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Grilled In a Minute: Matthew Boland

Julie Mautner / December 17th, 2012

Matthew Boland is executive chef of the 481 room Westin Resort & Casino on Aruba, a position he has held since 2010. A native of Canandaigua, New York, Boland skipped college and culinary school and went straight to work. Within five years of being hired for his first job, at the Sheraton Canandaigua, he had worked his way up from dishwasher to cook to assistant chef to executive chef.

In the 1980s, Boland did four different stints at the L’Auberge du Cochon Rouge (now the John Thomas Steakhouse) in Ithaca, taking a break to stage in classic French kitchens in Paris. He also owned and operated the Oldport Harbor Restaurant (Ithaca, NY) from 1987 to 1990.

Boland landed on Aruba in 1993, working at the Divi Divi Beach Hotel, the Wyndham Aruba Beach Resort & Casino, and most recently, the Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino, where he was executive chef for nine years (2000–2009).

To expand his mastery of a wide range of cuisines, Boland traveled extensively, in Miami, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Trinidad, St. Martin, Curaçao, and Bonaire. He’s now considered an expert in Caribbean, Latin American, South American, and Modern American cuisines.

For the past three years, Boland has been active in the PACO program (Pan-American Conference on Obesity), promoting healthful eating and fighting childhood obesity, and often teaches healthful cooking and nutrition to kids and adults. He has earned numerous industry accolades and awards, from La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the American Culinary Federation, and other groups. In 2004, Boland authored Aruba Tips for Travelers, highlighting the island’s history, culture, and food scene. He was invited to cook at the James Beard House (NYC) in 2007.

Boland’s “life and travel partner” is Charmaine Pappers. The couple have four children between them: Paola, 29; Kimberly, 28; Thomas, 26 (a chef); and Michael, 24.

So, Matt! Tell us about working in the Caribbean. What’s the best thing about your job?
Best thing? Working with so many different cultures, people, and foods. We have the local Aruban influence here, along with Dutch, Indonesian, all of the Caribbean, South American, Chinese, and the Philippines. They all bring special flavors and ingredients to the mix. We love to explore our surroundings and experience different countries and islands. Going local, getting the favorite “soul foods” of the people, bringing it back, and having fun! Another best thing about being in the Caribbean: snorkeling at 7 a.m., swimming with turtles, sting rays, and barracudas in the clear, cool, blue water. How can we be stressed?

And what’s the aspect of it that you like least?
Sometimes, I miss the fall. We try to get home every year and catch the changing of the leaves and the crisp air.

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
More cooking, less paperwork!

What’s the one thing in your kitchen you couldn’t live without?
Cooks, sous chefs, dishwashers, a good knife, and a big wok.

And the food or ingredient you’d miss most if you left the islands?
The local fish: grouper, snapper, mahi mahi, and wahoo right off the boat.

What do you do on your days off?
Swim, dive, bike, and then go to the store to see what’s around. I also put on music and cook—all pots fired up! Word gets out that I’m cooking, and people start showing up. I love to make pastas, Colombian arepas, Indonesian fried rice, noodles, and Dutch pancakes with lots of green leafy vegetables and Kee Mao—a Thai hot sauce made from browned garlic, Sriracha sauce, Thai basil, and oyster sauce. It’s very addicting and goes great in or on anything, even slathered on a bagel!

Best recent meal in a restaurant not your own?
El Cielo in Medellín, Colombia. With one course you wash your hands at the table with chocolate sauce scented with vanilla and coffee—better than a finger bowl! Another great meal was a picnic on a crisp fall day at the Vieux Marché in Quebec, the farmers’ market on the St. Lawrence River. We ate rillettes de porc (potted pork), rillettes d’homard, artisan charcuterie, air-cured sausages, jambon seche (dried ham), hot maple butter, smoked salmon bellies, berries, and cheese from the local fromagerie. And the bread!

Hotel you absolutely love, other than your own?
Hotel Dann Carlton in Medellin, Colombia, the “City of Eternal Spring.” It’s in the mountains, with always-beautiful weather, the nicest people, the best service, and countryside mountain fruits.

Where would/will your next foodie trip be?
We’re thinking Buenos Aires. They say it’s the “Paris of South America.” Lima is also very hip, food wise.

What was the worst day of your culinary career?
Never had one! Well, if you insist… Imagine a four-diamond steakhouse, with 350 reservations during Christmas week. First, the exhaust fans all went out; the restaurant was packed and filled with smoke. We got the fans back on and filled the restaurant again, with a waiting line, and then, as we’re in Aruba and the liquid propane needs to be filled by a truck weekly. Yep, we ran out of gas. We just closed the restaurant after that.

What's the one cookbook (other than your own) you use most often and why?
The Internet!

If you could drink just one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
San Pellegrino with yuzu juice.

If you could work with one chef, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Auguste Escoffier. I would have loved to learn from him.

What one character trait is most responsible for your success?
Passion.

If not this, then what? Meaning what would you be doing if not cooking?
I’d be a grade school teacher, kindergarten to fifth grade. It’s such a delight to show kids all the wonderful things in the world! And if I didn’t have to work? I’d be traveling, writing, and eating…