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In 2006 I was invited to the Maldives by 7 Oceans Seafood to assess the quality of local reef fish for possible import to Europe. I am a chef and have worked with food and people for over 25 years. Food is like music: it can create a bridge between people and cultures if you use your senses, listen and open your heart.

Encountering the Maldives was a wonderful experience that went far beyond learning about the local cuisine and ingredients. I became friends with Ahmed Habeeb who insisted that we go into business together.

The new government which was elected in the Maldives in 2008 had opened the door to what is known as island tourism. This meant that selected islands, which had not been accessible to tourists, were now open for bed and breakfasts and guesthouses. Visitors now have an opportunity to experience the local culture, which isn't the case for resort tourists.

Habeeb comes from the island of Velidhoo, where he has owned a plot of land for many years that he is now using for just this purpose.

In 2009, my wife Karin and I traveled there to evaluate the situation. It was gorgeous and overwhelming, just like my first visit. Starting from a culinary connection, we forged a number of ties to Habeeb's family, which we are deeply thankful for.

In 2010, our daughter Heidi traveled with us. She was also deeply touched by the atmosphere and culture. We had a range of experiences on different types of islands.

In January 2011, we moved here to open two different guesthouses with restaurants. This is a joint project with Habeeb and his family. We opened a "city guesthouse" on Hulhumalé island and a "country guesthouse" on Velidhoo island.

Karsten Bie Jensen