In the 45 years since Alice Waters planted French provincial sensibilities in Northern California soil and launched the North American culinary revolution, appreciation for quality ingredients and insightful simplicity has become a global standard for elite cuisine.
But while the doctrine of simplicity is an article of received faith for many, Erik Gremmer, 42, came to his unique understanding of those principles “quite naturally” as a child in the Netherlands. By age 9, he was collecting recipes from his grandmother. By 13, he was helping out in the kitchen at the local municipal hall. He learned the trade as a teenager at a busy family-run restaurant, hustling lunches to businessmen. Eventually he moved on to a career in hotels and resorts, picking up local knowledge at every exotic, Five-Star stop.
But the best way to understand the mind of Amanyara’s new executive chef isn’t to study his resume or quiz him about the abstractions of 21st century haute cuisine. Just follow him through his garden.
Growing food in the Turks and Caicos can be challenging, but the garden Gremmer inherited from a previous chef gives him great excitement. Much of it is indoors, but there are outdoor plots as well, plus plenty of room to expand.
“(Raising crops) is always possible,” he says. “Some places it is just a little bit harder than other places.”
There are seven types of basil here, mixed in among the thyme, rosemary, chives and spring onion. It’s primarily a fresh produce operation, though: Beets, lettuces, tomatoes and corn, plus papaya and other fruits. It’s all supported via a sustainable aquaponics system, so the fish farm at the other end nourishes the garden, while the garden helps feed the fish.
For Gremmer, leading a kitchen at an Aman Resort has been a career goal, and he inherits an impressive operation, with 30 staff members at the central kitchen, plus a chef for every villa. But his vision? There are details – he talks about doing more with sushi, enhancing the pastry offerings, focusing on Mediterranean cuisine at the Beach Club – but it all begins here, with expanding the garden, he says.
“I want to take guests to the garden, pick some lettuce, (and) we have a barbecue going there and grill some fish right in front of them. I toss the salad, make the vinaigrette, maybe with a nice glass of rose. That is, for me, a perfect lunch.”
There’s a Dutch practicality to Gremmer’s interpretation (On quality: “If we receive it and it is not good, we make straight away compost out of it”), and he laid the foundation for his career in European kitchens from Amsterdam to Sweden. But during resort stops in Vietnam (Six Senses Ninh Van Bay), the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Thailand, Gremmer’s culinary perspective shifted East. The combination made him a perfect fit for Amanyara.
“If you ask me what do you like to cook, it would be modern Asian and Mediterranean. And by modern Asian I don’t mean any complicated fusion dishes, and also not the typical classic ones like Pad Thai, Sum tam, Beef Randang. But I do my own interpretation of Asian food. So you can have a crab cake with Singapore black pepper sauce.”
For example, his favorite casual lunch is a simple steak sandwich – kicked up with a Yuzo mayonnaise surprise.
“When you see it, it can be anything. But when you taste it, you know it is Asian. Ginger, lemongrass, lime leaf, I like that. Or Szechuan peppers are also fun. ”
That doesn’t mean he’s turned his back on his European heritage. “You don’t get away from the classics,” he said. “That’s important. If those are good, you know the rest is good.”
Gremmer describes himself as “a chef who talks to guests a lot,” and makes a habit of chatting with diners at breakfast, looking for ideas for personalized menus – an Aman trademark. Perhaps that’s what best distinguishes his food. Fresh and simple are universal themes now, but how a chef applies what he learns each day is as personal as a fingerprint.
“You can learn from anybody,” he said. “I already told the chefs here, if we have a menu item and you think you can improve it, make it, show me, and if it is better, then it is better.
“I am a strong believer that if you think you are at the top, you don’t go anywhere anymore. All the time I explain this to my kitchen team, never think you are at the top, because then there is only one way you can go, and that is down.”
Bending down to take a closer look at some budding tomatoes, it is clear Gremmer is on his way up.