The sun’s rays shine upon sandy white beaches in Aruba while gentle trade winds blow through the trees. The island’s postcard-perfect weather — it lies outside the Caribbean’s notorious hurricane belt — and shimmering ocean vistas may be what first lure travelers here. Still, visitors are also dazzled by the many amenities they find at their fingertips.
The new Tradewinds Club at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is home to an array of these perks. Guests there are treated with extra-special care and given access to a reserved beach area, nightly appetizers and an open bar, and upgraded in-room offerings.
As executive chef of both the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and the Tradewinds Club, Chef Romeo Penacino oversees all of the cuisine across the complex. He dishes up incredible food and unforgettable culinary experiences for the guests.
Marriott TRAVELER spoke to Penacino about the cuisine of Aruba, the specialness of the property and life on the island.
[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
People coming to Aruba look for a certain experience, like dining outside and eating local food.
How did you end up in Aruba?
I grew up in Buenos Aires and went to culinary school there. In 2003 I worked for the Marriott Buenos Aires. In 2008 I worked at the Grand Cayman Marriott through different positions until I moved to Aruba in 2014 and became sous chef and then executive chef here.
You oversee a few different concepts at the hotel — La Vista and Atardi — what can people expect at each restaurant?
La Vista is an Italian restaurant. In the morning it has a breakfast buffet every day. Lunch is a la carte, more healthy food, sandwiches and salads. At night it’s both a buffet and a la carte, with pizza, pasta and risotto stations.
Atardi is our pop-up seafood restaurant on the beach. It opens in the afternoon, and at night it’s perfect for a romantic dinner on the beach with torches and light music. The sunset is really romantic and super nice. The menu is seafood heavy but more fine dining, with different techniques and flavor.
The food offered at Tradewinds throughout the day was just revamped. What culinary delights can your guests expect?
People coming to Aruba look for a certain experience, like dining outside and eating local food. The menu is more Latin American and Caribbean food. It changes every day. In the morning you have a breakfast buffet. It’s a totally different concept — eggs Benedict every day, pancakes and more.
For lunch you used to only have sandwiches and snacks, and now you have choices. There is an afternoon tea. Dinner is now full of great fish and seafood — a true Caribbean experience with more local flavors.
Dessert is great, too — like mousse with local fruit.
Snapper and mahi-mahi are popular fish of the Caribbean. People go crazy for the coconut rice.
You do a lot of special events at the restaurants. Tell us about the possibilities.
This year we brought Diego Muñoz, who is a renowned Peruvian chef, and then later Julio Ferradas, the chef at JW Marriott Lima, who together with the executive chef from The Ritz-Carlton, Rafael Lopez Aliaga, and Teddy Bouroncle, former executive chef at Marriott Complex Aruba, did a two-night special dinner.
The idea is for our local customers to enjoy a new culinary experience with new flavors and new techniques together with a wine pairing. We had great feedback from our customers, so we are thinking about having two or three of these kinds of events each year with different chefs. We also offer wine and cheese tastings and cooking classes, as well.
What are some dishes that are really reflective of the cuisine in Aruba?
Aruba is close to Venezuela and takes a lot of influence from the Venezuelan and Columbian people. Snapper and mahi-mahi are popular fish of the Caribbean. People go crazy for the coconut rice. Macadamia grouper with quinoa chaufa is also very popular at Atardi.
What do you love most about Aruba?
The local people are super friendly. When I have time I love diving and underwater photography, fishing, relaxing and mountain biking. Different places to visit every day. The national park is really, really good; I’ll go trekking there or walking.