Brian Berkman recently had a Q&A with Jonathan Duiker, executive sous chef at Anantara Dhigu, Anantara Veli and Naladhu Maldives in the Maldives' South Male Atoll, to find out - among other things - what prompted Jonathan to make the move from Melrose Arch to The Maldives.
The bright lights of Joburg where you worked at Melrose Arch Hotel and Lekgotla Restaurant are a far cry from the sandy beaches of The Maldives. What made you leave the big city?
Adventure and the excitement of discovery and exploration that comes with entering new territory. I am a very inquisitive person and I believe that it is every chef's dream to explore the unknown, both in life and food. I want to gain us much international experience as possible to be able to mould my local South African flair with international standards and concepts to, when I return home, deliver a style that is not only trendy and up to date, but also reflects my travels and culinary experiences.Is it true that you're fluent in Afrikaans, Xhosa, Tswana and English? How did you become so multi-lingual? Have you picked up any Maldivian?
Yes, pots and pans play a big role in my work and life, as you can imagine, but it is the unique melting pot of Rainbow Nation cultures in my family that made me the flavourful bredie of languages and cultures that I am today. The European in me is from my dad's side, whilst my mom manifested my African heritage with Xhosa and Tswana. Apart from the customary "How are you" and "Thank you" I'm yet to master the Dhivehi Maldivian language. Having said, the employees at our Maldives resorts represent more than 20 nations, so I still have a long way to go.You seem right at home with the Maldivian spices and exotic flavours. Is this a skill you developed in South African kitchens or did your childhood exposure to Iranian cuisine via your mother's job inform these flavours?
I was influenced by both, but the fundamentals certainly started at home. I have always been fascinated by these exotic powders and over the years my palette evolved to the point where I have developed my own box of tricks with intriguing combinations that make for interesting sauces, pickles and marinades. Here in the Maldives I am again exposed to new spices and exotic flavours, being so much closer to the tropical and Asian origins, and my journey of discovery is starting all over again. It is an adventure that I treasure every day.In Cape Town you worked with chef Bruce Robertson at The Cape Grace. What did you learn from that experience?
Bruce fine-tuned my abilities as a chef to have a more refined outlook on everything related to my craft and for that I am forever indebted to him. I learned many things, but the following are now essential ingredients in both my skills and life philosophy: Good food evokes fond childhood memories and it does not always have to be a serious affair, so it is always good to bring an element of playfulness to the plate. Always respect and pay respect to the products that you work with as they are part of a cycle of life; and, the most important of them all - discipline, discipline and discipline for yourself and your craft.We had a remarkable meal together on the beach at Naladhu. From my experience as guest it was a memorable experience to be dining at a table complete with crystal and long damask napery but to be barefoot on the beach at the same time. What are some of the challenges you have to overcome when delivering wow-dining experiences so that the cuisine doesn't suffer?
Dining at our Anantara resorts is a romantic voyage through sights, sounds, scents and flavours in settings only ever seen in dreams. We deliver the ultimate in romantic dining with signature personalised Dining By Design experiences, where a specially devised menu is prepared by a personal chef and served at a table for two in dreamy locations, from the comfort and privacy of a villa terrace to an isolated sandbank in the Indian Ocean, or aboard a dhoni (traditional Maldivian sailboat) on a private journey beyond the horizon to a wave breaker hovering over the ocean - anywhere of our guests' choosing. Logistics and timing are key when delivering wow experiences, especially when you are dealing with discerned guests in one of the world's most celebrated tropical havens and a company philosophy of inspired celebrations. When 'wow' experiences are integrated into a company's philosophy it becomes a part of induction, training and the teams' mind set, resulting in an operation that is geared up and inspired to not only meet guests' expectations, but indeed exceed them. This is what I experience at our resorts in the Maldives, and it gives me unprecedented freedom to be creative and innovative.We South African's are very proud of our wines but a top-tier company like Anantara sources wines from the best the globe has to offer. Have you altered your appreciation for South African wines now that you have such a selection from which to choose?
It is indeed a pleasure, adventure and an amazing discovery to go on a tantalising journey through the vineyards of the world, even though I am based on what can only be described as sandbanks in the middle of the ocean. I love the fact that I can be challenged by a winemaker from France or California to complement his or her fine wine with a fresh seafood dish, and the next day by the owner of Somerset West's Waterkloof Estate to do so with a sumptuous rack of Karoo lamb. Having a choice of products is what a chef wants, but when I go home at night I prefer to kick off my shoes and share my day of culinary discovery with my wife over a glass of one of the Cape's finest reds.What would you say defines Maldivian cuisine?
The intriguing textures, complex aromas and fresh exhilarating flavours of Maldivian cuisine are defined by the use of coconuts; tuna; and starches like rice, which is eaten boiled or ground into flour, tubers like tora (ala
), sweet potato (kattala
) and tapioca (dandialuvi
); as well as fruits like breadfruit (bambukeyo
) or screw pine (kashikeyo
). The curry flavours bring it all together.Anantara Resorts prides itself of offering anything to eat anywhere. What are some of the odder requests you've had?
The oddest request I think was for a specific type of sea urchin from Japan cooked with a very specific type of seaweed. Needless to say, and thanks to an extensive network of daily scheduled and chartered flights from around the globe, we obliged! My most beautiful memory, however, is of a couple who casually mentioned over lunch that they particularly enjoyed a dessert at a resort in Mauritius on a previous trip. They could not remember the name of the dish, but they did remember that it was the first dish on the page. A quick call to the resort's general manager solved the mystery and, by the time they asked to see the dessert menu, their favourite sweet treat was served to their amazement and delight.
For more information go to www.anantara.com