Bati Bleki, March 2nd, 2015

DUFRY, MORE THAN JUST PERFUME. I visited DUFRY’s headquarters on the main street this week, to say hello to old friends and meet new ones. The new ones, Julio Ernesto Novas, Retail Operation Director and Aaron Wernet, Accounting Manager, Dufry Aruba N.V., share the responsibility of running four local companies including Bijoux Terner, Colombian Emeralds International, and the assortment of amazing retail stores at the airport. Julio also runs the DUFRY operation in other Caribbean destinations, but doesn’t seem stressed, on the contrary, the man rediates cheer, and we made a date to sip a few cold Presidente Beers, at some beach bar, sometimes in the future. Aaron is the quiet one, but I am aware that quiet water runs deep. So that’s the extent of the good new, fresh leadership at DUFRY Aruba, part of a global travel retail empire of 1,700 duty-free and duty-paid shops in airports, cruise lines, seaports, railway stations and central tourist areas, employing almost 21,000 people, based in Basel, Switzerland, operating in over 60 countries worldwide.
WINE, MADE IN ARUBA. Restaurateur and wine connoisseur Sven Schneider loves the story, and this is how it goes. On Friday, the Screaming Eagle Restaurant hosted a wine tasting, not just any wine, but one made in Aruba, Adore, by Videira Melatti. They have a nice, over-promising website by the same name, check it out! Apparently, Luiz Melatti a Brazilian wine-maker with Italian roots visited the office of dentist Mike de L’Isle, and told a good story while the dentist was working on his bite. Thus Mike decided to introduce the Brazilian-Italian to his enterprising brother, who also tells great stories. That’s how Luiz met the mercurial Papi de L’Isle, and the rest is history. They are now cultivating a 2.5 acre vineyard, in Burubundo, in the vicinity of Frenchman’s Pass where the clay terroir welcomed the 5,000 imported Brazilian plants. The winery recently harvested the fruit and produced around 250 bottles, for the first time, resulting in a very dry Cabernet Sauvignon. They also planted Pinot Noire and expect to bottle some fruity deliciousness from that grape juice. Luiz is the farmer and gardener, landscaper and groundskeeper, also pest controller and water manager, and he reportedly works day and night befitting a maverick founder of a winery in Aruba. He is on the right track, says Sven, the fruit is there, the tannins are there, and I believe that they will figure out the sweetness. After all, wine making is a complex undertaking and Papi de L’isle is not a vintner by profession. If I remember right, up until a few years ago he served as a water-consultant for Web Aruba, then he started importing generic medications to the island realizing our appetite for legal drugs is insatiable. Apparently he did well because he now joins the ranks of Baron Rothschild and film director Francis Coppola, as the owner of a vineyard. Evidently, wine making lures the well-to-do, but not with profits. If you allow me to quote the New York Times, the newspapers says: If there is one investment that has more to do with the heart than the head, it’s vineyards. It is also one that lends itself to jokes whose punch lines are always about losing money. We admire the guts it took, or the craziness it required, because agriculture in Aruba is super-challenging. I hope Papi and Luiz prove it’s possible.
WEDDING BELLS. Beautiful Sanne Michielse, a wine maven and a cross-fit diva married her sweetheart Steven DeMatteis on Eagle Beach, Friday afternoon, with wedding planner Arlette Oduber helping put the spectacular backdrop and setting together. The blessing ceremony with reverend Andy Osborne was followed by a French-Champagne toast, toes in the sand, and an elegant reception at Surfside Marina’s oceanfront terrace. Steven came to Aruba from the USA as part of the Holiday Inn construction team. Then cupid struck, hard, and Steven continued to come to the island, long after the Holiday Inn face-lift project concluded. The love-birds will eventually relocate to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Steven now lives and works, and Sanne is adjusting to the idea of living in cold weather, sporting fabulous boots and coats. The wedding party with guests hailing from the Netherlands and the USA, also enjoyed a sunset sailing trip on board a Pelican Tours catamaran with cool music, delicious snacks and cocktails. Shoco award winner Robertson Thomas, was on board the catamaran as crew member. He made sure the boat brought back the exact number of party-goers, it took out!
FRESH FISH IS GOOD TO FIND. In quest of fresh fish we traveled to Zeerover in Savaneta last weekend, and in spite of the substantial number of people waiting in line to place their food order, and in spite of the substantial number of people sitting around sipping their beers, waiting to be served, we had a great time, and the food is always good!! Then the following day we decided to visit the Wacky Wahoo on Palm Beach, and learned that no way, they are busy beyond capacity, and that we should call for a reservation the following day. Over the next few days we rang, dutifully, and no one had ever picked up the phone. While the answering machine promised that between 3pm and 5pm, reservations will be taken, it just never happened. Bringg, Bringg, no answer . Bringg, Bringg, nada. Bringgg, Bringg, left me hanging. It was a very wacky experience. Then, one of our friends suggested Simply Fish, at the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino, and even made the reservation. Not surprisingly they answered the phone, welcomed us with a seaside table, recommended Macadamia Crusted Grouper, which arrived at the table crispy and coated at perfect temperature, on a bed of steamed bok choy, with tasty quinoa on the side, and a light curry sauce. They promised I could wiggle my toes in the sand for a genuinely unique Aruba dining experience, and they delivered. Thank you restaurant manager Juan Vega, Chef Ramirz, Asdrubal and team. The hotel restaurants sometimes suffer reverse prejudice, as the nightly exodus to free-standing, destination-restaurants unfolds, but in reality they do an excellent job and are deserving of our business.
THE RITZ CARLTON ENTERTAINS THE ARUBA PRESS MEMBER. Round two, or three, of our experience at the Ritz Carlton Aruba was even more elaborate than round one in December when General Manager Steve Redkoles and his Food & Beverage crew pampered press members over breakfast at the top floor presidential suite of the resort. This time we met at Les Crustaces, on the terrace where Executive Chef Stephen Toevs and Senior Banquet Chef Emily Dillport came up with another stellar menu, featuring their own restaurants’ specialties. We started with homemade yogurt parfait, grandma’s granola, and fresh fruit served in a coconut shell, then worked our way through a mini frittata, a fully-loaded poached egg in cast iron casserole with Hollandaise sauce, smoked salmon finger sandwiches, caramelized banana on mini pancake stacks, coffee, tea, and conversation. Sales & Marketing Director Mayra Macaraig, Director of PR Catherine Leitner, and Hotel Manager Tiffany Holmes, mixed and mingled on behalf of the hotel . At my table we enjoyed hearing Catherine’s report from Haiti where former president Bill Clinton just helped open a Ritz Carlton, in Port Au Prince. After brunch we toured the incredible spa. and I would need a full newspaper column to tell you how elegant it is and how rich and varied its menu of services. Thank you Yahira Santoni, and Myandra Croes, for putting it all together.