italian-born Cristiano bringing his Mediterranean palette, this was the ultimate dream-team for the job.

Urvin Croes got his culinary education and training both locally and in Europe, and opened his first business, White Modern Cuisine Aruba, in 2011. After turning this small fine dining restaurant into the gastronomic hotspot on the island, more successes followed with the opening of The Kitchen Table by White, which later transformed on the same location to his latest brainchild, Infini, along with next door neighbor Poké Ono. With over 12 years of experience under his belt owning and running successful restaurants in Aruba and bringing in chef Roosje Loopstok from within his culinary team to run the kitchen team at The Coco Café, Urvin’s input has been an invaluable part of the early successful launch of our own onsite restaurant.

Cristiano Guidetti arrived in Aruba almost a decade ago, bringing a wealth of culinary wisdom from the home of delicious food, Italy, where he was educated, trained, and gained his first years of kitchen experience. After moving to the Caribbean and landing a job as a chef at Palm Beach, Aruba’s landmark restaurants under the Gianni’s Group umbrella such as Gianni’s, Azia, Azzurro, Daniel’s Steakhouse and Amore Mio, Cristiano developed his career into the role of food and beverage captain for the same group. With his knowledge of Mediterranean flavors and overseeing some of the most successful restaurants in Aruba, Cristiano was the perfect addition to our culinary master mind trio.

Griet Vanbrabant’s culinary resume reads like an Elisabeth Gilbert novel: her love for food took shape at an early age and let her to many international kitchens. After an education in classic French cuisine, her culinary passion and curiosity for other cultures and tastes, launched Griet’s international career and teachings in modern gastronomy. She gained work experience at Michelin star and World’s 50 Best Restaurants such as El Bulli, Rockpool and Pujol, yet switched the impressive, star-studded kitchens for an adventure as a private chef, and nutrition and healthy living specialist after obtaining her certification from Cornell in 2020. Griet’s first culinary experience in Aruba took place at iconic, now defunct top restaurant Le Dome, 15 years ago. Over the years she functioned as opening chef of Papillion Restaurant in Palm Beach, Aruba and appears as private chef at pop-up restaurants such as The Secret Garden. With Griet’s focus on guest satisfaction and special interest in vegan, and healthy food options, she was the ultimate team member to complete the master mind trio.

To get to know the three chefs a bit better and understand their motivation to collaborate with Boardwalk Boutique Hotel in the menu creation for The Coco Café and setting the hotel team up for a successful launch and opening of the new restaurant, we asked them a few questions.

Chef Cristiano:

Why did you want to collaborate with Boardwalk in The Coco Café project?

After meeting the hotel owners, local twin sisters Kimberly and Stephanie, I was ‘sold’. Boardwalk Boutique Hotel is a wonderful place, and it mirrors the management style and personal approach of the owners.

What is your vision for the f&b offerings at Boardwalk?

Right from the beginning of this project, I knew that Boardwalk, being a truly unique place in Aruba, needed to offer not ‘just’ breakfast and lunch to its guests. This hotel is all about unforgettable experiences, so in my vision The Coco Café needs to be a culinary journey guests will remember and enjoy.

Which are the menu items you put your stamp on?

I have collaborated on various dishes on the menu. The one I like the most is linguini scampi.

What is your personal favorite on the menu?

Caribbean Red Snapper.

Say something about this unique collaboration in your own words:

Collaborating with the Boardwalk owners and with the local chefs has been a unique experience, both professionally and personally. I will always be willing to collaborate with them and it brought me very nice memories.

Chef Griet:

Why did you want to collaborate with Boardwalk?

I love all the efforts of the hotel toward sustainability. From the solar panels to the green waste bin in the rooms up to the vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. I can very much relate to the philosophy behind The Coco Café of having a healthy, tasty menu with lots of local products.

How did you integrate Boardwalks local heritage and history of the coco plantation into the menu?

We have implemented a couple of dishes with varieties of coco. We have coconut chips to accompany your fresh pina colada, use coconut oil in the banana muffins and the hearty Caribbean curry is made with chickpeas, Jamaican curry spices and coconut milk.

Why did you specialize in vegan/vegetarian cuisine, and what differentiates your vegan cooking-style?

I started my own vegetarian lifestyle 8 years ago while traveling Southeast Asia. From there my interest and knowledge in vegetarian/vegan cooking grew. I like to put variety into the dishes I create and combine the use of local products with international cuisine styles and trends. I always look for a balance in different textures, flavors and products.

What is your favorite vegan dish on the new menu and why?

The Coco Bowl! It is a variation on a poke bowl, with healthy, brown rice topped with loads of different vegetables, mango to add sweetness to the dish and seasoned with our local pica de papaya sauce to add some kick. It is so nutritious and healthy yet also very comforting and something I crave every day.

What is a signature ‘Griet’ dish on the menu?

The Aruban burrata salad. It is a beautiful blend of local products mixed with international cuisine while being healthy and tasty. The burrata is locally made and combined with a sweet papaya, arugula salad, local micro greens packed with nutrients and topped off with dukkah spices. It’s a Middle Eastern spice mix with roasted coriander seeds, cumin seeds and sesame seeds and brings all the different flavors of the dish together.

What did you like most about your collaboration with Boardwalk and with the other chefs?

We all have our own expertise and with input of all of us we created a unique and well-balanced menu. I love the enthusiasm that we all have for this project and we can’t wait to see the restaurant guests enjoying a sunset moment from the bar while savoring some offerings from our bar bites menu.

Chef Urvin:

Why did you want to collaborate with Boardwalk?

I knew the Rooijakkers sisters for a long time and knew they had an AMAZING property, so how can you say no to that! In addition, I was inspired by the idea of integrating Caribbean-Belgian cuisine into The Coco Café’s menu.

How did you integrate the coco plantation heritage of Boardwalk into The Coco Café menu?

Mostly by adding local and Caribbean flavors to the menu and adding coconut to a selection of dishes.

What is your favorite dish on the new menu and why?

The Coco Poke Bowl, is healthy, refreshing and very tasteful, this is one of Chef Griet's creations.

What is a signature 'Urvin' taste or dish and why?

A signature taste of mine is the refreshing touch. I like to use acidities, like citrus and vinegars to enhance and balance out dishes, and refreshing herbs like mint and cilantro.

What did you like most about your collaboration with Boardwalk and with the other chefs?

I loved getting to know the Rooijakkers sisters better, seeing their passion and dedication for this project firsthand, and discovering the hidden paradise that Boardwalk is. Also, I loved meeting the amazing people that work here and getting to know Chef Griet and Chef Cristiano better.

Any last words to add?

The Coco Café is a truly special project I worked on. It turned out so beautiful: from the design to the tasty menu, the attention to detail and its setting amidst Boardwalk’s tranquil oasis. The result is spectacular.

Boardwalk News!

Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba will be an Adults-Only property by the 1st of January 2025.

For those traveling with children ages 12-17, reservations with departure by December 31, 2024 will be accepted. Please contact [email protected] for more information.