Chef Christoph has a “little black book” filled with the names of starred chefs. It reads like a “Who’s Who” of the gastronomic world. The Berlin-born director of culinary services at Soneva Jani in the Maldives, chief Christopher Pentzlin is the driving force behind the luxury resort’s Soneva Stars program, which hosts a roster of internationally acclaimed chefs in prime residences on the exotic island.
As he speaks, the names of some of the best chefs in the world roll out of his tongue – “Gordon” [Ramsay]; ” Clear ” [Smyth] and “Jonathan” [Zandbergen] are just a few. He knows most of them personally, a direct result of many years working in some of the best Michelin-starred kitchens, including the three-star Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London and the three-star Michelin restaurant Oud Sluis in the Netherlands.
Having joined Soneva Jani in 2020, these contacts have elevated the program even further – although the concept has already received a lot of praise after its launch some 10 years ago. He has also embraced the group’s Slow Life principles, pioneering sustainable culinary initiatives in the resort’s kitchens, creating farm-to-table experiences and harnessing Soneva Jani’s abundant organic gardens to support the circular economy “Waste to Wealth”.
It’s hard not to embrace the sustainable lifestyle at Soneva’s two resorts – the original, Soneva Fushiwho turned 25e last year’s anniversary – is a 15 minute seaplane flight. Here the concept of barefoot luxury has been coined and a deep understanding of green tourism is sewn into the fabric of both destinations.
“It’s now part of my DNA,” says Christoph, when discussing his sustainable approach to cooking. “It’s also a passion for many of my contemporaries,” he says, when asked about the appeal of top chefs here. “Soneva’s reputation comes first, so it’s not difficult to encourage them to come here,” he laughs.
Next month, for example, sees Jonathan Zandbergenchief executive at Restaurant Merlet in Schoorl, The Netherlands, are hosting a series of exclusive Soneva Jani foodie events (July 1-12). Considered one of the greatest Dutch culinary talents, with 20 years of experience in Michelin starred restaurants and cooking competitions, Zandbergen has created his own unique style of Dutch cuisine.
Other chefs making an appearance this year include Chantelle Nicholsonchef and owner of the legendary Mayfair Apricity restaurant; Michael Viljanen Ireland’s two Michelin stars Chapter One and renowned Parisian pastry Nina Metayer. The list, says Christoph, is two years in the planning. “With an abundance of incredible produce grown here and with this amazing setting, who wouldn’t want to show off their talents in the Maldives? We have a queue of chefs waiting to come.
When you wake up on Soneva Jani you see nothing but endless views of the turquoise sea – or is it jade? Maybe aquamarine? Your overwater villa is bathed in the incredible light of ocean and sky, the cobalt and cerulean blues blending together like a watercolor. Retractable glass walls and futuristic roofs open up the space so you can roll out of bed and dive into your pool, or fall asleep directly under the stars, the sound of the waves all around you.
Breakfast at Down to earth sets the tone for the day. You walk along the promenade, barefoot, to the edge of the beach, basking in the rays of the sun, eager for what awaits you.
From passion fruit and ginger smoothies to homemade ‘Energiser Boosters’ of special blends of juices, spices and herbs (watermelon and mint? or mango, ginger and guava?), many choices are on the good side of health. . There’s a cold room housing a bakery, with an overflowing cheese table, a ‘charcuterie’ corner, and a tropical fruit station, where you can ‘pick and toss’ among a rainbow of fruit.
Found on the edge of the Maldives in Noonu Atoll – next stop: Sri Lanka – Soneva Jani offers the ultimate treasure island experience. “Chapter Two” is a selection of James Bond-style villas – which offer sunrise or sunset views – and only opened in 2020. They feel modern yet authentic and reinforce the Robinson feel Crusoe with slides, which take you straight into the lagoon, spacious indoor and outdoor living areas, expansive terraces, private swimming pools and magnificent outdoor bathrooms.
The design is beautifully thought out – think: rustic-luxe style – with villas built with sustainable materials and featuring undulating lines and sinuous architecture – no doubt, to mirror the waves of the ocean. Each villa also comes with your very own barefoot butler – so you have a staff member to whisk you away in a golf cart, arrange activities and coordinate your stay.
When it comes to eating, a highlight is Overseas by Mathias Dahlgren. The menu, designed by the famous Swedish chef, emphasizes plant-based dishes and local produce. By taking humble ingredients – like sweet corn and broccoli – he elevates each simple ingredient to new gourmet levels. The fried corn sharing plate, for example, is served with tarragon mayonnaise, smoked pepper powder and garlic oil. While fried tofu and broccoli are served with herbs from the hotel garden, kaffir lime, chilli and kimchi-toasted sesame seeds.
While Overseas offers an elevated – albeit fun – approach to dining (if you eat there at sunset, you can watch the sky turn pink, lilac and golden from sunken tables high above the ocean ), crab hut lets you get down and “dirty”. The beachfront restaurant is overseen by Chief Priyantha – which comes from the famous Ministry of Crab restaurants in Sri Lanka. You eat with your feet in the sand, bib on, ready to feast on oversized Sri Lankan mud crabs and Kamchatka crabs. You can have them wok with black pepper or chilli, steamed in herbs or as an authentic Sri Lankan curry, while seafood salads, calamari fritti and grilled prawns are the perfect entrees.
To So primitive – where the centerpiece is a roaring hearth to celebrate age-old cooking methods – chef Christoph is in his element. Here, dishes are cooked in clay pots over coals or in a salt crust and boiled in a kettle. As the stars shoot up from the dark sky, he brings endless dishes to share – giant langoustines coated in shrimp butter, served on a banana leaf; a fillet of local Rainbow Runner, marinated in palm sugar, lime and garlic. As in all the restaurants of Soneva Jani, the choice of vegetable dishes is wide and inventive, such as the delicious roasted pumpkin with brown butter miso or the hispi cabbage with black truffle and garlic.
In the sister station Soneva Fushiaward-winning maldivian chef Sobah Abdullah champions traditional Maldivian dishes and elevates them for a gourmet clientele. To From nowhereit fuses local ingredients into Vietnamese, Japanese and Indonesian-style dishes – from tuna with ponzu and guacamole to spicy lamb chops cooked on the robata grill.
The dining choice here is almost overwhelming – with 12 different restaurants to choose from. You can zip line to your main meal at Flying sauces or enjoy inventive cuisine at Fresh in the gardenwhere the chief Mads Reflund is currently organizing a 12-month pop-up to defend the products grown in the vegetable gardens (under the perched restaurant).
So Hands on by Akira is one of the resort’s most special gastronomic destinations. Housing just five guests, you’re seated at a special sake-polished Japanese pine counter – known as the hinoki – while the sushi master Chief Akira – noted as one of the best in the world – creates his sushi delights.
While meals at both Soneva resorts are undeniably stellar and on par with what you’ll find in the world’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s something unique about matching that with the low-key approach to hospitality here. .
Details throughout celebrate the location – so you’ll find portholes on the villa floors so you can watch the stingrays below and ladders that lower you into the ocean from your terrace. The villas are equipped with bicycles so you can ride carefree and the widespread eco-friendly initiatives are groundbreaking and aimed at educating communities with the primary goal of preserving the area.
In both Soneva complexes there are magnificent stargazing observatories. When night comes, resident astronomers reveal the secrets of the dark skies, which are suddenly dotted with countless celestial bodies, as if God had turned on a gazillion lights. It is nothing less than heavenly.