Interview with Executive Chef Iwan Pennings
Where did you grow up?
In a small town called Hardinxveld-Giessendam near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
How did your interest in cooking and cuisine develop?
On our family vacations along the Adriatic Coast in Italy, I started to develop a love for gastronomy and hospitality. Knowing the owners of the hotel we stayed at, my brother and I were often found in the kitchen of the hotel "helping" the Chefs.
What are your responsibilities as an Executive Chef?
Overseeing daily operations and ensuring that standards are kept in place. Creating special dishes and themed buffets that speak to the destinations we visit and ensure our guests have an amazing culinary experience.
Describe your career milestones and how you came to Azamara.
My career milestone was in 2000 when I was appointed Chef Saucier at Michelin Star Restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam by Master Chefs Edwin Kats and Dennis Kuipers. These Chefs are very well respected in and outside The Netherlands and they have taught me to think about food and feel food rather than just preparing it. It is not technique that makes food taste good - it is the feeling you have with the product and what you decide to do with it. From the very first moment your hands touch a product, all these senses play part in how the end result of what you prepare is going to be.
Every Chef has their own tricks for keeping food “Fresh and Local” on a ship, what are yours?
I love going to markets. For me it is the same as a kid going to Disney Land. The most beautiful part of this job is that all year round we cruise the world and there is so much different produce to buy. We are basically in another part of the world every month, where the climate, sea temperature and season change all the time. That gives me the opportunity to choose from lots of treasures that Mother Earth has in store for us. Only the best is good enough. I would never buy anything local that I don't think is worth it or that is not of the highest quality possible.
What is your favorite go-to meal after a long day at work?
A beer with beef jerky and peanuts or chips. I don't eat warm meals after work. While I am working, I am tasting food throughout the day. I wouldn’t be able to fit in my jackets anymore if I ate more after my shift was over.
Imagine you’re on the show “Top Chef”. What meal would you “wow” the judges with?
Provençal style rabbit. A very homey French dish that needs attention to detail, looks good, and tastes fantastic.
What do you do stay educated about new trends?
I buy books, plenty of books—I think I own 150 of them. YouTube and Instagram are great sources for keeping up with new trends and seeing what the Chefs I admire do.
Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of in your career.
One funny event that I am not necessarily proud of—but still don't know how we pulled it off—was in my last job on the Island of Saint Maarten. I came home on my late afternoon break, exhausted, and laid down to get an hour of sleep. I was completely in dreamland when my phone rang at 5pm. The sales manager called me almost crying and she said, “Chef, I'm so sorry, but I need your help, I'm going to get fired.” I asked what was wrong. She said; “I forgot a banquet function for tonight”. I asked “For how many guests?” I thought it was one of those small business meetings, no big deal. She told me; “250 guests at 7pm.” I freaked out and asked her if she was kidding. She was not. I jumped in the car and drove to work. I walked through the coolers and freezers, looking for stuff that was easy to prepare, making a menu on the spot and delegating the work to my team. It had to be good as the guests paid a good sum of money. She stretched the guest flow and my team and I set up a huge banquet for 250 guests and even had it decorated. When that was set up I felt like I won an Iron Chef Competition!