Crystal Symphony Taps Celeb Chefs Down Under, 2013

| Tuesday, 14 Aug. 2012
Some of the best Aussie Chefs will sail with Crystal in 2013

Experiencing local food and wine when visiting a region via sea, rather than land, can sometimes be challenging. So it's always good news when a cruise line brings hometown experts onboard. Crystal Cruises has got several on tap for two new, 12-day Crystal Symphony itineraries. The sailings are Australia/New Zealand departing January 17, 2013 and Australia/Bali leaving February 11, 2013.

The luxury liner has locked in some regionally notable names for these sailings. Chefs will offer complimentary cooking lessons, including hands-on recipe instruction (something I've wanted ships to embrace for years). They'll also be preparing gastronomic specialties of the region for diners.

The chef list includes headliners such as Damien Pignolet. An Australian of French descent, Pignolet is deemed one of Sydney's finest chefs. He is known for his modern Australian cooking fused with French ingredients and techniques. He's also the author of two comprehensive, well-regarded cookbooks; French and Salades (salads). In the latter, he presents salads in imaginative guises, including a sweet one with strawberries, orange and red wine. Pignolet opened several successful restaurants in Sydney over the years, including Bistro Moncur in Woollahra.

Greg Doyle became an Aussie favorite as owner of Pier, a Sydney seafood institution, where he was named (among many accolades) Restaurateur of the Year. This chef grew up on his family's farm, developing an early appreciation of fresh ingredients. But it was his love of surfing that led to his passion for seafood, and later, the success of Pier. This skilled chef could bring much to the Crystal table.

Bali is renowned for its beaches and kicked-back lifestyle, but it's also recognized (at least, in the foodie world) for its one-man-ambassador of local cooking - Heinz von Holzen. This busy chef is a restaurateur, cookbook author and cooking school owner. (On a personal note, I'm most excited about von Holzen's addition to this Crystal lineup. Balinese cuisine is a stunner.)

Bumbu Bali (the school and eatery share the name) opened in 1997, and was created to present home-style Balinese cuisine to visitors, rather than the dishes more commonly served at hotels and tourist spots. In fact, the restaurant design itself mimics a Balinese home compound.

What sort of food does von Holzen present? Think dishes like slow-roasted duck in banana leaves, braised pork ribs with young jackfruit and seafood sate. Most are made with ingredients sourced that morning for the same day's dinner plate. (If this piques your interest in Balinese cuisine, check out Amazon where several von Holzen cookbooks are for sale.)

Of course, food without wine is much like peanut butter without jelly. So Crystal is putting top sommeliers like Cameron Douglas onboard. Douglas is New Zealand's first – and only – master sommelier. A master sommelier is at the top of the heap of wine experts. It's a difficult stature to achieve; there are only some 180 master sommeliers in the world. It takes four levels of intensive courses and exhaustive exams before the title is earned. Plus exams for the advanced and master levels are only held in the U.S. and U.K.

Douglas wears many hats; he's a senior lecturer in charge of the Wine and Beverage Programme at Auckland University of Technology, and a consultant for private clients and the hospitality industry. When he's not doing all that, he's a wine writer and judge.

Cameron Douglas will be on the February 11, 2013 sail, along with Chefs von Holzen and Doyle. Look for Damien Pignolet with other experts on the January 17, 2013 sail.

By the way, these voyages also offer access to each country's culinary capitals. Opportunities to explore South Australia's wine regions, outback pubs of the Northern Territory and other food-and-wine meccas are cruise highlights. (crystalcruises.com)

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