The Perfect Pairing
Exceptional wines complement boat-to-restaurant seafood at Hadicurari, thanks to an Argentinian sommelier and a Dutch chef.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography Kenneth Theysen
Fernanda Giménez, one of the only few working sommeliers on Aruba – and to her knowledge, the only female one – is seated at a high-top table inside the open-air Hadicurari Restaurant in the high-rise hotel area on Aruba’s West Coast. Her colleague, Chef Ronald van Hasenbroek, has joined us from his kitchen and is sipping a foamy cappuccino from the restaurant’s upscale espresso machine while outside, customers enjoy grouper sandwiches and seafood salads at the beach tables, slipping off their sandals to dip their toes into the warm sand.
Giménez speaks softly but passionately about her wine list. It’s been almost three years since she moved to Aruba from Mendoza, Argentina, where she was an instructor at a school for sommeliers. Despite coming from her country’s largest winemaking region, she says that she actually has access to more wines in Aruba than she did at home.
“In Argentina, in order to protect the local industry, the government put very high taxes on importing wines. So we don’t even get wines from Chile, which is next door. So for me it was great to be able to taste a very wide array of wines from everywhere. We have seven countries on the wine list here: New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, Spain and the US including California, Washington and Oregon.”
Though van Hasenbroek has been on Aruba significantly longer than Giménez, his twenty-five years here have been just as educational. He’s learned a lot about cooking fresh seafood and he’s won an impressive number of gold medals as part of the Aruba National Culinary Team. And though he portrays the role of the serious chef, his cool red glasses and his belief that a bottle of Champagne and a seafood platter are the perfect afternoon indulgence give away his joie de vivre.
His local barracuda, tuna and mahi-mahi come from boats that dock next to the restaurant, which he expertly selects each day, ensuring only the best quality for his kitchen. And while his French training means he’s an expert in veal sweetbreads and foie gras, he’s also a master of Hadicurari’s outdoor grill, where he cooks local wahoo and grouper to juicy perfection.
For Giménez, it’s been a welcome challenge to pair van Hasenbroek’s exquisite cuisine with some of the best wines available on the island. “Most of the fish we get here are mild and soft in texture, but the Creole sauce, which is a tomato-based sauce, goes perfectly with one of our full-bodied California Pinot Noirs.” As for van Hasenbroek’s braised duck with cashews, raisins and port, she recommends a medium-bodied Malbec from her home of Mendoza, Argentina. And for the chef’s all-shrimp paella, a spicy Pinot Noir will balance the chorizo and the sweetness of four giant, fried shrimp piled high on perfectly al dente rice.
Hadicurari’s menu is also there to take the stress out of choosing a wine. “We want to have a very friendly approach and make it easy, so in the new wine list we suggest which dishes are best for the type of wine,” she says.
Both van Hasenbroek and Giménez know that food and pairings aren’t just about balancing flavors; they’re also about pleasing the customer. “Nobody should be intimidated by having to choose a wine or speaking with the sommelier,” says Giménez. “Sometimes when I go to the tables, people think I’m going to suggest the most expensive wine from the list. But I take pleasure in listening to my guests’ wishes and guiding them to the perfect food and wine pairing within their budget,” she says.
One of the luxuries of being on vacation is the freedom to break out of your everyday routines. So even if you don’t come from a country where wine at lunch is traditional, it might be time to indulge in a midday pairing. “I come from a country where more than half of the population has an Italian origin,” says Giménez. “My dad has wine at lunch and dinner. For me, a perfect sunset wine is Sauvignon Blanc, because of the crispness. I’m in love with this island, but I’m still kind of a winter person. So I need something refreshing.”
For van Hasenbroek, the perfect time for wine on the island is the late afternoon. “Around 4 or 4:30 p.m., buy a bottle of Champagne and sit on the patio,” he says. “It’s perfect. We’re getting parasols on the beach and we’re going to make some seafood platters to go with it – house-smoked fish, tartar, maybe sushi.”
To Giménez and van Hasenbroek, that’s Aruba – a balance of hard work and relaxation, flexibility and passion, local and international tastes. It’s a place where you come for a visit and stay for a lifetime. Looking past the restaurant’s wine cave, to the crashing waves just beyond the patio, it’s easy to understand why people are attracted to Aruba. Like Pinot Noir to seafood paella, it’s always a perfect pairing.