At Home with Chef Gerben de Lange of Twist of Flavors
“You’re going to Twist of Flavors? We love that place!” says the woman sitting next to me on the beach sipping a mojito. I’m not surprised. It’s the third time I’ve gotten that reaction after mentioning the restaurant located near Eagle Beach.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography Kenneth Theysen
Open for five years, Twist of Flavors is a casual all-day, all-evening restaurant in the Alhambra Casino Mall. Co-owners Chef Gerben de Lange and Susan Kruisselbrink Toonen say the concept has stayed the same: reasonable prices, quality food, exceptional customer service and lots of options from fish to pasta, quality cuts of beef, an extensive breakfast and lunch menu and to top it all off, a Dutch pancake menu.
“It makes you feel at home,” says Susan, which is a big part of why the restaurant gets a lot of repeat customers. “Some people come for breakfast and then come back in the evening. Or if they’re on the island for just a couple of weeks, they come once or twice a week,” she says.
The décor also helps: hand-made wooden tables and wooden tulips from Holland adorn the room and patio. Plus, there’s a daily three-course early-bird special for less than $30 and Friday night is burger night, when beef, chicken, fish or black bean- and corn-based vegetarian burgers go for $11. ($1 extra gets you cheese, sautéed onions, bacon or a heap of fries – “It’s basically a make-your-own-burger,” says Chef Gerben.)
Gerben feels especially at home on food-and-wine pairing Mondays (four wines plus four menu samplers for $20, with a sommelier walking between tables to explain the pairings) when he occasionally incorporates his mom’s recipes into the menu. The menu changes every two months or so, but one of Susan’s favorite menus included beef stroganoff with Hungarian rice; mussels and grouper in puff pastry; Bloody Mary shrimp, and apple pie crumble with red fruits and a home-made cinnamon mousse. One of Gerben’s favorites is his mom’s flambéed strawberries.
“You fry strawberries in real butter, add sugar on top and flambé them with Drambuie. Then you let it all caramelize in the pan and put it over ice cream or crêpes or something chocolaty and it’s just the best thing in the world,” he says. “My mom also makes really good sauces,” says Gerben. “I put more of her in my sauces than what I learned at culinary school or from other chefs. My father was a butcher and my mom always worked in the butcher shop with my dad, but her mom was a really good cook and I think her daughters and my mom took after her a lot. I was always in the kitchen when my mom was doing her thing. I think that inspired me to become a chef.”
His father’s influence is seen on the meat side of the menu, where the tenderloin and surf ‘n’ turf are bestsellers. “I’m a meat lover myself,” he says, “maybe because I grew up in my dad’s butcher shop. But I prefer to work with seafood. You can do so many things with it.”
For instance, his seafood lasagna comes loaded with fresh fish, shrimp, creamy béchamel, Dutch Gouda cheese, spinach and Parmesan. “People love it because it’s really filled to the brim with seafood and a lot of cheese,” he says. Other main marine attractions on the menu are the grouper and the shrimp with melted cheese.
Then there are the Dutch pancakes – dinner plate-sized, thin crêpes that come either savory or sweet. “Dutch people load it with 1001 different things, like mushrooms, onions, bacon, cheese,” says Gerben. “Or you can do it with syrup, sugar, strawberries, fruits, Nutella…”
With a father who’s a butcher, you might think Gerben would veer more towards savory, especially since his favorite Dutch pancake is ‘anything with bacon,’ “but actually, I am a sweet guy,” he says. “You can ask my wife! I definitely have a couple of sweet periods per day. I’m probably addicted to milk chocolate. I always have chocolate bars around.”
With so many restaurant options on Aruba, Susan and Gerben have worked hard to stand out. Their success is a testament to their hard work. “You’ve got to keep on top of the quality,” says Gerben. “I couldn’t do it without the people that I work with. It’s a good team. People here go the extra mile. If you do a good job in the kitchen and you have good people in the front, that makes the guests happy and they feel at home.”
The Monday night food-and-wine pairings takes place at 5 p.m. Reservations are required.
Twist of Flavors
Alhambra Casino Mall
Juan E. Irausquin Blvd. 47
Across Casa del Mar Beach Resort