Chef Ever de Peña: “I love to tell stories through my cooking”

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Ever de Peña, a professional chef who is only 36 years old, is preparing to open his own restaurant soon. After a long trajectory, different experiences and competitions, Ever is ready to tell a story through his cooking. In an interview with Bon Dia Aruba, Ever shared how he found his passion for cooking and how he came to the decision to have his own restaurant.

Ever shared how he started his studies at the EPB secondary school. Afterwards, he graduated to the EPI University and he always stayed working in hospitality and tourism. He finished university with an Associate Degree in three years, during which he worked and went to school. He worked at the Calypso restaurant at the Casa Del Mar hotel. After Casa Del Mar, Ever started a new job at the Renaissance Hotel.

Ever graduated top of his class. Afterwards, he stayed at the university and followed another course called EAI, which is a level higher.

He further shared that after his time at the Renaissance hotel, he worked at Cooks Restaurant downtown. While he was working there, he was also studying abroad, in places like California and even Italy.

During his time at Cooks Restaurant, Ever joined in a culinary competition at EPI and won. After he graduated from the university a second time, he went to work at the Manchebo Hotel, where he started out as a Sous Chef. After two years, he was promoted to Executive Chef, the youngest one on the island.

In 2016, Ever competed for the title of Iron Chef in Aruba, going up against other chefs from Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels. It was during this competition that he formed a friendship with the Executive Chef of Marriott, who offered him the job of Executive Sous Chef. It was with this offer that Ever left Manchebo and started working at Marriott that same year.

“The good thing about Marriott is that every year I would travel twice a year, and we would also bring foreign chefs in our kitchen. While I was working at Manchebo, I also traveled a few times to represent the hotel,” he said.

Four years ago, Ever’s ex-boss left Marriott and opened his own restaurant. Two years ago he offered Ever the opportunity to open another one with him: “I kept thinking about it and I think that now is the time to do it. That’s what I’m working on right now, actually.”

Ever shared that he did not always have a passion for cooking. His love grew throughout the years he experienced what it was like to be a chef: “I remember when I was at EPI and I told my mentor that I just wanted my diploma, so that I could live in another country and be a hotel manager. But when I started working as a chef, I just fell in love with it. One thing led to another and I don’t think there’s anything I love more than cooking now,” he expressed.

He noted that even though he does not have a favorite dish, he loves working with seafood, fish especially, than anything else: “I think fish is so versatile compared to beef. I don’t have any specific favorites, but I love cooking with quality ingredients to get the best flavors out of them,” he said.

In terms of his experiences competing, Ever shared that he loved it, and that he is disappointed that there has not been another cooking competition in Aruba for more than five years now.

“I think it’s a great thing to do as a chef, and as a student, you learn a lot. The culinary world can be very stressful and I think a competition can help you calm down. I competed four times and I always had a blast, not because I won, but the overall experience was great.”

In terms of his restaurant that is opening soon, Ever shared that it would be a small place, with room for 24 people, plus an extra 16 at the bar. He explained that the reason behind the limited seating is so he could tell a story through his cooking: “I think with this concept, I can make 16 people happy all night. It’s a space where I can express myself through the food,” he added.

Lastly, Ever wants to send a message for the Aruban community, especially the younger generation who are still looking for their passion in life: “My message is that it doesn’t matter what you end up doing, do it with passion. I remember my mother telling me that it doesn’t matter if I end up picking up trash, or whatever, just do it like you love it. That’s my advice.”