Unique locations, impeccable service and praised restaurants. Premium resorts combine the best of all worlds, where every detail contributes to an unforgettable experience. At Heritance Aarah, special attention is given to the palate, where guests embark on a culinary journey with unparalleled restaurants. Behind their gastronomical success stands Bjorn Van Der Horst, a true devotee when it comes to cooking and guest relations.

Luxury resorts are not about the price tag; they are about the feeling – and more often about what is served on the plate. In times where travellers seek more genuine experiences, many decide to follow their taste buds when choosing destination. At Heritance Aarah, part of the Aitken Spence Hotels Group, the resort management have taken the culinary experience to the next level. This brand-new luxury resort in the Raa Atoll features a unique offering in terms of gastronomy with as many as ten drinking and dining options, designed to perfection by a two-time Michelin star chef along with a team of some of the very best in the industry. 

During 2019, Chef Lalith and his team also won 19 Gold Medals in the Maldivian Culinary Challenge, which clearly manifests their excellence and devotion. Such success doesn’t come without passionate people like Bjorn Van Der Horst, Vice President of Food & Beverage. Previously an acclaimed Michelin starred chef himself, he learned his craft in the kitchens of some of the world’s most famous chefs, including Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse. Having worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants, such as The Greenhouse in London and Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, where he created some of the most successful restaurant concepts and F&B experiences in the Maldives and South-East Asia, Bjorn Van Der Horst now dedicates his time to develop the Aitken Spence Hotels hospitality philosophy.

– We focus mainly on being as real and true to what is expressed on the label or concept of each dining experience. The key is to define a clear dining and drinking experience in each of our multiple outlets and staying true to them. Guests know and feel when something is genuine and I truly believe that we have accomplished just that at Heritance Aarah. True, real and genuine hospitality. 

Heritance Aarah managed to win 19 gold medals at the Culinary Competition in Male in 2019. How did you achieve that?

– Without a doubt it’s due to a wonderful team of hugely dedicated and passionate individuals that consistently embody our vision and philosophy and take each task with tremendous pride and a joy to serve and please. Those kind of accolades and recognitions from peers are important. However, I admit that they also push the bar higher in terms of guests’ expectations and those are the hugely important ones to please. 

Were there any special trainings or preparations for Chef Lalith and his team?

– Yes indeed. But mainly to stay consistent and true to the rules of the game and each of the individual and team entries. Chef Lalith is also a tremendous professional who has had many years of success in the competitive field so his guidance to the team was priceless. 

What is the key to your success, and how will you work to maintain that high level of food excellence?

– By constant motivation and research to consistently improve, develop, train and innovate. Staying relevant in an ever-changing fast paced world is the biggest challenge – all whilst not losing the essence of our identity and integrity. Our main focus is that it should be easy for the guest, which is why we offer several different dining possibilities at the resort. For instance, we have a classic international dining venue that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with ever rotating menus and offerings in a buffet format. There is our Parisian brasserie style Ralu, where one can indulge at any time of the day. Baani serves all day in a similar spirit as Ralu but with a slight Middle Eastern vibe. In the evening our beach restaurant Ginifati opens up, a true foot in the sand experience serving a menu based mainly on freshly caught seafood and grilled fish. Adding Ambula and Haatha with their specific dedications, Maldivian cuisine and fine dining street food, guests are all set for a fantastic culinary experience during their stay.

What are your specialties when it comes to food and beverages?

– Re-interpreting the classics. Real and true food and drinks focused on great ingredients and cooked and served with heart. My own favourite Maldivian dish at Aarah is the revisited Garudiya, a clear fish broth that is truly exceptional. 

How do you deal with requests regarding allergies and food intolerance?

– With a great deal of respect and understanding. We are open to all and every dietary restriction that is presented to us, whether its religious or medical. Our teams are educated on all of the various allergies, religious restrictions, afflictions, diet trends, wellness eating trends and forever evolving fashions, so that we are able to adapt, suggest alternatives and find creative solutions to ensure that our guests feel comfortable and confident that we will provide for their needs without fuss or confusion. In addition, our food and beverage teams work closely with the Medi-Spa team to ensure that we consistently have a healthy and balanced offering on our menus and buffets.

What are your thoughts on sustainability?

– Personally, I am hugely passionate about sustainability and environmentally conscious practices as is the company. Heritance Hotels pride themselves on keen waste to wealth management and the protection of our physical and natural surroundings. For a start, we are extremely vigilant as to the sourcing of our ingredients. Being in Maldives means that much of our products are imported, so we do our best to ensure that the base products are as green as possible. In addition, Heritance Aarah is the first fully certified LEED hotel in the Maldives. From the start we chose to build with energy efficiency in mind, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the operation from the base and source. As we settle the operation, we are slowly implementing practices and systems that reduce and recycle waste. We will be implementing a meat free day once a week, set up workshops on waste to wealth management and the reduction of the carbon footprint of our operation and our guests, and we are looking into machinery that consumes all wet and organic waste and transforms it into clean grey water for the irrigation of our trees and plants. Sustainability initiatives are on-going and part of our Heritance monthly calendar which we will be launching shortly.

Dining goes hand in hand with wining. How have you developed your beverage programs, wine tastings and other culinary experiences?

– We have curated a wonderfully well-balanced wine list of great value and anchored in the wines from smaller wine makers and bio-dynamic and natural wines on our all-inclusive list. The big labels are also there on the reserve list. The cocktail program is super creative and executed beautifully by our beverage team. I am extremely proud of the beverage offer at Heritance Aarah, which I whole-heartedly believe is one of the best in Maldives. We also arrange tastings and will begin with wine dinners and invite wine makers to share their passion with our guests.

Looking ahead, what are your visions for the future for Heritance Aarah?

– When we created Heritance Aarah, our vision was a resort concept anchored in the Heritance values “where tradition is alive” whilst entering a hugely competitive market such as Maldives. But also to create a resort that was truly all inclusive with no surprises and where all offerings are of a very high quality without compromise or exception. For the future, we shall continue pursuing excellence and innovation, and consistently listen to our guests and improve our product as we move on. 

FACT BOX:

Bjorn Van Der Horst Position: Vice President, Food & Beverage at Heritance Aarah

Background (in brief): Born in Switzerland to a Dutch father and a Spanish mother. Began a restaurant apprenticeship in his early 20’s. Head chef at Picholine in Manhattan, Gaia in Greenwich, Connecticut) The Greenhouse in London (won his first Michelin star in year 1 and then a second). Opened La Noisette in Knightsbridge together with Gordon Ramsay in 2006 (won a Michelin star within six months of opening). Opened Eastside Inn in Clerkenwell, London in 2008. Executive Chef of Soneva Fushi and later Group Chef for Soneva resorts. Part of the Executive Committee opening team of the acclaimed Rosewood London as Director of Food, Beverage & Kitchens. Dreams about: A third Michelin star! Maybe that can be after retirement when I have grown up and feel more confident and at peace.