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Hotseat - Paul van Staveren

769_hotseat~ Master Chef in St. Maarten with Fete de la Cuisine ~

Paul van Staveren is on island; he is one of six invited chefs attending the Fete de la Cuisine. Together with his culinary team, he prepared a beautiful five-course dinner at "Le Toucan" at the Divi Little Bay Resort which I was fortunate enough to experience. Paul's interest in good food and its preparation started at a young age. Cooking with locally grown vegetables in season and freshly caught fish is Paul's passion. He prepares exciting new dishes daily for his patrons and keeps challenging himself and his staff in his goal of maintaining his Michelin Star. Paul is also known for his TV live cooking show in the nature of the "Flevoland".

Where were you born? Tell me a little about where you grew up.

I was born in Emmeloord in the Flevoland on the wetlands of the Netherlands. My mother came from a large family, and one of her chores was cooking for the family. She had to improvise with food, making a tasty dinner from simple but good, fresh ingredients. My mother had also learned to cook from her mother; however, she was possibly a bit more creative in her dishes. Coming from a very creative family with musicians, painters and cooks, my mother's specialty was baking fine pastries; that's where my love for food started. I would like to say it started with enjoying good food followed with enjoying the preparing of great food. I live by the saying "Life is too short to eat and drink mediocre."

Where did you go to school?

I started my schooling in Emmeloord and then continued my education in Zwolle and Groningen. My basic training in cooking started in Zwolle and then continued with going to Groningen where I specialized in various cooking methods and food preparation. I worked with many Dutch chefs, however, the one who stands out is Robert Kranenburg; he was truly my main inspiration. With his huge knowledge in the ingredients he uses, he can provide you with a full description from the ingredient's inception, its growth until it becomes the final product. His knowledge of quality in produce and proteins is the base for creating menus. Having worked with him makes me want to know everything about the food ingredients I work with.

You are a well-known chef in the Netherlands; please tell me a little about your start in the culinary world.

I started working as a cook in 1979, and by 2002 I was at the level of working as a chef running the kitchen. With experience, you can excel in cooking techniques, creating your own style. In 2005, I received my first Michelin Star. When being rated, it's fully about the food; it's not the décor of the restaurant or the service; it's really only about the food. The owner of the restaurant and the chef receive the Michelin Star; it gives you as the owner and your restaurant recognition in the food industry, foodies will come especially to your restaurant to experience your food because of your rating.

Please tell me something about your restaurant.

The name of my restaurant is "Sonoy". I opened Sonoy Restaurant in 1998 in Blokzijl close to Emmeloord. Many people wonder where I got the name from; it's a historic name in Blokzijl. Sonoy is the name of a military regent in the times of King Willem I of the Netherlands; he was the founder of Blokzijl. Quite simply, I named the restaurant after our founder; he was the regent of the city and I brought Blokzijl on the map with our Restaurant "Sonoy".

What is your preferred food to work with? Are you known for a particular food preparation method?

Fresh produce like vegetables and fish from the Flevoland is what makes me tick. You can wake me up for our famous Small Dover Sole; I absolutely love to eat them and of course you can find Small Dover Sole from the region on my menu.

You are in St. Maarten attending the "Fete de la Cuisine" week. What stands out in your St. Maarten experience?

I really like the island. There is a good atmosphere and I'm a sailor at heart. I enjoy looking at the sailboats passing by when I'm looking out at sea.

Besides being a chef, do you have any hobbies or interests?

Yes, as I just mentioned, I'm an avid sailor, I love to sail. I own my own sailing yacht, it's moored in Lelystad in the Netherlands and we sail around the Dutch Islands, the North Sea and other Dutch waters. However, I also really like winter sports; my wife and I enjoy skiing. I really enjoy the filming of my TV program as well. In these programs, we focus on nature in Flevoland. We have a mobile kitchen which we place it in the middle of the woods, beach or fields; produce is picked on the spot from the area where we are randomly parked. I prepare a fabulous dish with what I get placed in front of me. I really like the spontaneity of making each program; we keep it fresh, highlighting new produce every time we do the shooting.

What are your ambitions for the future? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I hope I can maintain my Michelin Star; however, the goal is to gain another Star. Ten years from now, I would like to retire and enjoy the rest of my life doing what I like to do. I would like to remain in the culinary world, giving workshops, seminars and possibly working as a consultant.

What is next and when can we expect to hear from you again?

I would love to receive a next Michelin Star, to go to the next level with my food served in my restaurant. A Michelin Star gives you a particular recognition, the goal is to maintain the level we are at and to excel.

If you could invite three famous people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be? What would be the one question you would ask and what would you serve them to eat?

I would invite Bono of U2, Robert de Nero and Johnny Depp. I have the same passion for food that they have in acting and singing. My question would be: What is it like to perform as you do? How do you get your inspiration? I know they all love good food, so I would serve them our famous Dover Sole from Blokzijl with tutti frutti served with Bib Salad and baked potatoes.