A Dutchman, an inveterate traveller, and a lover of Japanese gastronomy, he has toured much of the world, stopping by the most prestigious restaurants of four continents and assimilating techniques and ingredients into his own particular approach.
He began his journey at the age of just 17, and although he trained in classic French cuisine between his native Holland and neighbouring Belgium, it wasn’t long before fell in love with Japanese cooking. Now he is one of Europe’s most famous chefs specialising in Japanese fusion and Nikkei cuisine, and since last year he has held the position of executive chef at OKU Ibiza. His name: Mark Vaessen.
Welcome once again to Ibiza. It seems we’ve been through a bad patch what with Covid and the pandemic and the rest, although apparently that’s all behind us now.
What are your thoughts on this season?
Yes, it seems that we’ve left all those problems behind but, having said that, I thought we did very well last season, despite being new to the island. We had a warm welcome and very positive reviews from the public, so yes, I can say that we’re very happy.
How are you looking forward to this season at OKU?
This year, we’re aiming to raise the bar again, which is what we always try to do — we look to the future to improve, learn from the mistakes of the past and play to our strengths. In terms of the menu. we’re making it shorter, with fewer passes through the dining room; we’re going to reduce the number of sushi dishes, and go for two or three star dishes. In addition, we’re introducing dishes such as tiraditos [Peruvian raw fish dishes], carpaccios, tartares, new dishes, and fusions of Mediterranean, Japanese and South American cuisine. We’re making a commitment to even better quality ingredients, if that’s possible, and I’m sure we’re going to have a great year — and a great reaction from the public.
Is anything else new, apart from the menu?
Well, we’ve undertaken a major refurbishment, and now the restaurant is much more attractive and welcoming. I’m very happy with the changes.
Changing the subject, I imagine it must be very different working in Ibiza, as opposed to Amsterdam.
They are very different places, and I’m happy with that, because the people who come to Ibiza come here on holiday, to enjoy themselves. People coming to the restaurant are more relaxed; they have more time to have fun, and that leaves more scope for experimentation in the kitchen. In Ibiza, the customers are more open minded, more ready to have fun than people who are working, as they are in Amsterdam. We change the menu, and we take risks, offering something new, as here people are ready to take chances and they want to go all out to enjoy themselves — unlike in Amsterdam, where people operate on automatic pilot. The people in Ibiza are very open to experimentation and new experiences and suggestions.
How would you define the philosophy of work at OKU?
At OKU, we like to be attentive to our guests, and even to spoil them. It’s a lovely project, and in the restaurant we like to go one step further and create an “FMB experience” (feed my brain). I like to use the very finest ingredients to create innovative dishes. Here, unlike in Amsterdam, I don’t need to be forever worrying about the cost of the raw materials — something that makes this place unique. If you want to use lobster, you just go ahead and use it. In Ibiza, the customers appreciate quality, and they’re not so concerned about the price. That’s what I love most about OKU, and also that, thanks to the hotel’s wonderful location, we have a significant flow of customers. We start the first day of the season with around fifty diners per service. It doesn’t matter what day it is, and there is no weekend.
What do you like most about Ibiza?
The people, and how they genuinely enjoy their food, not like in Holland where people are always racing against the clock. Here, people turn up and they’re in no hurry; they have a glass of wine or a beer... I love the way people share the food in Spain...
I love typical Spanish food, with no compromises and no frills: good fish, good ingredients, and eaten on the beach front. For example, the other day I was sitting in a little bar in Ibiza and I ordered scrambled eggs with foie gras; they cost 16 euros and I was raving about them. They were so impressive!