Ronald van Hasenbroek – Executive Chef at Hadicurari
Every morning, Ronald van Hasenbroek makes his way down to the Hadicurari dock bright and early, making a point of arriving before any of the neighboring kitchen staff or restaurant owners.
— By Joanna Fox
— Photography Kenneth Theysen
With his chef’s whites gleaming, almost blindingly, against the turquoise water and bright blue sky, fishermen in their boats can see him standing on the dock from a mile away. Van Hasenbroek is hard to miss, and when he waits for the freshest and best selection of the day’s seafood catch, it’s obvious just how serious this man is about his job.
Van Hasenbroek is the new executive chef at Hadicurari restaurant, a large, open, airy beachside space that has spectacular ocean views and happens to be at the foot of the pier where the fishermen come in with their bounty. With the day’s local seafood haul in a big white plastic bin on wheels, van Hasenbroek inspects each fish carefully, choosing the ones best suited for his menu and specials, and carefully piles them up until he’s sure he has enough. First choice is paramount when you’re competing with so many other restaurants, and for a fish lover like himself, in a place like Aruba, it’s an obvious focal point of his menu.
None of this is new to van Hasenbroek, a 48 year-old Dutchman who came to the island many years ago after working as a young chef at the Marriott Hotel in Boston. With an education in the culinary arts and a desire for something different, he applied for a job in Aruba, got it, and pretty much never looked back. Although van Hasenbroek is fairly new to Hadicurari, he’s a decorated chef who has worked in many other big restaurants in Aruba. For starters, he’s a multiple gold medal winner of the Aruba National Culinary Team, spent nine years at Chez Mathilde Restaurant, nine years at Divi Resorts and four years working as a consultant, two of which for the Aruba Wine And Dine family (which Hadicurari and Nos Clubhuis are part of). Now working hands-on as the executive chef at Hadicurari, he can instill the whole kitchen team with his drive for excellence.
So what exactly first made van Hasenbroek become interested in cooking? “Knowing that people get happy when they enjoy their meal”, he says. He didn’t always want to be a chef, but grew into the role: first with culinary school, then various apprenticeship programs in the Netherlands, and eventually, Aruba. After years of cooking on this island, he describes his style of food as genuine: “I love to cook honest food! I do not mess around with pure flavors. If you have a nice piece of fresh fish, leave it as it is.” With a love of ingredients like ginger, star anise, vanilla, cilantro, among many others, van Hasenbroek is working on improving Hadicurari’s dishes, refining their flavors, as well as fine-tuning their overall presentations. Hadicurari customers are in for a real culinary coup de force. At the end of the day, what’s paramount for this chef is that his guests leave his restaurant happy and satisfied.
When asked about his culinary heroes, van Hasenbroek’s response was thoughtful. “All the chefs that put their heart, soul and love into what they are doing. There are so many good chefs from all different levels, but you cannot compare them. You can have a Michelin Star chef in a restaurant with a team of 30 cooks and they cook amazingly, but you can also have chefs who cook with 3 cooks and although they cannot reach the level of receiving a Michelin Star, you still can eat good food and enjoy it.”
Van Hasenbroek has been in this industry long enough to have gained valuable perspective. He knows how much hard work it takes to get to this point in any profession of the culinary arts. “The biggest surprise of my career so far has been that you can achieve much more than you think by putting your effort and love in it.” As for advice he would give young cooks following in his footsteps, he says “Listen, look, practice and realize you can become special by making people happy! That’s unique.”
Although van Hasenbroek still craves his favorite Dutch childhood meals of roasted chicken leg with Belgium endive, boiled potatoes and lots of stroganoff sauce or poached cod with butter sauce, life in Aruba is pretty good. And for a guy who once thought he would be a police officer back in Holland, working as an executive a chef, steps away from the ocean, isn’t too bad at all.
If you ever happen to be walking along the beach near the Hadicurari pier on an early morning, look out for van Hasenbroek outside the restaurant, waiting for his fresh daily fish. Those other chefs will have to get up pretty early to beat this man to the first, freshest picks of the day. And make sure you go back later, because you won’t want to miss what he does with them.