Move over Willy Wonka, the genuine and most imaginative chocolatier artist is creating his masterpieces on the beautiful, idyllic, and exotic island of Curaçao.
Located in the majestic Caribbean, Curaçao is the home and wonderland of pastry chef virtuoso Wouter Tjeertes. His official title is Executive Pastry Chef, the position he holds at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, a luxury resort on Curaçao.
Wouter is a mere 37 years old, originally from a small town in the Netherlands called Wormer, just north of Amsterdam. According to Wouter, the region he’s from is the largest cocoa harbor in the world, and as a result, he grew up smelling chocolate as he rode his bicycle home. Talk about idyllic! He now resides on Curaçao and is happily married with two sons. We asked him quite a few questions to get to know who he is, what he does, and what he has in store for the future.
Q: When did your culinary journey begin?
A: I began my pastry chef journey from the tender age of six, while on a school excursion where we visited a bakery, and as they say, the rest is history! Working as a certified Pastry Chef for over 17 years, I’ve held several senior positions in restaurants, pastry shops and resorts in Europe as well as in the Caribbean. Eventually I found my way to Santa Barbara Resort, when they came calling in October 2015.
Q: Now that Curaçao is your home, what do you love most about it?
A: On my off day I love to spend time with the family on the beach, snorkeling, building sandcastles and taking in some sun. The marine life here is fantastic, and passing on that hobby to my sons is a lot of fun.
Q: Out of your numerous grand dessert projects, which is a favorite so far?
A: In 2016, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort hosted the Benchmark Leadership Conference. As a special surprise I created a massive chocolate mosaic with 11,000 hand-painted chocolate tiles. Each attendee received a tile to take home – to eat or keep as a memento. It was certainly one of my largest and most time-intensive projects, but it was very popular, and I will be recreating it for an upcoming event in New York.
Q: Let’s talk chocolate, in your opinion, what is its future?
A: Hopefully chocolate production will move towards a fairer, organic, and direct trade way, which will allow smaller growers and producers to offer their (usually far more superior flavored) product to the international market. It is time that consumers wake up and smell the real cocoa! Regarding chocolate creations – i.e. cakes, bonbons, decorations etc. – I see a huge leap forward in the public interest. I think the time of the television chef has cleared a path for pastry and chocolate to shine. Something else worth noting are the current Russian pastry artists who are creating spectacular desserts, and I find their design-style to be refreshing.
Q: There are many ways to combine different flavors with chocolate, what are some of your favorite chocolate combinations?
A: I love to go to the edge and find the unexpected jewels in combinations. Imagine dark chocolate with chipotle and smoked sea salt, blue cheese with almond and white chocolate, or caramelized bacon with chocolate to name a few. I’m always trying out new things, I end up taking bites of savory and sweet at the same time just to see what happens. This is one of my favorite parts! Grinding fresh herbs and spices together with cocoa beans to create a naturally flavored chocolate, is also high on my list. One great success I created was fresh lemongrass ground through (my handmade) chocolate, which I later paired with Champagne – unexpected but fantastic! In my combinations, I’ll always keep a keen eye on the basic flavors and refrain from unnatural additives. Handmade, natural and full of flavor are most important aspects to me.
Q: Will your wife be receiving any of your special chocolate creations this Valentine’s Day?
A: Believe it or not, my wife is one of the few who isn’t crazy for chocolate. This gives me peace of mind knowing she married me for me and not my chocolate! This year I have a picnic on the beach planned on one of the island’s most romantic spots including bubbles and away from our kids…
Q: What type of Valentine’s celebrations or traditions exist on Curaçao?
A: Curaçao does celebrate in a modest way; chocolate has been gaining ground for this special day over the last years. Most important thing to do is make sure you serve your love the chocolates before they melt under the Caribbean sun, or go for something else such as chocolate fondue.
Q: Do you have any exciting chocolate/pastry projects on the horizon at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort?
A: We are currently developing an on-property chocolate shop in order to serve our guests the best chocolate creations. We want them to relax and have some sweet fun! Workshops, wedding cakes and tastings will all be available. Sharing my passion with others will be key!
If you’re interested in following his journey, you can see his work on his Instagram profile @woutertjeertes.chocologist or you can visit his online gallery here. For an even more personal taste of his creations, book your stay at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort!