Cruise Line Cuisine: Is it Really Gourmet? (part 4)

| September 25, 2009

Like so many aspects of cruising, we hear a lot about cuisine but may not lend it an extraordinary amount of attention.

It is no surprise that Number 2 on Matt's list of cruise ship chefs is another French icon, Jacques Pepin of Oceania Cruises. CruiseMates has always said Oceania has great food and now we have proof.

"Pepin is a classic and I am dying to meet him," Matt said. Janice Wald Henderson remarked that "Jacques Pepin is an institution." Pepin also grew up on a farm in France, then prospered in Paris and was once the personal chef to Charles De Gaulle. After moving to America he shared a TV cooking show with Julia Child.

"I once saw a live cooking demonstration with Jacques," said Janice," where he peeled and minced a garlic clove and received a standing ovation - just for his style. That's the level of his expertise."

Although Pepin has been a celebrity chef for decades (he is 73), he has never had a "namesake" restaurant before. His first will be "Jacques," a small (80 seat) restaurant aboard Oceania's new 450-passenger "Marina" scheduled to debut in 2010.

Like all great chefs, Pepin is obsessed with fresh ingredients. Oceania's Jacques dining room will offer some of Pepin's signature dishes such as pumpkin soup a l'Anglaise served in a pumpkin shell, fresh Mussels Marinière, freshly roasted free range chicken, duck, and lamb.

Pepin claims he has taken groups of Oceania passengers shopping in local markets, and says he hopes to offer a chef's specials prepared from fresh ingredients purchased in local markets at the ship's ports of call whenever possible.

This is not to say Pepin will be cooking on the ship regularly, but it appears he will be onboard more often than most celebrity chefs. He will design the menu and recipes, select the china and flatware and even hang his original artwork on the walls. Janice speculates that Pepin, now the "elder statesman," is more willing to devote himself to a singular interest than a younger chef more concerned with promoting his brand.

Next up on Matt's List is a New York institution, Charlie Palmer, who works with luxury line Seabourn. Palmer started Aureole in Bryant Park on West 42nd Street in New York, a top award-winning New York restaurant for years. He now has a dozen restaurants coast to coast plus a hotel and a housewares specialty store.

Seabourn just put the new Seabourn Odyssey into service in the summer of 2009. Palmer said he helped with the galley design for the new ship and created original recipes for all of its restaurants.

Crystal Cruises, owned by one of the world's largest shipping companies, NHK of Japan, has number four on Matt's list; the famous Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The "Silk Road" restaurants on Serenity and Symphony are excellent Asian fusion restaurants with Nobu cuisine. Nobu is known to visit one ship or the other at length about once a year.

Janice explained his personal magic to me. "Nobu was trained as a Japanese sushi chef, but something special happened when he moved to Peru," she said. "The Peruvians have their own sushi-like cuisine based on ceviche, a cold fish soup that relies on citric acids to 'cook' the soup." Nobu was able to combine his sushi background with the Peruvian style of raw fish treatment and invent an entirely new cuisine.

Being from Los Angeles, Janice is also impressed with Crystal's other alternative restaurant, Prego, influenced by Piero Selvaggio. Piero is not a chef but a restaurateur who brought modern Northern Italian cooking to Los Angeles. "Not spaghetti and meatballs, but modern Italian cooking," she says. This includes risotto, seafood, veal and lamb.

Number five on Matt's list is Georges Blanc, mentioned above, as consulting chef to Carnival Cruise Lines. Blanc has maintained a 3-Star Michelin rating for 25 years and has Relais and Chateaux credentials. Matt placed him at number five because Georges is very traditional, being older and residing in France.

Relais and Chateaux is a French culinary and hospitality organization that gives awards to outstanding individual hotels and restaurants worldwide. According to Janice, "They generally give their awards to smaller boutique restaurants, often historic places such as castles and historic inns that have done an extraordinary job in creating a gourmet experience. I would eat at a Relais and Chateaux restaurant anywhere in the world."

They will never give their stamp of approval to a chain of hotels, but one cruise line has earned Relais and Chateaux certification: Silversea Cruises.

A competitor to Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, has the Cordon Bleu certification. Cordon Bleu is one of the world's oldest culinary institutions, as old as the middle ages, but the culinary standards were first established in the late 1800s. There are now Cordon Bleu schools worldwide, which Matt says has overexerted the name somewhat. Regent also works closely with Canyon Ranch Spa to create healthy dining options.

Continue Article >> Cruise Line Cuisine (Part 5)

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Chef Matt Sigel's Cruise with CruiseMates Join us on the brand new Norwegian Epic for a unique culinary CruiseMates cruise Epic 10-30-10. Our guest chef is Matt Sigel, a contestant on season four of Hell's Kitchen on the Fox Network. Great recipes, cooking tips, insight into the life of a chef, discussion of cruise line cuisine and the comradery of your great CruiseMates readers.   Go>

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