This blog post originally appeared on the Nickelodeon™ Hotels & Resorts blog.
At Nickelodeon™ Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana, fine dining comes easy. From a la carte Italian to craft burgers and even an interstellar eatery, there are plenty of options to please every palate (chicken fingers included). But of all the restaurants, Kitchen 23, by Le Chique, is the most unique. The adults-only restaurant is open for dinner daily and comes with a surcharge (that’s well worth it). We sat with Dayleny Dominguez, Executive Chef of Kitchen 23, to discuss the multi-course tasting menu – an experience in itself.
NR: Tell us more about yourself. Where are you from and how did your cooking skills take off?
DD: I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. When I was 4 years old my family and I moved to New York, where I was raised. I remember from an early age that I would sneak up onto a step-stool and start stirring pots / washing dishes when my mom wasn’t looking. She’s an amazing cook, so it’s only natural that she inspires me and my love of food. My dad always tells me that he knew I would grow up to be in the kitchen since I never wanted to go to my room. And he was right – I’ve always wanted to be a chef. I went to Food & Finance High School in Manhattan through the Culinary Arts Program. I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship for an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. My career has allowed me to work in New York City, Hawaii, Mexico (at Le Chique in Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico), Texas, and now the place where I was born, the Dominican Republic.
NR: Tell us a little bit more about the K23 concept, courses, ingredients, drink pairings, etc.
DD: Kitchen 23 is inspired by touches of traditional Dominican cuisine. We have an 8-course tasting menu, as well as an upgraded 16-course menu. We aim towards presenting traditional flavors and dishes in a new way and try to develop our menu based on local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. We also offer two wine pairings – one for $35 and an elevated one for $55. One of the best parts is our welcome cocktail that comes in a siphon and is charged with Co2 canisters.
NR: Where did the inspiration for Kitchen 23 come from?
DD: Kitchen 23, by Le Chique, is molded after Le Chique at Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico, by Karisma. We try to incorporate similar techniques but use Dominican touches rather than Mexican ones. The meaning behind the name ties into the senses, since they play such importance in the Sensatori Resorts. 2 + 3 = 5 senses, so that’s where the 23 came from.
NR: What’s your favorite part about being a chef?
DD: I love being able to teach others new techniques while also being able to learn new things each day. When you work in a kitchen, there’s no doubt you are learning at least one new thing every day.
NR: What’s your favorite item on the menu and why?
DD: I love the Morir Soñando, which translates in English to ‘die dreaming’. The name sounds dramatic, so right away the guests have this genuine look of intrigue! It represents a juice that my mom used to make for me and my brother growing up. The original recipe contains vanilla, lime, milk, and sugar, but I add some rum to the mix and present it in a unique sphere. When the guests eat it, their eyes widen with surprise.
NR: If you could only cook with ONE ingredient for the rest of your life, what would it be?
DD: Salt. I love salty food and I believe it makes such a difference to flavors of a complex sauce or even a simple corn on the Cobb. I feel as if it brings out the best in dishes – if the correct amount is used.
NR: How do you envision the K23 changing / growing in the coming months?
DD: I hope to always keep the amazing flavors that we’ve been able to develop while introducing more surprise elements. Perhaps we can use some liquid nitrogen or dry ice in the future?
NR: If you could add SLIME to one menu item, which would it be?
DD: If I could add slime to one menu item it would probably be the air baguette. It’s already filled with a creamy cheese foam, so biting into it and it turning out to be slime would be a pretty cool surprise.
NR: If SpongeBob requested a special meal from you, what would you cook for him?
DD: Well, SpongeBob is proud of his job at the Krusty Krab and he loves what he does just as much as I do. So, I would pay tribute to that by making him the ultimate SpongeBob burger.
For more information on Kitchen 23, by Le Chique, and Nickelodeon™ Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana, you can visit their website here.