Oceania Cruises Says "Bon Appétit!"

| 05.04.12

Set sail on two fine food and wine voyages onboard the upcoming Riviera and Marina.

Foodies, mark your calendars for October. Oceania Cruises is hosting two 10-day "Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festivals" onboard 1,250-passenger sister ships, Riviera and Marina, in Europe this fall. And while star chefs mugging onboard cruise ships are now a dime a dozen, these chefs, and these events, are different.

For one, they're occurring on a cruise line obsessed with quality food. So much so, it delivers luxury line cuisine at upper-premium prices. And the guest chefs are not the usual superstars, the jaded ones who are Food Network regulars, hawking pots and pans. Rather, they are two chefs who are extraordinarily talented and eager to share their knowledge and passion. They are "chefs' chefs," meaning they are respected and admired by their peers, the way home cooks admire the television stars.

The first "Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festival" stars Chef Stephen Lewandowski of Manhattan's landmark Tribeca Grill onboard Riviera's "Ancient Grandeur" cruise. This Athens-to-Rome voyage commences October 14, 2012.

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Chef Lewandowski is known for his earthy yet elegant takes on modern American cuisine. He will host several cooking demonstrations throughout his sailing. And he will also be a guest instructor at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, the much-admired hands-on cooking school (24 fully equipped work stations) onboard Riviera (and Marina). In addition, Lewandowski will lead "Culinary Discovery Tours" to local markets in select ports.

Lewandowski should have some terrific markets to tour with cruisers. The Riviera, launching this May, is sailing to Kusadasi, Turkey (Ephesus), Taormina, Sicily and Marseille, France, to name a few stops. These ports are food-centric, with impeccable seafood and produce.

This Manhattan chef has quite the famous bosses. Tribeca Grill is owned by actor Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. I know Nieporent and he only hires top talent. Nieporent won the James Beard Award (the Oscars of the culinary world) for "Outstanding Restaurateur" in 2009. He has had unparalleled restaurant success stories in the tough gastronomic landscape of New York City.

Lewandowski polished his craft at Manhattan's Gotham Bar & Grill and also, with Ritz-Carlton. At downtown's Tribeca Grill, his menu includes dishes like warm asparagus salad with morels (prized wild mushrooms) and fig essence; and roasted Alaskan halibut with black olive tapenade, ratatouille (French mélange of vegetables including eggplant, tomato and zucchini) and artichoke mousse. Sides, like chanterelles (golden-hued wild mushrooms), foie gras and potato puree, can be decadent fun. But really, what Lewandowski is about is market-driven cooking. And on this cruise, with markets in abundance, he is sure to deliver.

Chef Ken Oringer is not a household name, but he should be. Oringer won the James Beard Award for "Best Chef Northeast" in 2001. (He was nominated three times prior.) Food Network fans should remember that he won "Iron Chef America," battling Chef Cat Cora (ironically, the godmother for the Riviera inaugural) in 2008.

I became aware of Oringer's talents when he opened Clio in Boston in 1997. Everyone, including the worst critics - star chefs - was abuzz over Oringer's distinctive creations. The way he unexpectedly paired ingredients. His restless roaming of the world for ingredients. His possession of impeccable classic French technique.

Oringer has several successful restaurants in Boston, including Uni in Clio's lounge. Uni is a sashimi bar featuring seafood from both Tokyo's famed Tskiji market and local fisherman. His other venues include Toro, a Barcelona-inspired tapas restaurant, and Coppa, an Italian-style enoteca (wine bar).

Listen to sample dishes Oringer offers at Cleo and you will fall under his spell. Cassolette (little casserole) of sea urchin and lobster with parsnip milk, crispy shallots and candied lemon. Or sunflower seed "risotto," with New Zealand spinach, Quebec sunflower oil and candied mace. Veal scaloppini with chamomile, lacquered baby turnips and orchid root jus.

If there is any chef I'd love to learn from, it would be Ken Oringer. He is sailing on Marina's "Temples & Palaces" voyage on October 22, 2002, from Athens to Istanbul, including calls in Israel. Expect Oringer to host cooking demonstrations, market tours and serve as guest instructor in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. For more information, visit oceaniacruises.com.

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