91 posts categorized " Bon Appetit Culinary Center "

October 30, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S PERFECT PAELLA RECIPE

In yesterday’s blog I promised to share this paella recipe, which I’ve been perfecting for over 20 years. I hope you’ll take a class with us in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Marina or Riviera to perfect your own technique, and enjoy a Culinary Discovery Tour in Valencia to savor authentic paella in the city in which it was invented!

CHEF KELLY'S PERFECT PAELLA

{ Serves 2 }

  • Photo 4-54 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional as needed
  • 8 ounces chorizo, diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 3 piquillo peppers, diced
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 4 saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 boneless chicken breast, skin on, halved widthwise
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs, skin on
  • 1 lobster tail, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) Bomba, Calasparra, or Arborio rice
  • 4 scallops
  • 8 shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 6 mussels
  • 3/4 cup fish stock or clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10 green beans, blanched and cut in 2-inch pieces

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch paella pan over medium heat. Be sure to coat the entire pan with oil. Add the chorizo and sauté until the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. To ensure the chorizo stays tender, be sure not to overcook. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onion to the paella pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, just until the aromas are released. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes, until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Transfer the entire mixture to a bowl and add the piquillo peppers to complete the sofrito. Add the smoked paprika to the saffron water, pour the water over the sofrito, and stir to incorporate.

Increase the heat on the paella pan to medium-high. Add the bell pepper and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Transfer the bell pepper to the sofrito bowl.

Photo 3-6Add the chicken breast and thighs to the paella pan, skin side down, adding more olive oil if needed. Sauté the chicken for about 10 minutes, or until half-cooked. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the lobster tail to the paella pan and sear for about 3 minutes, just to coat the lobster with flavor. Transfer to the bowl with the chicken.

To assemble the paella, return the sofrito to the paella pan. Nestle the chorizo, chicken, and lobster into the sofrito. Add the rice and then arrange the scallops, shrimp, and mussels on top of the rice.

Add only enough stock to barely cover the rice. Add the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a medium boil and continue boiling for 1 minute.

Decrease the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 to 17 minutes. Do not stir. When the rice has absorbed the liquid, remove the lid and discard the bay leaves. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Toss the green beans on top of the paella.

Increase the heat to high and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes so that the rice caramelizes on the bottom of the pan and forms the socarrat. Watch carefully to ensure it does not burn, but do not stir. Stirring will prevent the treasured socarrat from forming.

Your paella is ready to serve and enjoy!

October 29, 2014

PERFECT PAELLA: Chef Kelly Leads Culinary Discovery Tour in Valencia

Valencia is known as the birthplace of paella, the fabulous dish cooked over an open fire with short grain rice and an assortment of seafood and meats. On our Culinary Discovery Tour during Marina’s recent call in Valencia, guests learned the secrets to preparing authentic paella and sampled this famous dish in the city in which it originated.

Photo 2Before heading to the market to shop for paella ingredients, we stopped at the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by world-renowned Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. Among the stunning collection of modern structures are the striking Hemisfèric, which houses an IMAX theater; the Science Museum, resembling a whale skeleton; and Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium. During our stop, we enjoyed a refreshing horchata, a local drink made with a tuber called “chufa” that has been farmed in Valencia for over 1,000 years.

We continued on to another architectural masterpiece, the Mercat Central, which was designed by Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial and houses one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe. With over 1,000 stalls, Valencia’s Mercat Central is a feast for the senses, overflowing with seasonal produce, artisanal pork, fresh seafood and tapas bars. It is a lively place where the locals shop daily and politely mix with the tourists drawn to the beauty of the building as much as the magnificence of the market.

Photo 4-2 Photo 5

Photo 1-1

After a brief orientation to the market, our guests split into groups and set off to find a ripe tomato, onion, garlic and red pepper for our afternoon cooking class. Everyone enjoyed shopping the stalls brimming with fantastic produce and selecting the finest ingredients available. Meanwhile, I went to purchase local Bomba rice and pimento, as well as some jamón for tasting later. As the fall season is upon us, squash were beginning to appear, so I sampled the Calabaza squash that was roasted and served in wedges to eat while strolling through the market. It was so delicious that I purchased one to roast for the group when we returned to the ship!

Photo 2-1 Photo 2-4

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Photo 1-3We then regrouped for the short drive to La Pepica, a local restaurant renowned for paella. La Pepica has a kitchen that would make any chef’s heart skip a beat, and the setting for our lunch was no less stunning – a seaside promenade where we could enjoy the ocean breeze and the company of new friends. We could hear the waves crashing not 50 feet away, musicians strolling along the boardwalk, and the quiet chatter of Spanish exchanged between the locals. (Not many tourists have the chance to discover this wonderful place.)

Photo 5-3

Our luncheon began with local wines and traditional pan con tomate, a remarkably simple yet delicious dish of grilled bread with fresh tomato, garlic and extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course). This was followed by a refreshing green salad, fried baby squid, and pickled fish and red peppers in olive oil. 

Then the masterpiece was unveiled – Valencian paella served in a paella pan the size of a flying saucer! After a round of applause and many oohs and ahs, we savored a heaping plate of delectable paella made with rabbit, flavorful rice and the requisite green beans that typically distinguish Valencian paella. The finale was a passion fruit mousse, after which we enjoyed a stroll along the lovely beach as the perfect digestive.

Photo 3-3 Photo 4-3

After returning to the ship for a short respite, we gathered in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class in the art of paella. So as not to leave our readers out of the fun, I’ll share the recipe on tomorrow’s blog!

October 4, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S FAVORITE TAPAS: CHICKPEAS WITH SPINACH, GARLIC & IBERIAN HAM

Yesterday on the blog I shared our culinary adventure in Cádiz and the delicious tapas we enjoyed at El Faro. Today I wanted to share with you what is, without a doubt, my most favorite tapas recipe. I adapted it from a dish I had at Taller de Tapas in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, and we teach it in our Viva España class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board.

The ingredients are simple, but the secret is the use of very high quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh baby spinach. I usually do not advocate cooking with extra virgin olive oil, but here it is critical to the flavor of the dish. Because you never get this dish smoking hot, the flavor of the oil is maintained. The lemon is also critical, as it brings out the flavors of the dish, particularly the chickpeas. There is no substitute for real jamón Ibérico, but prosciutto will do in a pinch.

CHICKPEAS WITH SPINACH, GARLIC & IBERIAN HAM

{ SERVES 4 }

  • Chickpea Recipe-23 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Iberian ham
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1½ cups cooked fresh chickpeas
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lemon wedges

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the oil, garlic, and ham and heat gently until the garlic softens. Be careful not to burn the garlic or you will have to start over.

When the oil is nicely infused, increase the heat to medium. Add the chickpeas and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until warmed through. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the spinach wilts but still has some body. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with lemon wedges and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

I hope you enjoy the recipe! What are your favorite Spanish tapas?

October 3, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES 2014 SPANISH CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS IN CÁDIZ

Cadiz statueAfter a glorious summer in the Baltic, Marina traveled along the Brittany coast and around Portugal to call on several ports in Spain. Today I want to share with you the delightful Andalusian city of Cádiz and our Culinary Discovery Tour focusing on tapas, olives, fish and sherry! 

One of the most influential ports of its time, Cádiz became the center of the culinary universe when Christopher Columbus returned with treasures from the New World. (Imagine Mediterranean cuisine before tomatoes, peppers and potatoes!) Because of its position on global trade routes, Cádiz was where the New World ingredients met the spices of the Far East and the 800-year influences of the Moors and Arabs in the sophisticated cuisine of North Africa and the Levant.

Hanging peppers-2We began our tour of Cádiz with a short stroll along the cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and narrow passageways to the Mercado Central, where I shopped with Chef Jacques Pépin during his last visit. The market was overflowing with freshly caught fish and seafood, from exotic species of shrimp to the pearly white strips of squid, tiras de chocos. Local fish roe, such as huevas frescas de merluza, was a delicacy in abundance this season. Shrimp
The market also offered copious fresh produce, olives, jamón and cheeses, so we selected some for our class later in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board. We also picked up two bottles of local Fino and Pedro Ximénez sherries to taste.

 

Another specialty of Cádiz is olive oil. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with Andalusia contributing over 50 percent of that yield, thanks to the ideal growing conditions and the passionate dedication to the craft of producing, harvesting and pressing olives. We chose two olive oils for tasting in class: picual and arbequina. Produced locally, the picual varietal creates an extra virgin olive oil with the slight fragrance of dried fruits. The more bitter arbequina is grown farther north and typically used in aioli or salad dressings.

After exploring the market, we walked through the Old Town to El Faro. A Cádiz institution, the restaurant has hundreds of photos of celebrities and politicians crowding the walls, not unlike Sardi’s in New York City. After being seated in the elegant yet friendly surroundings, we were treated to a fabulous tapas luncheon.

El Faro couple Jamon and bar Shrimp omelet

SherryBecause of the abundance of fresh ingredients available to chefs in Cádiz, the cuisine is simple, allowing the ingredients to shine. We enjoyed Iberian pork, shrimp mini-omelets, chickpeas with tripe and cod, and several other delicious tapas. Fresh seafood, exquisite meats, seasonal vegetables, exotic fruits and aromatic olive oils were perfectly complemented by world-famous wines and sherries from this sunny piece of heaven in southern Spain.

After a fond farewell to our hosts, we returned to Marina for a short respite before reconvening in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We enjoyed a class on fish cookery and sampled the treasures we found at the market – the perfect ending to the perfect day!

September 5, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S TOP 5 PLATES FOR PASTA LOVERS IN ITALY

This season Riviera has made several calls on one of my favorite culinary destinations – Italy. From Venice to Rome and from gnocchi to fettuccine, it seems like a new pasta dish has tempted me in every port of call. Here are my favorites and the restaurants where you can enjoy them on your next Oceania Cruises voyage:

Gnocchi-2

 

GNOCCHI GORGONZOLA

Ristorante da Raffaele | San Marco 2347 – Venice

Here they’ve mastered the trick to a light, pillowy gnocchi: avoid overworking the dough! Together with a glass of Soave, this was a perfect meal.

 

  Salvatore Seafood Pasta Ravello Pasta
PACCHERI CON GAMBERONI

La Vecchia Cantina | Via della Mara 15 – Ravello (near the port of Amalfi)

On our Culinary Discovery Tour in Ravello, our host Salvatore treated us to a sumptuous pasta made with shrimp and a rich, flavorful stock. A side salad of arugula really brought out the pasta’s flavor.

 

Chef Turi Sicilian Pasta with Fish
PASTA CON PESCE

Osteria Nero D’Avola | Piazza San Domenico 2 – Taormina

In Sicily, pasta is typically served with fish – and rarely with cheese! Chef Turi’s delicious pasta was complemented by bountiful treasures of the sea and a white wine from the Benanti winery on Mount Etna.

 

Roscioli Photo 3
SPAGHETTONE CARBONARA

Roscioli | Via dei Giubbonari 21 – Rome

The most decadent of all pastas, carbonara is made with egg yolks, pecorino Romano cheese and pancetta. This dish was the definition of comfort food.

 

Photo 3-1
FOCACCIA COL FORMAGGIO DI RECCO

Da Ö Vittoriö | Via Roma 160 – Recco (near the port of Portofino)

While some think of focaccia as a pizza-style bread, the Ligurian town of Recco is known for a thin, pasta-like version. On our Culinary Discovery Tour to this third-generation family restaurant, our host stretched an enormous sheet of dough over a pan, added stracchino cheese and another sheet of dough, and served us a piping hot plate of cheesy goodness right out of the oven. Focaccia prep Photo 4-1

 What’s the best pasta dish you’ve ever had and where did you enjoy it?

August 28, 2014

CHEF KELLY ANNOUNCES NEW CARIBBEAN CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS

At Oceania Cruises, we’re always seeking new opportunities for our guests to experience firsthand the culinary cultures of the marvelous destinations we visit, so I am thrilled to announce two new Culinary Discovery ToursTM that will debut on board Riviera during the upcoming Caribbean season.

St. LuciaSt. Lucia - Spices Cooking Studio

Accompanied by your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, you’ll begin your tour with a scenic drive along Rodney Bay to a magnificent private estate situated on the grounds of a former sugarcane plantation. You’ll explore the estate’s expansive herb garden and then head inside the home for some hands-on cooking instruction. Learn about the subtle flavors and historical influences of St. Lucian cuisine while preparing an authentic meal using fresh local ingredients. Savor your creations while dining alfresco and taking in the breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding landscapes. On the return drive to the pier, you’ll stop at the bustling open-air Castries Market, where farmers have sold locally grown fruits, vegetables and spices for nearly 100 years.

L1030781Antigua – Market Visit & Cooking Demo

In the center of downtown St. John’s, walk to the local market with your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, who will show you a wide variety of local fruits, such as breadfruit, mangoes, soursop, dasheen and possibly even the famous Antiguan black pineapple, known as the world’s sweetest. A short, but scenic, journey takes you to the Villas at Sunset Lane, a charming beachfront oasis owned by renowned Chef Jacquie, who will invite you into her kitchen to help prepare lunch. Chef Jacquie shops daily from local organic farmers and will share her secrets for shopping and eating seasonally. Following a hands-on cooking demonstration, enjoy a lunch of local favorites while taking in fabulous vistas of the lush gardens, private beach and sparkling bay.  

The following sailings offer your first opportunity to experience these new Culinary Discovery Tours. We hope you’ll join us!

December 23, 2014: Holidays in the Tropics, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 12 days)

January 24, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

February 23, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

 

August 12, 2014

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA RECIPE

In yesterday’s blog I told of my wonderful outing with Jacques Pépin to the Ballymaloe estate in County Cork, Ireland, the site of one of our newest Culinary Discovery Tours. Our host was Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I thought you might enjoy this recipe from her latest book (which I highly recommend!), celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the school. It’s an infused vodka, and Darina notes that she uses orange rind, wild garlic, rhubarb, peaches and apricots as seasonal substitutions for the blackberries shown below.

 

DSC_6616
Ballymaloe matriarch Myrtle Allen, Jacques Pépin and Darina Allen

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA

{makes one pint}

 

  • 1 ¼ pounds (600 grams) fresh, organic blackberries
  • 1 ½ pounds (600 grams) fine sugar
  • 1 pint vodka
  • 3 sweet geranium leaves

 

Put all the ingredients into a sterilized jar and set aside in a cool, dark place to mature for two months, shaking the contents every few days to dissolve the sugar.

After two to three months, strain, reserving the “booze-sodden” blackberries, which can be served with yogurt, panna cotta or a fruit salad. Return the strained vodka (or gin, if you prefer) to the bottle and store in a cool, dark place. Ideally the mix will be drunk within three to four months, but it can keep for up to a year.

August 11, 2014

CHEF KELLY HOSTS JACQUES PÉPIN AT BALLYMALOE IN IRELAND

We thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin – his cooking demonstrations, book signings and informal visits to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. He is always eager to meet our students and see what’s cooking in our onboard culinary studio.

We especially enjoyed our call on Cobh, Ireland, where I hosted Jacques for a day at Ballymaloe Cookery School, the location of one of our newest Culinary Discovery ToursTM. Founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is a bucket list destination for food enthusiasts. Allen is one of the leaders of the famed Slow Food movement in Ireland, dedicated to preserving biodiversity and artisan food production. Located on 100 acres, the school utilizes the vegetables, fruits and herbs from their organic gardens and greenhouses. They also maintain their own pigs, ducks, chickens and a small herd of Jersey cattle from which they make the most delicious buttermilk (perfect for Irish breads), yogurt, butter and cheeses.

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School 2

Ballymaloe is a family affair, and Darina’s son-in-law manages a Slow Food consortium of farmers’ markets in County Cork. We began with a stroll through the lively morning market where Jacques and I checked out the local fishmonger and explored this week’s last harvest of berries and an impressive array of root vegetables. 

Market 3 Market 1

Market 2

 

Then we were off to Ballymaloe, where the teaching kitchens were bustling with students and their cooking assignments. The school offers everything from a 12-week certificate program to 3-hour demonstration classes.

We were greeted by Darina’s son, Toby, our host for a tour of the cookery school gardens. Our tour began at the culinary herb garden (complete with a lady scarecrow) and Lydia’s Garden, a miniature Versailles. Jacques stopped to smell the herbs and noticed some snails in the hedgerow – so we had an impromptu lecture on snails. (What doesn’t Jacques Pépin know about food?!)

Garden 1

Garden 3

Garden 2

The bountiful greenhouses were brimming with tomatoes, squash, fruits, herbs and lettuces – all lovingly maintained. Behind the greenhouse are the perennial gardens, herbaceous borders, and the Shell House. In the Shell House, the entire surface – walls and ceiling – is decorated with shells in patterns that resemble the intricate and delicate mosaics of Turkey and the Middle East. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful and difficult to capture in a photograph – so you’ll have to come on a cruise with us to see it!

Greenhouse 1

Greenhouse 2  Greenhouse 3


Back Garden 2

Back Garden 1

Shell House 1

Shell House 2

JP and ChickensTo conclude our walking tour, we took the farm path that passes the chicken house, where happy chickens strolled around the yard and munched on the kitchen scraps from the morning’s cooking class. We also stopped into the dairy and were able to observe the mis en place for an upcoming demonstration on the making of yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cheese. 

For lunch, we traveled to Ballymaloe House, an elegant restaurant and hotel owned and lovingly operated by the Allen family. There we met Myrtle Allen, the family matriarch who, with her husband, founded the culinary empire that is now Ballymaloe. We were also joined at lunch by Darina, who regaled us with stories of how her family developed this 100-acre farm into the celebrated establishment it is today.

DSC_6616Jacques had brought a few of his books to share with Darina, and she asked him to sign several of his books that she had in her personal library. It was so special to see these two teaching icons together in one place and enjoying each other’s company. I was often pinching myself because it was so amazing to be in the company of two of my idols and mentors, surrounded by the dreamlike setting of Ballymaloe.

The Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin is always one of my favorites, and our visit to Ballymaloe will always be a cherished memory. Check the blog tomorrow for Darina's recipe for blackberry vodka and in the coming weeks for the announcement of next year’s Jacques Pépin cruise! If you've ever sailed with us on a Jacques Pépin cruise, what was your fondest memory?

June 23, 2014

THE BOUNTY OF PROVENCE INSPIRES RATATOUILLE RECIPES

Is there a more glorious season than summer in the south of France? The markets of Marseille, Nice, Antibes and other coastal towns are bursting with color from the abundance of fresh vegetables. In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Riviera, we’re celebrating the bounty of Provence by making one of the region’s signature dishes, ratatouille, and we’ve shared our recipe here. Feel free to substitute whatever veggies are fresh and in season at your hometown market, or come join us on a Riviera sailing where you can shop the local markets and learn to prepare this classic dish in the very region where it was invented!

Peppers

Garlic

Zucchini Tomatoes
 

Classic Ratatouille

{ serves 6 }

½ cup olive oil


1 medium eggplant, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 medium zucchini, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced

2 large onions, diced                                                                                                                 

5 to 6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

¼ cup white wine

4 to 5 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig marjoram

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence    

6 to 10 Niçoise olives (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the eggplant for about 8 minutes, until cooked. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the zucchini until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the bell pepper until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and then immediately add the wine. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated and the mixture is nearly dry, or “sec.” Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked. 

     Add 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste to enrich the sauce. Add the remaining tablespoon if desired, but be careful not to add too much tomato paste as it can overpower the vegetables. Add the eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper to the tomato mixture and incorporate well. Top the mixture with thyme, marjoram, and herbes de Provence.

     Cover and warm on low heat. Do not cook the mixture; merely heat until the vegetables are warm. Garnish with olives if desired.

 

June 17, 2014

SUMMER BREWS ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN OSLO

My friend and colleague Chef Annie B. Copps led guests on a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo to kick off the Baltic season. Check out her blog below:

The Scandinavian port of Oslo, Norway, was the perfect place to kick off a series of Culinary Discovery Tours as Marina makes the Baltic Sea home for the summer months. After a long and cold winter, Norwegians have been bursting with anticipation for the arrival of summer, and we were warmly welcomed to Oslo by enthusiastic locals enjoying a bright and sunny day. We explored the historic streets of the city and toasted the wonderful weather with the region’s favorite summer beverage – beer!

We were greeted by beer aficionado Bjerte at his beer academy, a downtown spot dedicated to the study of beer. Fortunately for us, this study involved tasting. We learned about the history of beer in the Norwegian culture and the growing popularity of artisanal and home brewing. After tasting both a commercial pilsner and artisanal Belgian ale, we were off to the Mathallen Food Hall.

Beer Academy

Commercial and Artisanal beer

The short walk through Oslo to the Food Hall was particularly beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom. We crossed the Aker River and arrived at Mathallen, located in a former rail works building along the riverbank. We strolled among the neatly arranged food stalls, and guests sampled cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, pastries and chocolate.

Aker River

Mathallen Food Hall

Bjerte led us to his eatery, Oltorget, where we sampled more beer – this time paired with cheese. Pouring our beer was Kim Daniel, who is a master bartender and champion beer pourer. He won top honors at the annual championship in the Czech Republic, which requires knowledge of pouring techniques and the brew’s history. The two masters served a tart beer paired with fresh, tangy goat cheese, followed by a rich porter matched with an aged blue cheese. Perfection!

Oltorget at Mathallen-Kim and Bjerte

Oltorget Beer List Porter beer

Next we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Smalhans, a word of German origin that loosely translates as "frugal." The restaurant is so named because it sources seasonal local produce and ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of simple yet delectable dishes offered at a remarkable value. A light, warm potato salad laced with artichokes, roasted red peppers and capers in a light vinaigrette was served alongside fresh asparagus and a red fish called uer fisk. (Search the internet for an image of this fish and you’ll see it looks like something out of Dr. Seuss!) A light Weissen, or wheat beer, was served with our main course. For dessert, ruby red strawberries over panna cotta were paired with a hearty stout that mimics many of the flavors of coffee. It was an excellent end to a delightful summer day of perfect pairings in beautiful Oslo.

Smallhans meal

June 13, 2014

FARM-TO-TABLE CUISINE ON A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN COUNTY CORK

As I continue the Culinary Discovery ToursTM with our guests on Riviera, the delightful and talented Chef Annie B. Copps is hosting guests on board Marina. Below is a blog from Chef Annie about our exciting new tour in County Cork, Ireland:

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. It is wonderful that these words are part of our culinary vocabulary—and even more wonderful that this is not a passing trend, but an age-old model that so many chefs and farmers strive to embrace. On Oceania Cruises' newest Culinary Discovery Tour, Marina guests visited the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where they practice this philosophy today and have been for decades, even before it was “cool.”

Ballymaloe Cookery School

The Ballymaloe estate is a short drive through the spectacular County Cork countryside of rolling hills covered with verdant crops, ancient castles, small villages and herds of cows and sheep. Ballymaloe consists of a hotel, market shop, professional cooking school and a certified organic working farm with both crops and livestock. Our tour began with a history of the Allen family, who have worked the land for three generations, and then a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. Each of the many gardens we visited seemed like a secret spot that we luckily happened upon, because each is separated by intricate topiaries, canopies and trellises—it all felt a bit like the work of fairies. There were also large open fields filled with sculptures. One garden was entirely herbs and artichokes. Another was cutting flowers, and a third grew potatoes and carrots. One had chickens running about. The family also maintains a large greenhouse, which was filled with tomatoes of all sorts ready to be picked.

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After our jaunt we settled in for a cooking lesson taught by Chef Pamela Black, whose bright red hair, soft giggle and twinkle in her eye belied her serious cooking talent. For all the good food we saw growing, the proof was indeed in the pudding. Chef Pam demonstrated traditional Irish soda bread, butterflied chicken breast and potatoes boiled with a touch of fresh mint. I can’t remember a potato tasting better than these, which were pulled from the ground that morning.

IMG_3845 IMG_3832 2


We also enjoyed a salad of freshly picked greens and a lovely soft meringue filled with fresh strawberries—the first of the season. It was a simple meal, but an honest one made with ingredients almost entirely from the property. The exceptions were the wheat, olive oil and the chickens, which came from another local farm. At Ballymaloe they use their chickens for their eggs and get whole chickens from others to support their neighbors—also part of sustainability.

With full bellies and happy hearts, we made our way back home to Marina for a stunning sail away from the harbor of Cobh. I can’t wait to return and share this wonderful experience with more Oceania Cruises guests!

May 27, 2014

CULINARY ADVENTURES WITH CHEF KELLY IN ISTANBUL

The city of Istanbul is as remarkable for its breathtaking skyline as it is for its exquisite food found in the labyrinth of winding streets and neighborhoods below. The Turks love food and are proud of their culinary heritage, so hosting a Culinary Discovery Tour here is as much about meeting the people as it is about tasting the delicious cuisine.

Our first destination was Istanbul’s famous spice market. As we approached the market, the tantalizing smells of roasting eggplant, searing kabobs, and pide baking in wood-fired ovens emanated from the restaurants and market stalls lining the streets. As we entered, the bright lights and vibrant colors invited us to explore.

Spice Market

In the first spice shop we visited, we were treated to a lesson on how to tell real saffron from the many imposters one can find all around the Mediterranean. When you put the stamen of saffron in warm water, real saffron will turn the water an amber-gold color, while fake saffron will leave the water a pale yellow. Considering this exquisite spice is one of the most expensive in the world, you certainly want to ensure you’re getting the real deal!

Market-Saffron

Our next stop was a cheese shop where we compared fresh goat’s milk cheese to a more aged variety. We then visited a shop with cured meats and other delicacies. Finally, we were off to the fish market to check out the fresh catch of the day and savor the fish roasting on open grills. I had brought with me a chart listing the fish of the Mediterranean, so we were able to expertly identify sea bass, sea bream, snails, blue fish, flounder and much more. I took this opportunity to go over the things I look for when buying fresh fish: bright eyes, hearty flesh, scales and fins intact, no belly-burn from being packed in ice, maroon-colored gill flesh and a fresh sea smell.

Market-Cheese

Market-Meats 2

Market-Fish

Market-Fish 2

We then toured the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, before heading to the Turkish Cultural Center for lunch at NAR, a restaurant that offers authentic Ottoman Turkish cuisine in a modern setting. Here we were served a tasty selection of dozens of dishes, each meant to be enjoyed in one to three bites as part of a degustation that formed a mosaic of tastes, flavors, textures and sensations. What an absolutely exquisite and delightful culinary experience!

NAR Table

NAR Food

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After lunch we were treated to a mouthwatering demonstration of traditional candy making. The candy, caramel rolled in mastic sugar, had a hint of mild pine that was both unique and delicious! Everyone was very impressed by the master candy maker and his apprentice.

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Our day in Istanbul was a wonderful start to a fantastic voyage through some of my favorite culinary destinations in the Mediterranean!

May 2, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RAVELLO

Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is a festive and enchanting village that I have been visiting for decades. I’ve been eager to share this town’s charms with Oceania Cruises’ guests for some time, so I am very excited to be launching the new Culinary Discovery Tour: Ravello Lunch & Amalfi Chocolate Demo

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, I seek out markets, restaurants and culinary venues that capture the essence of the people and uniqueness of the cuisine of each destination. Last year, with the help of my friends Margarita and Salvatore, I set out to design an authentic Ravello experience Ravello Duomo
for our guests. This brother and sister team is so excited to share their love of Ravello. Margarita runs a ceramics shop with her father. Cosmolena, whom we all affectionately call “Papa,” is a master painter whose ceramic artwork has been exported all over the world, including my home in Florida. Margarita’s brother, Salvatore, operates a restaurant that serves fresh, local Mediterranean seafood as well as sumptuous pastas and sinful desserts. You can bet that I tried as many dishes as possible before settling on the menu for this Culinary Discovery Tour!

Riviera’s recent stop in Amalfi marked the first time I led guests on this new tour. After a brief but beautiful drive up to Ravello from the port, we had some free time to explore the small piazza or simply sit in the shadow of the Duomo and people watch over a cup of coffee. 

Then we gathered for a short walk to our luncheon spot, where Salvatore greeted us with a glass of chilled limoncello. Next door at the ceramics shop, Ceramiche Cosmolena, there was a bowl of Amalfi lemons with a “Welcome Chef Kelly” sign (made by Papa), and guests were invited to select one of the famous lemons and take home a bit of Ravello. Papa told me he how pleased he was with the success of his children’s businesses and that, even though he is now retired, he comes to the shop and restaurant every day. He is such a dear man, and I am thrilled that Margarita is carrying on the tradition of beautiful ceramics and warm hospitality.

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Lemons CK and Papa

Melon slices

We then took our seats for lunch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, starting with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced ham and freshly cut melon, sliced minutes before serving. The wine was flowing and the conversation was lively and relaxed.

Because this tour offers an insider’s look at an Italian family restaurant, guests were invited to watch the chefs as they prepared and plated the dishes.  Guests learned some of the secrets behind the next course, a delicious pasta in an exquisite shrimp sauce, served with a big smile by Salvatore. Next was a local branzino, or sea bass, in a light broth with local cherry tomatoes and a side salad of crisp greens. The combination of the fish and the greens was unforgettable! 

 

 

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After a dessert of lemon tiramisu and a strong espresso, we said our goodbyes and headed down the winding road back to Amalfi. (Thank goodness for our local bus driver!)

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In Amalfi we toured another multigenerational business – Pasticceria Pansa – where we tasted candied lemon peels from the family garden, chocolates with hazelnuts, and a lemon sorbet. It was a marvelous day filled with delicious treats and the chance to learn about traditions passed down for generations in local family-owned businesses.

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April 28, 2014

CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

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Nice Lilacs Nice Peonies

After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs. 

Nice Market Guest

Nice Market guests

Nice Aspargus

Nice Veggies Nice Chocolate

We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people's lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

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What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn't get any better than this!

April 25, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN PROVENCE WITH CHEF KELLY

It's spring in Provence! And what better way to kick off Riviera's 2014 season in the Mediterranean than a Culinary Discovery Tour in Marseille.

We began in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board, gathered around my map of the Mediterranean for a review of the day’s itinerary and a discussion of the cuisines of France. Several guests were new to Oceania Cruises and the culinary center, so it was a thrill to introduce them to the culinary culture that is part of Oceania Cruises’ DNA.

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Eager to experience Provence firsthand, we went ashore for a stroll through the market of Sanary-sur-Mer, a quaint village where the fish is unbelievably fresh and the seasonal produce is of the highest quality imaginable. On this beautiful spring day, we found baby artichokes, white asparagus, green fava beans and piquant radishes. 

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Asparagus

Beans Artichokes

Baby Artichokes

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MiravalWe also came across a shop that was carrying the new Miraval Rosé from the historic Provençal winery that was resurrected by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The wine has received rave reviews, so I snagged two bottles to try this summer. It will be the perfect complement to a Niçoise salad and an afternoon spent relaxing by the swimming pool. 

MacaroonsAfter shopping for herbes de Provence and other local treasures, I bought some macaroons bursting with coconut flavor to share with guests during our bus ride to the Domaine de Souviou winery. It was the perfect sweet treat!

When we arrived at the winery, we stretched our legs a bit on a lovely tour of the groves of thousand-year-old olive trees. Then we were treated to a luncheon prepared by our friend and host, Chef Gui Gedda, who is known as the godfather of Provençal cuisine. Chef Gedda serves something different every time we visit, and today we were treated to market-fresh vegetable soup with chickpeas and fresh marjoram, as well as the classic Provençal dish of tomate farcie, a slow-roasted, veal-stuffed tomato. We also enjoyed a delicious Cannes-style poule au pot, a chicken mousse wrapped in chicken thigh and served over rice with a light cream sauce. We ended the meal with crème au pain d’épices, a magical dessert resembling bread pudding that perfectly complimented the day, the wine and the company.

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Gui

Tomate Farcie

Poule au Pot Creme au Pain

After saying goodbye to our friends at Domaine de Souviou, we returned to the ship for a cooking lesson on preparing fish in the Provence style. Guests made a delightful shrimp Provençal as well as a Provençal version of the Italian acqua pazza, a dish of seared fish with tomatoes, Niçoise olives and wine.

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All in all, it was a spectacular day, and this season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM promises many more to come. Next stop is Monte Carlo and a meal at Château Eza. Yum!

April 23, 2014

COOKING UP NEW CLASSES AND TOURS IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

The excitement continues on board Marina and Riviera as we introduce a new season of Bon Appétit Culinary Center classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. We’re launching a total of 21 new classes in the culinary center this year, and four of those will debut during this season in Europe. We're also IMG_6518 - Version 2unveiling two brand new Culinary Discovery Tours this summer, and we’ve added some wonderful new experiences to favorite tours of years past. All in all, it promises to be the most fun season yet!

Our new classes this season feature a diverse array of regional cuisines from every corner of the European continent. Our classes on Greek cuisine have always been some of my favorites, and the new Healthy Greek class is no exception. In this class you can learn flavorful recipes inspired by the famously healthy dietary lifestyle of Crete, and you’ll also learn to make the prized tomato fritters from Selene Restaurant on Santorini. The Modern Nordic class features treats such as salted caramel ice cream and other fresh, inventive dishes reflecting the latest trends of edgy Nordic restaurants such as Noma and Geranium. If, like me, you find Turkish culture intriguing, you can discover the secrets of the country’s cuisine in our new Turkish Arabesque class. Focusing on the renowned cuisine of Provence, Beyond Ratatouille offers the chance to make the favorite dishes of our own Jacques Pépin as well as Gui Gedda, considered the godfather of Provençal cuisine.

I'm especially excited about the launch of our brand new Culinary Discovery Tours in Cork and Palma de Mallorca. The beauty of the Ballymaloe country estate in Cork is reason enough to visit, but when you add in a private tour of the gardens and a cooking demonstration and tasting at the world-renowned cooking school located there, it becomes an experience not to be missed. Palma de Mallorca is also sure to be a hit, as we’ll shop the local market, sample different varieties of olive oil and dine at El Faro, a restaurant perched above the harbor where the view is only rivaled by the fabulous Mediterranean menu. We’ve also enhanced our Culinary Discovery Tours in Amalfi and Sicily with new restaurants such as the renowned Osteria Nero d’Avola in Taormina.

Photo1-2Of course, we'll continue offering Culinary Discovery Tours in the many destinations that have become guest favorites, as each season promises new trends and dishes to discover in the ever-evolving regional culinary scenes. This week we enjoyed fascinating tours in both Madeira and Morocco. On the island of Madeira, we explored the town of Funchal, always a treasure trove of passion fruit, exotic orchids and fresh fish. We tasted Madeira wines at Blandy’s, shopped the local market, and enjoyed an authentic Madeiran lunch.  

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In Tangier, Morocco, we strolled through the medina and the fish market, stopping to select some preserved doqq lemons and midway olives from one of our favorite vendors. We shared a luncheon of chicken tagine, pastilla, and couscous with a fantastic onion and beef confit, topped off with an exotic tea-pouring ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a great new season of exploring food and wine while making new friends both on the ship and amongst those who host us so generously in their wineries, restaurants and markets ashore. I hope you'll join us for the fun!

April 18, 2014

LEARN FAVORITE CANYON RANCH RECIPES IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

L1000002Riviera has set sail across the Atlantic, destined for a fabulous summer in Europe, and I’m on board to launch another exciting season of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. It is hard to believe I am already entering my fourth year as executive chef of the culinary center, and I can report that I am still loving every minute – especially when we introduce new classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. L1000029

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub® has long been a popular retreat on the ships of Oceania Cruises, and our guests rave about the Canyon Ranch cuisine featured in the onboard restaurants. Over the past year I have worked with a fellow graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Scott Uehlein, to develop cooking classes inspired by Canyon Ranch, the undisputed leader in spa cuisine. As the corporate chef for Canyon Ranch, Chef Uehlein reinvents classics such as mac and cheese or Caesar salad in a healthier, yet satisfying and flavorful, way.

I spent a week at the Canyon Ranch resort in Tucson (I know, tough life I lead…), where Chef Uehlein and I selected a handful of recipes most requested by their guests over the past three decades. Together we designed our newest class for the Bon Appétit Culinary Centers on board Marina and Riviera: Most Requested from Canyon Ranch.

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The class was a huge hit with our guests on board this Riviera sailing. We were delighted to have Vera, the fitness and nutrition director for Riviera’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub, welcome our guests to the class and share a bit about the Canyon Ranch philosophy. Then we dove right into the recipes.

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L1000020We began with a couple salad dressings, one a simple balsamic dressing and the other using citrus and honey to liven it up. Then we learned one of my favorite breakfast recipes, the alpine muesli, before moving on to a salmon teriyaki with a spicy curried cauliflower.

Everyone in the class had a lot of fun, learned new healthy cooking techniques, and took home a handout with over a dozen Canyon Ranch recipes. Below I’ve shared one of the class favorites, and if you want to learn more secrets to healthy and delicious Canyon Ranch cuisine, come along on Marina’s Viking Passage sailing, departing May 22, and join us for a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center!

 

L1000017APPLE CRANBERRY SALMON SALAD

Makes 4 servings, each containing approximately: 325 calories, 38 gm. carbohydrate, 11 gm. fat, 54 mg. cholesterol, 20 gm. protein, 223 mg. sodium and 6 gm. fiber.

 

½ cup Mongolian BBQ Sauce (see recipe)

4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 pound Gala apples

½ pound Granny Smith apples

½ cup chopped fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

 

 

In a shallow glass baking dish, combine BBQ sauce and salmon and marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Preheat grill or broiler. Grill or broil salmon fillets 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through. Thinly slice apples using a mandoline or a knife. Add apples to lemon honey dressing and toss together to coat. Toss cranberries and tarragon with the apple mixture. Break apart salmon fillets into bite-sized pieces. Toss salmon with apple cranberry salad. Evenly divide between 4 plates and serve.

MONGOLIAN BBQ SAUCE

½ cup low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

½ cup sake

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup ketchup

Pinch dried coriander leaves

Pinch dry ginger

¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

¼ cup minced leeks

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

In a large saucepan, combine first tamari, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sake, and first water and bring to a boil. Add ketchup, coriander leaves, dry ginger, and red chili flakes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine leeks, garlic, fresh ginger, second water, and second tamari sauce. Add to cooked mixture and stir until combined. Store in refrigerator.

January 27, 2014

LEARNING TO MAKE TASTY LITTLE TREATS IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

Lemon cakes and ChampagneThe New Year is officially in full swing, and with it comes an exciting new array of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Marina and Riviera. In the Mediterranean Summer class, you can learn the secrets of the healthy Mediterranean diet, celebrated the world over for its focus on seasonal produce and local ingredients. Discover fresh, inventive recipes inspired by our travels in the Baltic in the Modern Nordic class. For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely want to try the delicious desserts you can make in the Tasty Little Treats class.

In my case, the sweet tooth certainly applies, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently learned to make some decadent desserts during a culinary center class led by Chef Instructor Annie B. Copps. Chef Copps is an absolute delight. She’s not only educational and informative but also just plain fun, as are all the instructors I’ve met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. You won’t find any Gordon Ramseys here. Classes are filled with both learning and laughter, and making mistakes can be part of the fun!
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Blogger-at-Large and Chef Copps                            Blogger-at-Large and Sous Chef Vineesh

A jovial attitude was encouraged right from the start with the bubbly libations served to kick off the class. Chef Copps suggested a Kir Royal as the perfect dessert drink. Simply pour a half ounce of crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur, into a flute and top with champagne or sparkling wine. In this case we used Pol Clément Brut Blanc de Blancs from France. Delightful!

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Then it was time to start up the stand mixers and get down to business. Our first recipe was Drunken Lemon Semolina Cakes. Chef Copps demonstrated the process and then assisted us as we prepared the recipe ourselves in our individual work stations. We whisked together pulverized almonds, flour, semolina, baking powder and salt and then added the wet ingredients, plus some lemon zest. We then poured the batter into buttered ramekins so we could make an individual cake for each person. (This is also a great way to manage portion control so that you don’t overdo it on your dessert!) Once the cakes were in the oven, we made a limoncello simple syrup in which we would soak the cakes when they were done baking.

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The next dessert was the one that I’d been waiting for – Chocolate Fondant Cake. With this recipe we learned the secret to those delectable “molten” cakes in which a rich, dark chocolate center flows out onto the plate when you cut into them. The trick is to bake a homemade truffle in the center of the batter.

Part of every great chef’s process is tasting the food to check for the proper balance of flavors. I wanted to make absolutely sure that these cakes turned out perfectly, so I considered it my duty to give the batter a try before it went in the oven, although I’m not sure I used the proper utensil for tasting.

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Soon Sous Chef Vineesh was pulling the first batch of lemon cakes from the oven, and after soaking them in our limoncello syrup, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. While I’m a chocoholic at heart, I have to say these cakes may have converted me to a lemon fan. The almond cakes were so delicious, baked golden and just slightly crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth moist on the inside, and the flavor of the limoncello was the perfect complement.

Lemon cakes out of oven Lemon cake

Finally the chocolate cakes were done baking as well, and my love affair with lemon quickly became a distant memory as I tasted the rich chocolate decadence we had created. This was a recipe I would definitely be making again at home.

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Everyone in the class was all smiles as we enjoyed our delicious desserts. If you’re planning a cruise on board Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend that you try out a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and learn to make your own Tasty Little Treats!

Eating Lemon Cakes

January 6, 2014

GUESTS SAVOR ARGENTINE CUISINE ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN BUENOS AIRES

Marina finished the year 2013 exploring the exotic coasts of Brazil, and during a recent call on Buenos Aires, guests enjoyed a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour led by Bon Appétit Culinary Center Chef Noelle Barille.

Guests took a brief tour through the city on their way to the bustling, bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, in which the cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, galleries and tango halls. San Telmo is home to one of the busiest and most famous local markets, where guests were able to explore and sample some of the local treats. They tasted local liqueurs as well as dulce de leche pastry handmade by Margareite, an Italian immigrant. Many immigrants from Genoa settled in San Telmo in the past, and the Italian influence is still evident in the area.

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After the market visit, the group continued up the street to the Havanna Café, to try its robust coffee and famous alfajores. Said to be the best in Argentina, these delicious confections are filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate.

After this sweet nibble to whet their appetites, guests traveled to the Palermo neighborhood for the hands-on part of the tour. The Argentine Experience is not only a restaurant but also an interactive culinary experience that teaches people about the local cuisine. Everyone was greeted with the refreshing national drink of Argentina, mate infused with fruit juice. Then they moved on to the cooking class, which taught the entire process of making traditional Argentine empanadas, from the puffy dough to a variety of stuffings. Guests could fill their empanadas with caramelized onions, mozzarella, ratatouille, malbec-glazed beef and other savory treats. They even held a contest for the most creative empanada.

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A wonderful lunch of empanadas was complemented by roasted carrots and onions, whipped potatoes and three different Argentinian wines: a sauvignon blanc, a malbec, and a malbec blend. While historically known as one of the six grapes that can be used in a red Bordeaux wine, malbec has surged to prominence in Argentina and is now one of the most notable Argentinian wines.

After lunch everyone learned how to make mate and to assemble alfajores, so the secrets to several Argentinian specialties were now revealed. Before returning to the ship, the group stopped at an artisan ice cream shop called Volta. Considering the warm temperatures of the Argentine summer, this was the perfect place for the tour’s finale. Guests enjoyed one final incarnation of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, this time in ice cream. It was delightful conclusion to a day spent experiencing the vibrant Argentine culture through the local cuisine.

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October 9, 2013

CHEF KELLY LEADS CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SAN SEBASTIAN

Fall is in the air in the markets of Spain, and I led a wonderful Culinary Discovery Tour in San Sebastian last week, where guests enjoyed a hands-on workshop at the exclusive restaurant Ni Neu.

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We were traveling onboard Riviera from Southampton to Barcelona, and along the way we enjoyed fresh oysters in Brittany, Calvados in Le Havre and pintxos in San Sebastian. For those who may not be familiar with pinxtos, they are similar to tapas and are especially popular in the Basque region of Spain. Many say that San Sebastian has the best pinxtos in Basque country.

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In Bilbao we boarded a bus for San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin-starred restaurants and fabulous food. Our first stop was a market in the old town with a wide selection of fresh fish. The city’s finest chefs shop here for anchovies, sole, squid, swordfish, hake, snapper and various shellfish. The bacalau vendor offered an array of salted cod varieties – always spectacular in Spain. 

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After purchasing jamón, local cheese and wine, we walked across the bridge for our pintxos workshop and lunch at Ni Neu. The chef and his interpreter greeted us warmly, and everything was set up for our workshop.

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The circulator was at the perfect 145°F temperature for the eggs, which we would eat on a mash of potatoes and garlic – with Spanish olive oil and salt of course. I shared with the class the method known as “sous vide, a hot trend in the culinary world today. Oceania Cruises chefs have used this method to prepare one of the courses on the tasting menu in La Reserve. They’re expanding the technique to dishes in other venues as well and are excited to continue showcasing one of the latest culinary trends onboard the ships.

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We worked in tables of five and made four different pintxos, all very tasty. Many of our guests were inspired to host a pintxos party at home. We also sipped Spanish wines and learned about the emerging wine regions in central Spain. 

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After a 60 minute workshop, we enjoyed two signature dishes from Ni Neu. The first was roasted lamb IMG_3768on a bed of Parmentier cheese purée and a wild mushroom dust. “Parmentier” refers to dishes made with potatoes and honors the 18th-century Frenchman who devoted his life to promoting the attributes of the potato. For dessert we had the restaurant’s famous French toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized and served with homemade ice cream.

Waddling back to the bus for the scenic ride home, we all had a full appreciation of why San Sebastian is heralded as the culinary capital of northern Spain.

October 2, 2013

CHEF KELLY TEACHES FRESH PASTA MAKING IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

Autumn is a wonderful season to visit Italy, and Nautica, Marina and Riviera all have several calls there in the coming weeks. The air is cool and crisp, and even the most popular tourist sights are less crowded than they are at the height of summer. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I especially like visiting Italy during this season because I love nothing more than a big plate of fresh pasta primavera with fall vegetables.

Pasta Class2In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina or Riviera, you can learn to make fresh pasta yourself and enjoy it any time of year. I recently participated in the Passion for Pasta class in the culinary center, and Chef Kelly taught us all the secrets to making delicious fresh pasta at home.

As Chef Kelly began the demonstration, we soon learned that making fresh pasta is quite simple once you get the hang of it. You need only three basic ingredients: 250 grams of flour, 150 grams of eggs and ¼ teaspoon of olive oil. The key is to be exact in measuring the flour and eggs to get the right balance of moisture in your dough.

Always weigh the flour to get an accurate measurement because packing, storage and settling will cause the volume of flour to vary. And keep in mind that a jumbo egg weighs almost 50 percent more than a medium egg, so the size of the egg is also important. Typically three medium eggs will give you 150 grams. If you have large eggs, you can withhold some of the egg white if necessary so you don’t get too much moisture in your dough.

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Chef Kelly also shared another important tip about using eggs: An egg has about 70,000 pores, so you should always keep eggs in their container in the refrigerator rather than transferring them to a built-in egg holder. Otherwise, the eggs will absorb the odors in your fridge much like a box of baking soda will do.

IMG_7828 - Version 2Once Chef Kelly had taught us the basic ingredients, it was time to learn the technique. In a mixing bowl, she made a well with the flour and added the eggs and olive oil. Using a fork, she broke the egg yolks and stirred together the eggs and olive oil. She mixed the dough in the bowl just until it became sticky and then turned it out on the work surface to bring it together.

“Every pasta dough has a personality,” Chef Kelly said. “You’ll quickly find out whether your dough is a real ‘softie’ that will be fun to work with or whether it’s going to make things a little more difficult for you.”

Here was where we learned to become true chefs. As you knead the dough, it will start out grainy, but the more you handle it, the softer it will get. Chef Kelly said she didn’t recommend using a machine with a dough hook to mix dough because you need to feel its personality and “listen” to the dough as it comes together.

“You should need the dough by hand for about three to five minutes, until it feels soft like a baby’s butt,” she said. “It will talk to you and tell you when it’s ready. Listen for the dough to say, ‘Stop touching me. I’m done.’” 

As we all put the technique into practice in our own workstations, we quickly understood the truth behind Chef Kelly’s words. There is no better way to learn a culinary technique than by using your own two hands, especially when you’re in a state-of-the-art culinary studio with a master chef to assist you along the way! 

Once we were finished, we had a dough that was soft, pliable and slightly tacky but did not stick to our hands. Pasta dough has to rest before being cooked, so the gluten will create a strong bond in the dough to keep it from falling apart, and yet not be tough. So we tossed out our “practice dough” and proceeded to prepare the pasta with some dough that had already rested in the refrigerator overnight. Chef Kelly said that you can also rest your dough at room temperature for few hours if you’re going to prepare it the same day.

Beginning with the pasta machine as its widest setting, Chef Kelly fed the rested dough through the machine ten times, folding it and forming it into a rectangle as she went. She continued feeding the dough through at narrower and narrower settings, adding only enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the machine. When the dough was too long to fit around a fork, she cut it in half and then continued passing it through the machine until the dough was thin enough that she could see her hand through it.

Once everyone had prepared a thin dough, we let it rest briefly again and then ran it through the fettuccine attachment on the pasta machine to cut it. Our fresh pasta was now ready to cook! 

Pasta Class1You might have noticed that we did not add salt to the dough. This is because salt can turn pasta dough brown. Instead, we cooked the dough in water that had been salted to the level of seawater, about 1/3 cup of sea salt per gallon of water. When the water was boiling, we added the pasta and cooked it until it floated in the water, about one to three minutes.

While dried pasta is best complemented by a robust sauce, fresh pasta should be the “star of the show,” so Chef Kelly suggested pairing it with lighter, buttery sauces or fresh veggies. In this class, Chef Kelly helped us prepare a lovely dish by gently searing some sage in a little olive oil and tossing in some walnuts with the fresh pasta. Of course, no matter how much you enjoy cooking, its greatest reward is dining on the fruits of your labors! 

Below is a wonderful fresh pasta dish from Chef Kelly. This recipe calls for carrots, zucchini and snow peas, but feel free to experiment with any of your favorite fall vegetables. Bon appétit!

 

PASTA PRIMAVERA                                                           

{ SERVES 1 TO 2 }

1 carrot, julienned

½ zucchini, julienned

10 snow peas

¼ cup clam juice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ cup minced shallot

¼ cup dry white wine

6 shrimp, shelled and deveined

¼ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon lemon zest

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

4 ounces fresh pasta

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 basil leaves

 

Heat a medium pot of generously salted water over high heat, to bring to a boil.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, cook the carrot, zucchini, and snow peas in the clam juice. When al dente, remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, melt the butter. Add the shallot and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until it is soft and translucent. Add the wine and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the wine almost evaporates and the mixture is nearly dry, or “sec.”  

Add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp on one side for about 3 minutes, until pink. Turn over the shrimp. Add the cream, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil. When the liquid begins to reduce, add the cooked vegetables.

Add the pasta to the boiling, salted water and cook for 1 to 3 minutes, until it floats. Drain the pasta and add it to the shrimp and vegetable mixture. Toss in the cheese. 

Stack the basil leaves, roll them into a cigar, and slice into a chiffonade. Serve the pasta with a garnish of basil chiffonade.

August 26, 2013

A FOODIE IN DUBLIN

Image77B6349E-AA12-4BBE-BCD4-060BA4A91A5ENautica spent the weekend on the lush coasts of Ireland, calling on the nation’s capital of Dublin. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently shared some of the fun I had taking in the famous sights from Trinity College to Dublin Castle to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today I’d like to share another great way to experience Dublin: eating and drinking your way through the city.

One can’t discuss Irish cuisine without mentioning the potato. And I certainly enjoyed my fair share in Dublin, from mashed to roasted to boiled to fried. But the delights of Irish cuisine extend far beyond this staple and even well beyond the traditional Irish stew or bacon and cabbage.

Of course, being in Dublin, I had to pop into a pub and try some of these classics, and I was not disappointed. I began the morning with a traditional Irish breakfast of fried eggs, rashers, Irish bangers, boxty, and black and white pudding. For those not familiar with Irish culinary terms, that translates as fried eggs, bacon, sausage links, potato cakes and more sausage. “Pudding” refers to many dishes in the British Isles, several of which do not resemble the American notion of pudding. Black and white puddings are types of sausage, and Yorkshire pudding is a puffed, golden batter often baked in the drippings of the roast beef with which it is served.

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Breakfast

An Irish breakfast is not only immensely satisfying but also properly prepares you for a day of sampling traditional Irish beverages. I began with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which, thanks to a 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759, remains at its original site at St. James’s Gate. The site was chosen for its access to pure water, one of beer’s four essential ingredients, that flows from the Wicklow Mountains above Dublin. Also essential are the highest quality barley, hops and yeast. The yeast used in Guinness is so precious that a reserve supply is kept locked in a safe.

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Guiness Storehouse

I concluded my visit by learning how to pour the perfect Guinness. There are several secrets to this technique, including the tulip-shaped glass, the 45-degree angle of the first pour, the patience for it to settle, and the reverse angle of the tap that allows the second, direct pour to create the perfect foam head. But to truly appreciate why it takes so long for the bartender to pour your Guinness, you’ll have to visit the storehouse yourself and get certified on pouring the perfect pint!

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I fortified myself with some fish and chips before proceeding to the second historic establishment on my Irish foodie tour – the Old Jameson Distillery. Located on the site of the original distillery established by John Jameson in 1780, the tour revealed the history of the famous whiskey and the secret to its smooth, triple-distilled taste. At the end of the tour, a taste test pits Jameson against two other popular whiskeys. It was a highly effective marketing technique, as the competitors left me a bit sour-faced, but the Jameson went down smooth as silk. It was especially good paired with ginger ale in Jameson’s signature cocktail!

Lunch

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Having learned the secrets to two of Dublin’s signature drinks, it was time for some more delicious Irish food. For dinner I took the recommendation of fellow blogger Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, and she did not steer me wrong.

Marco Pierre White is an infamous British celebrity chef turned restaurateur. Talented Dublin chefs purvey his vision of simple, back-to-basics, perfectly executed cuisine in the warm, comfortable and romantic environment of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill. Irish steaks, chops and seafood are complemented by a few international specialties, such as shaved ham from Bayonne, France, served with a celeriac rémoulade. Most dishes feature the finest ingredients from throughout Ireland, from the beetroot salad with Ryefield goat cheese to the double Dreenan pork chop, the Ballycotton smoked salmon and the fish and chips with mushy peas. Each dish was perfectly prepared, and the flavors were exquisite.

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I was certainly satiated by my foodie’s tour of Dublin. If you have the opportunity to visit, be sure to enjoy some fabulous Irish cuisine while exploring all of the historic sights. Oceania Cruises offers several sailings that call on Dublin in 2014:

 

July 6, 2013

Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani Launches 10th Anniversary Sailing with Chef Kelly on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno

L1070125Summer has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Tuscany!

We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.

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This market has been a favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also love its atmosphere. Like many public daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?

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All guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise and celebration.

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L1070088We enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s adventure in Tuscany.

I have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.

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We began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for storage. Outside of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and green – and they had been eating all night!

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Off we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired oven. Chef David was there to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!

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Pizza dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.

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Next up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and, of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a sangiovese-cabernet blend.

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L1070130As we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over great food and wine – what a blessing!

Our meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.

While the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say “arrivederci” and return to Riviera.

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After a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms, so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta that our students made.

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L1070136We topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we had purchased at the market.

What a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!

June 25, 2013

BOB BINDER JOINS CHEF KELLY TO LAUNCH NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN TALLINN

Upon my first visit to Tallinn a few years ago, I was enchanted by the spires, pastel-colored buildings and fairytale-like qualities of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So over this past winter, I decided to design a Culinary Discovery Tour that would highlight the unique personality and intriguing history of this magical city. This week I was thrilled to be able to launch the new tour on our anniversary sailing celebrating Oceania Cruises’ 10th year at sea. Oceania Cruises Vice Chairman Bob Binder is hosting the sailing, and he was pleased to join me on this exciting new Culinary Discovery Tour.

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Because the sea is such an integral part of Estonian culture, we crafted our tour around a local fisherman and famous Tallinn personality,Vladislav Korzets. He is not only a fisherman but also a poet, cookbook author and naturalist.

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Vladislav welcomed us at the seaside village of Pringi, northeast of Tallinn. This fishing village has an immaculately restored facility with reconstructed fishing sheds, smokehouses, drying racks and net-mending platforms.

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On the grassy banks of the sea, we watched in awe as our host brought forth dish after dish of fish specialties – each with an explanation of the fish, its fishing history and the best ways to prepare or preserve it!

The first offering was a steaming bowl of fragrant fish stew, made with pike and leeks in a light milk broth. Vladislav explained that traditionally milk was only added to fish soup for a celebration, as milk was not plentiful in Estonia and was reserved for special occasions. Served with the fish stew was a croissant-like pastry with cheese and a smoked Tallinn sardine with herbs. Absolutely delicious! We were also treated to several wines to try with our fish. Both the soup and the wines were a big hit with Bob and all of our guests.

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Tallinn sardines are quite a delicacy, and each one of us received a baby blue can of these little treasures to take home with us. We were informed that there is a season for these fish and that the quota had just recently been reached – halting the fishing season for this year. So our timing was perfect, and our host was very generous to share this special treat with us.

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Next up was a brown bread with a pickled sardine and some vinegar and herbs. This was a real crowd favorite, as the tangy brown bread, sour vinegar, salty fish and fresh herbs made the perfect flavor combination.

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Vladislav then brought out a more exotic fish for us to try: smoked eel. This, too, is a delicacy because after the fall of the Soviet empire, Germans came to Estonia and their unquenchable demand for eel drove up the price. Some of us had never tried smoked eel, and a few were a bit nervous about tasting this exotic delicacy, but as culinary explorers, we all forged ahead. To our collective delight, we found it to be delicious! It tasted a bit like smoked monkfish – mild and buttery.

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The last two dishes were pike and salmon. The pike was marinated and then grilled, and the salmon was pegged to a stake and smoked over an open fire right there in front of us!

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After a few magical hours with Vladislav, it was time to bid a fond farewell. We all agreed that it had been quite a treat to see a true local legend in his element.

On our way back to the coach, we strolled past a vegetable and herb garden and came upon a fisherman smoking a huge catch of the day. He generously lifted the blanketed roof of the smoker to show us his technique, and we enjoyed yet another enlightening culinary experience thanks to the kindness of the locals.

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We then returned to the coach and were off to the Old Town for a tour of the Luscher & Matiesen wine cellar.

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We were greeted by one of the owners, an entrepreneur who restored this former distillery into a classic Tallinn-style wine bar and one of the city’s most popular destinations. 

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I have always found the winery and coffeehouse scene in Tallinn to be so unique and inviting: the pastel walls of basement enclaves with overstuffed sofas and candlelight, where locals talk politics and drink wine into the wee hours of the night. You can sense the energy in this city, having won back its independence and now celebrating freedoms so long denied. It was delightful sharing the dreams of this young entrepreneur, and while many of the wines offered were imported from faraway lands, we still enjoyed an authentic taste of Estonian culture.

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After sipping a few wines, we meandered down the cobblestone streets to a new café housed in the restored bank building, Scheeli Panga Kohvik. It was time for dessert, so we enjoyed a delicate cheesecake as well as a sample of Vana Tallinn, a wonderful local liqueur that to me tastes like a caramel brandy.

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As we strolled back through the unique buildings and quaint shops of the Old Town to meet the coach and return to the ship, we all agreed that Tallinn was a place we would like to visit again. Once back onboard, we met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a Flavors of the Sea class, so we could master some of the techniques used to prepare the delicious fish we had enjoyed that day. And to further preserve our memories, we made a yummy vanilla ice cream flavored with Vana Tallinn. None of us will soon forget the delicious flavors of this charming and historic city.

June 21, 2013

BEETS, SAUERKRAUT AND CHERRIES: Can you guess where Chef Kelly is?

L1050109-2One of the nicest things about our second season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM is returning to see the local chefs and culinary experts that we met last season in the Baltic and Mediterranean. 

Such was the case this week in Riga when Chef Karlis greeted us at the port with hugs and stories of the cold Latvian winter. Chef Karlis was born and educated in Seattle but moved to Latvia 10 years ago in search of the authentic “peasant” cuisine that he refers to as “Latvian fusion.” This balance of simplicity, Baltic ingredients and seasonality is the hallmark of the restaurants and food trucks for which Chef Karlis is now known in Riga.

The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and we were off to the Central Market. This impressive collection of five 20th-century German zeppelin hangars was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses more than 3,000 vendors in 778,000 square feet. Each of the five hangars is dedicated to its own product: fish, dairy, meat, dried and pickled delicacies, or baked goods. The colorful and impressive displays held our attention, and until we looked up, it was easy to forget that we were in a building that was once a hangar for gigantic zeppelins! 

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We began in the fish pavilion, where Chef Karlis informed us that the fish in Latvia primarily come from freshwater streams. We then continued on to the pavilion dedicated to smoked fish and pickled vegetables to sample some sauerkraut, pickled carrots, garlic-infused pickles and curry-turmeric cabbage. We also tasted several local cheeses laced with nettles and herbs. 

 

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Since it’s spring in Latvia, the peas and cherries were abundant. There were also cups full of wild strawberries from the local forests.

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My favorite part of this market is the section devoted to flowers, and on this trip I found them to be just as beautiful as I remembered. The rows and rows of colorful begonias, petunias, hanging baskets and herbs were just breathtaking!

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After a lively stroll through the market, we were off to Chef Karlis’ teaching kitchen in the old city.  The kitchen sits on the second floor of a charming bed and breakfast that is typical of the café-bohemian style of this quaint neighborhood. 

Chef Karlis and his staff had set up his kitchen with work stations where we would help him prepare our Latvian fusion luncheon. The menu for the day was a chilled beet soup with quail egg and goat cheese, a braised pork belly with spring vegetables and a fruit salad with kefir and black bread crumble. 

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L1060927Our job as sous chefs was to peel and chop roasted beets, shuck fresh peas, shell quail eggs and scrub baby carrots. With aprons on and knives in hand, our tour group pitched in and had a lot of fun working together. Chef Karlis instructed us as to how to complete each task and also shared with us his culinary philosophy.

After about an hour in the kitchen, it was time to take a seat at the beautifully set table. This is one of my favorite times on any Culinary Discovery Tour – chatting with our guests, interacting with chefs and culinary experts in their home settings and relaxing in an authentically local environment. On this tour we were joined by Bob Binder, who is not only one of the founders of Oceania Cruises but also one of the creators of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Bob certainly enjoyed jumping in with the kitchen prep work and mingling with our guests in a relaxed atmosphere. And I have to say I was quite impressed with Bob’s knife skills!

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Lunch was delightful. The beet soup was an elegant combination of sweet from the beets, creamy from the goat cheese and texture from the quail egg – all topped with the spike of fresh and fragrant dill. 

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The pork was fork tender and lightened by the fresh, seasonal peas and baby carrots. Chef Karlis garnished this dish with pea shoots and a radish peel, which I thought elevated the rustic dish to the level of haute cuisine! The meal also included a tasting of three local beers that made for great conversation about which ones we liked best with which dishes. We finished our lunch with wild forest strawberries and other berries on top of a crumble made with dried black bread and a yogurt and berry coulis. 

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The day was such fun and was perfectly capped off with a return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina for a class on crepe making, using cheeses, mushrooms, meats, tomatoes and herbs purchased at the market earlier that day.

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We topped our dessert crepes with my new recipe for salted caramel ice cream, which I’ve included below in case you’d like to try it at home.

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon Maldon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and milk. Heat, stirring frequently, until nearly boiling, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Meanwhile, in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a light brown color, about 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the sugar caramelizes, stir the hot cream mixture into the caramel. Decrease the heat to low.

In a medium bowl, stir together the beaten eggs and a small amount of the hot caramel mixture to temper the eggs. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel mixture. Cook on low for about 10 minutes to form a custard.

Add ½ teaspoon of the salt to the mixture. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using an ice cream maker with a frozen bowl, let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to the bowl, but be careful not to cool the mixture too much or the caramel will solidify. When the ice cream is prepared, sprinkle it with the remaining ½ teaspoon of Maldon salt.

I hope you enjoy the recipe, and I hope you have the chance to join us on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Riga on an Oceania Cruises voyage in the near future!

June 15, 2013

BOB BINDER & CHEF KELLY LAUNCH NEW BALTIC CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS ON ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Vice Chairman Bob Binder is currently onboard Marina hosting a sailing in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. I’ve joined him on this wonderful voyage because, as part of the many festivities and special events, we are launching an exciting new season of Culinary Discovery Tours in the Baltic. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of destination-rich itineraries and exquisite cuisine than with a series of new tours offering an in-depth, hands-on culinary experience of a diverse array of local cultures.

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Today Bob and I kicked off the Baltic season by welcoming guests on our new Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo, which includes a visit to the famed Mathallen Food Hall and a lunch with beer pairings at a local restaurant that is both historic and trendy. 

L1060818We began the morning in Marina’s Bon Appétit Culinary Center with an overview of New Nordic Cuisine, which has been setting the pace in the local, fresh and simple culinary trend among chefs worldwide. Initiated by the chefs of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, a group of 14 chefs from the Nordic region held a summit in 2004 to discuss their passion for local, fresh, simple and sustainable cuisine, which soon put this culinary region on the map. We also discussed the salmon farming industry and how Norway continues to lead the world in the innovative arena of aquaculture.

After the overview, we were off on this sunny, Nordic spring day to our first stop at the courtyard of the Mathallen Food Hall. We were greeted by our host for the day, the owner of the smallest pub in Oslo, which seats only 16 guests and was officially opening that night. Before entering the pristine food hall to explore the 33 fascinating stalls, we were treated to a tasting of three artisan beers – so we would be fortified for our shopping adventure. Not knowing much about beer, I was enlightened about this region’s passion for beer and the wide diversity of brewing styles and products. 

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Then we ventured into the food hall for a tasting of cheeses and smoked salmon. The Mathallen Food Hall is a feast for the senses, with each vendor presenting their specialty product in eye-catching and innovative ways. 

 

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The airy, ultra-modern building is quite inviting and caters to those who want to wander and taste, as well as the business person who pops in for a quick bite of lunch. After a brief orientation, we were off to try some local cheeses – an assortment of soft blues and aged sheep cheese with a hint of juniper berry. We were then treated to a lovely taste of smoked salmon and cream cheese as well as another local beer. 

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Each pair of guests were given a shopping assignment and 200 kroner, so we had about 30 minutes of free time to purchase local and seasonal produce, some cured meat, specialty preserves and other delicacies. We wandered the market, taking in all of the eye-popping displays and delicious offerings. There were even beautiful carvings made from a turnip!


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L1060863One of the things I love most about our Culinary Discovery Tours is the opportunity to interact with the local vendors.  And the experience is all the more meaningful because we are able to return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship, where we can taste our purchases and make local dishes. The hands-on experience gives us an even greater appreciation and understanding of our experiences ashore.

At the cheese tasting, one of our guests purchased her favorite cheese and planned to share it with the class later that day.

L1060877When our shopping was complete, it was time to take a brief walk to our luncheon spot, Akersberget, which sits at the base of a mountain that was previously a mining site. The red-painted wood building had a rustic yet upscale Nordic ambiance. This charming and very trendy restaurant is booked for months in advance, but we were fortunate that our host had agreed to open for a special luncheon exclusively for Oceania Cruises guests! 

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We took a seat in the restaurant and were soon poured a glass of beer to welcome us. (I’m starting to figure out that beer really is the national drink of Norway!) The chefs were beginning to plate our lunch, so we grabbed a quick sneak peek at their handiwork.

 

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Soon we were served a fabulous white fish in a light sauce with new potatoes, spring carrots, baby spinach and radish foam. Bob said the potatoes were his favorite, and we soon learned the secret: they were simmered in butter, herbs, sugar and – of course – beer!

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L1060889We all enjoyed sitting around the table together, not only savoring a wonderful meal but also meeting new friends and hearing about where they had traveled. We finished our lunch with a chocolate fondant cake with fresh strawberries and, you guessed it, a dark beer that paired perfectly with the chocolate!

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After saying a heartfelt thank you to our host and chefs, we boarded the coach for a quick tour of downtown Oslo and its distinctive architecture.  The city was alive with locals and tourists, all enjoying the beautiful, crisp, sunny day. Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems that there is more oxygen in the Baltic, and today I had happy lungs breathing in this clean Nordic air!

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, we met back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard for a brief class to bring together what we saw and learned today. Bob was pleased to discover that the culinary center has a magical machine that churns out granitas in just 20 minutes. So we started by making my special recipe using champagne, lemon and St. Germain, the liqueur made from the fragrant Alpine elderflower. As we sipped our cocktails, each guest shared what they had purchased at the market today.

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The class was devoted to salmon, so we made smoked and poached salmon rillettes with toasts, as well as gravlax. It was a delightful way to end our special day in this enchanting city of trendy restaurants, stunning architecture and, of course, its passion for beer!

Just in case my elderflower cocktail appeals to you as much as a beer does, here is the recipe:

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) cold sparkling wine
  • 1½ cups simple syrup, infused with lemon rind and cooled
  • ½ cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour all ingredients into and ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer's instructions. Enjoy!

June 14, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RHODES

I have so many fond memories of visits to the Greek island of Rhodes with Oceania Cruises. One of my first is from 2008, when we celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday on an Oceania Cruises’ voyage. Underneath the shadow of the ruins in the old city of Rhodes, I had a memorable lunch at Hatzikelis, feasting on some of the best grilled fish I’d ever had. Until then I had never tasted tzatziki – that heavenly mixture of cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon juice and creamy Greek yogurt. I was certain I would never be able to replicate this lunch at home, so I promised myself that I would return someday.

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I have returned to Rhodes many times. Since joining Oceania Cruises as executive chef of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center in 2011, I have shared many meals at that family restaurant with friends and family as well as guests and chefs on Marina and Riviera.

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While hosting a luncheon here last fall for Susie Heller and David Shalleck, two of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center chefs, we were all inspired to ask the family to host a Culinary Discovery Tour. They are always so welcoming, taking us into the kitchen and sharing today’s catch as well as their family’s Greek cooking secrets.

Over the winter I worked with the family and staff at Hatzikelis to design an authentic Greek cooking and dining experience for our guests. When Riviera docked for the first time in Rhodes this summer, those plans became a reality, and Hatzikelis hosted their first Culinary Discovery Tour.

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After a very brief walk from the ship, we arrived at the restaurant to tables overflowing with fresh produce, fish, cheeses and bread. Warm smiles and ouzo greeted us on the patio of our hosts’ family restaurant. We were told that the restaurant was originally a bakery, but when Pappa retired and the family business passed to his son, the passion for fish was so profound that the bakery was turned into a fish taverna. Not only was the present owner there to greet us and cook with us, but Pappa also dropped in to round out the hospitality.

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The first dish we made was spinach pie, and we began with the phyllo dough. We made the dough and rolled it out, then filled it with a spinach and feta cheese filling. We popped it into the oven, and our first dish was complete!

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Our next dish was the traditional salad using barley rusks, tomatoes, capers, lettuce, a lovely vinaigrette and sprinkles of fresh oregano.

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No Greek lunch is complete without grilled eggplant. We were able to master the art of charring an eggplant, scooping it out and filling it with a mixture of tomatoes, onions, dill, mint, oregano and Greek yogurt. Smoky eggplant – yum!

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My niece, Sarah, was traveling with me on this cruise, so she stepped in to make the tzatziki. She was so impressed with the family hospitality and Greek food that she promised to return soon and asked if, in the meantime, they might find her a suitable Greek husband! We all enjoyed a good laugh at that comment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does return soon (perhaps with a husband of her own choosing).

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The owner of the restaurant was busy making squid risotto and mussels saganaki, two more dishes we would enjoy over lunch. He also described how to select fresh squid and octopus, just in case we happened to find ourselves in the market for a fresh octopus! Soon after hatching their eggs, squid and octopus die, and often these less than desirable specimens are fished and sold. But we learned how to select a fresh one, which should be firm to the touch and resistant to pressure.

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While various dishes were being finalized and the staff was readying our lunch, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes visit to the kitchen. Now that we had learned how to select fresh squid, we acquired the same expertise regarding fresh fish. We also learned how to clean and filet a sea bass and how to grill it over open flames. The only seasonings used on fish at Hatzikelis are lemon juice and olive oil.

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Finally it was time to sit for lunch and enjoy some delicious local wines and the dishes we had made with the Hatzikelis family. The food just kept coming and coming, with the finale being the day’s catch of fresh fish, which was perfectly grilled.

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After saying farewell with lots of hugs goodbye and promises to return, guests were free to stroll the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rhodes. Later we returned to Riviera for a cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to review what we had learned earlier that day.

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If you are planning a cruise that includes Rhodes on either Marina or Riviera this year, you will definitely want to put this special Culinary Discovery Tour on your “must-do list.” It’s a fabulous day with a friendly family who makes you feel welcome – and well fed – in the warmth and hospitality of the Greek island of Rhodes.

May 30, 2013

THE LAUNCH OF A NEW SEASON OF CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS CONTINUES

In this week’s earlier blog I shared some of the delightful Culinary Discovery Tours™ we just launched for the European season. From the colorful markets of Funchal to the delectable lunch at the famed Chateau Eza, the tours continue to meet with rave reviews from our guests.

Our Culinary Discovery Tour in charming Portofino, Italy, offered a delightful contrast to the elegance of Chateau Eza in France. After a scenic ferry ride, we were greeted in Rapallo by our friend Guido with a sampling of meats, cheeses, olive oils and wines from Liguria.

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Then we took a quick stroll through the market for basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil (guess what we are making?) before heading to Recco to spend the morning with the pasta master at Da O Vittorio. I never tire of watching this master and the grace and speed with which he rolls out his pasta, fills his ravioli and spins his focaccia dough.

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Lunch was fabulous and the pasta-making class was such fun for the guests. I get emails frequently with tales of our students mastering the art of making fresh pasta at home! One of the best ways to serve fresh pasta is with a basil pesto, and as we were in the Liguria region of Italy, where pesto originated, we of course had to make some with our purchases from the market.

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The next region of Italy on our itinerary was Tuscany. No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a visit to Torre a Cenaia for a pizza and focaccia-making class using their wood-fired oven amidst their vineyards and centuries-old Cyprus trees.

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After a stroll through the market in Livorno and a tasting of local ham, we headed off to the winery for a tour and enjoyed a lovely wine tasting while making our pizzas and placing them in the searingly hot outdoor ovens. Then after a carriage ride through the vineyard we returned for sweet wine and biscotti. I could hardly think of a better way to spend an afternoon in Tuscany!

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One of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ I was most excited to launch was the new one we are offering in Venice. It began with a private water taxi ride from the ship along the Grand Canal to the Rialto market. The trip was a real treat in itself!

The market was buzzing and alive with locals, tourists, vendors and, of course, our special Oceania Cruises foodies. After an hour wandering through the market looking at the beautiful scallops and fresh fish and magnificently displayed produce, we were off to the private home of our chef host.

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The magnificent villa was like something out of a Merchant Ivory movie set – so decadently Venetian and yet so welcoming at the same time.

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Our host was a former television chef on the Italian Food Network and conducted an engaging cooking demonstration of local Venetian dishes, such as fried zucchini blossoms and a seafood risotto.

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We sat for a candlelit lunch in her dining room and enjoyed another opportunity to relax with our guests and make new friends while savoring fabulous food and wine!

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Our last stop was the trendy new chocolatier, Vizio Virtù. What better way to finish this day than with spectacular chocolate delicacies?

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You are probably asking yourself the same question my mother asks me, “They pay you to do this job?!” I am excited for more adventures as the season continues with new culinary tours in Rhodes, Corfu, Istanbul and Sicily. You can also join me in the Baltic to launch our new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Riga, Oslo and Helsinki. If you can’t join me this summer, stay tuned for more culinary discoveries here on the blog!

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Portofino - Ligurian Cuisine & Pasta Making Class

Tuscany - Oven-Fired Focaccia, Biscotti & Pizza at Winery

Venice - Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Rhodes - Cooking Demo in Greek Family Restaurant & Lunch

 Corfu - Culinary Traditions & Greek Cooking

Istanbul - Fish and Spice Markets with Turkish Luncheon at Grand Bazaar 

Taormina, Sicily - Sensuous Sicily

Amsterdam - A Behind-the-Scenes Chef Tour & Lunch

Copenhagen - Food Market, Nordic Food Demo & Lunch

Tallinn - Fish Workshop, Winery Visit & Tallinn's Old Town

Riga - Central Market, Latvian Cooking Demo & Lunch

Oslo - Spectacular Mathallen Food Hall & Norwegian Pub Lunch

Helsinki - Visit to Food Market & Finnish Cooking Class

 

May 29, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

L1060426As I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!

As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.

As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.

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When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.

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Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.

The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!

This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.

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Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!

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After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year. 

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Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”

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Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!

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Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Tangier - Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille - Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

 Monte Carlo - Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza:

 

 

April 23, 2013

LOCAL CHEFS TEACH THE SECRETS OF THAI CUISINE

Anyone who has ever sailed with Oceania Cruises knows that cuisine is a very important part of the experience. From its very beginnings 10 years ago with the appointment of Master Chef Jacques Pépin as Executive Culinary Director, to the exceptional onboard specialty restaurants at no additional charge, to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center offering hands-on cooking classes, Oceania Cruises is unrivaled in its dedication to the culinary arts.

Of course, considering the fascinating worldwide destinations that Oceania Cruises visits, the opportunities for culinary enrichment are as abundant ashore as they are onboard. Numerous shore excursions are available that allow foodies to learn about diverse world cuisines. These excursions were especially appealing to guest lecturer Don Campbell, who recently shared his expertise with guests onboard Nautica.

After a 24-year career with the US Coast Guard, Don traveled the world as a program manager in the aerospace and defense industries. His extensive travels fueled a lifelong passion for discovering world cultures, and he especially enjoys interacting with local people and learning about their art and cuisine. During his voyage onboard Nautica, Don had the chance to not only share his valuable insights with guests but also extend his own knowledge even further on the Thai Cooking Class shore excursion offered in Ko Samui. Don took some great photos during the class and was kind enough to share them with us.

Thai Cooking Class (2)

For Thai food lovers, this excursion was an excellent opportunity to learn some of the secrets to preparing this delicious cuisine. The day began with a trip to a Thai market to pick out the fresh ingredients that would be used in the class. Walking through the lively market, guests got a feel for life on the island of Ko Samui as the locals shopped for their own daily staples.

Ko Samui market (1) Ko Samui market (2) Ko Samui market (Medium)

Having purchased the ingredients for the class, the group drove to the Nora Beach Resort & Spa, where the cooking class was taught. After being welcomed with a traditional Thai beverage, guests rolled up their sleeves and got to it. Guests had individual cooking stations and, using the ingredients purchased at the market, prepared a delicious Thai meal.

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After a satisfying Thai feast, guests enjoyed some time to relax and explore the lovely resort.

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If your mouth is watering after all this discussion of Thai food, you’ll be happy to know that Nautica will be back in Ko Samui on the Pagodas & Palaces sailing on February 6, 2014. You, too, could learn to prepare authentic Thai cuisine on a wonderful voyage with Oceania Cruises!

March 21, 2013

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: A CRUISE … AND THEN SOME

I love sailing with Oceania Cruises. From the food to the familial atmosphere to the incredible destinations, I just can’t get enough. And the Oceania Cruises experience is enhanced even further when you travel on a Signature Sailing. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of these sailings, and the featured dinners, guest lecturers and other special events gave me an even greater appreciation for both the onboard experience and the fascinating destinations we were exploring. My favorite Signature Sailings are the ones with a focus on wine and food. On these cruises you can interact with some of the world’s most renowned chefs, sommeliers and culinary experts.

There are three Signature Sailings coming up this summer that offer this fantastic opportunity. The first one departs in less than two months, so if a cruise vacation is in your upcoming plans, don't miss this chance to experience one of these unique voyages.

Wine & Food Celebration

There will be two Signature Sailings for wine and food lovers: Marina’s Grand Panama Canal, a 20-day voyage from Lima to New York City beginning on May 6, 2013, and Riviera’s Mediterranean Grandeur, a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Rome beginning on June 23, 2013.

The Wine & Food Celebration on Marina will take guests on a culinary adventure from South America through the Caribbean, ending in New York. South American wine expert Daniel Soto will host wine lectures and tastings featuring the best of South American wines. Joining Daniel Soto is renowned culinary author Chef Paulette Mitchell, who will demonstrate classic South American dishes that guests can learn to prepare and enjoy at home.

 

Daniel Soto
Daniel Soto
Paulette Mitchell
Paulette Mitchell
 
Valerie Elam
Valerie Elam
Karen King
Karen King

During the Caribbean segment of the cruise, Bacardi Rum’s Brand Ambassador Kate Dahlen will be onboard to share the rich history of rum in the Caribbean and give guests a chance to taste some of Bacardi’s best. The executive culinary team from Grand Cayman’s Ritz Carlton will also join Marina’s onboard team to demonstrate some favorite Caribbean dishes.

Bicardo Ambassador
Kate Dahlen
For the home stretch, guests will have the opportunity to attend wine lectures, tastings and pairing presentations featuring flavors of America with wine expert Karen King and the executive chef of Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Culinary Center, Kathryn Kelly.

Throughout the voyage there will be wine tasting events where guests can sample and discuss different wines with Marina’s wine experts and sommeliers. Once they’ve found a favorite, guests can enjoy wine and conversation as they are serenaded by Valerie Elam, a recording artist and Cape Coral restaurateur.

Marina Canal Transit 1 Aft Suspension Bridge
Panama Canal Transit

 

Tony Didio
Tony Didio
Max McCalman
Max McCalman
Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly will host Riviera’s Wine & Food Celebration. She will be joined by several experts, including the Culinary Institute of America’s Master Baker Eric Kastel. An instructor and an author, Kastel will share the secrets of great bread making. 

Renowned New York wine educator, businessman and sommelier Tony Didio will lead a series of wine lectures, tastings and wine pairing presentations throughout the voyage. To complement the wine experience, Master Cheese Expert Max McCalman will be onboard to share the secrets of great cheeses and advise on pairings. Riviera’s onboard experts will also host events, and Valerie Elam will be on this voyage as well to serenade guests as they enjoy great wine and conversation.

Eric Kastel
Eric Kastel
Chef Kelly La Reserve
Chef Kathryn Kelly

Wine Connoisseur Cruise

Marina’s 10-day Baltic Odyssey voyage from Copenhagen to Stockholm beginning on September 3, 2013, will be anchored by Armando Fumanelli, owner of the famed Italian winery Marchesi Fumanelli. A wine ambassador from the winery will also be onboard. Located near Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the Fumanelli winery has been creating exceptional wines since 1470. Young actors from Verona’s drama academy will be onboard to perform during select Fumanelli wine dinners offered at La Reserve.

This voyage will also feature many wine tasting events during which guests can taste different wines and discuss their attributes with Armando Fumanelli, the Fumanelli ambassador and Marina’s sommeliers. Meanwhile, guests can also enjoy the music of Italian guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli.     

St. Petersburg
Enjoy an overnight in St. Petersburg on the Baltic Odyssey voyage
Armando Fumanelli
Armando Fumanelli
Vincenzo Martinelli
Vincenzo Martinelli

 

 

January 15, 2013

EXPLORING BOUNTIFUL BUENOS AIRES WITH CHEF KELLY

My history with Argentina has more to do with horses than it does with food. As the owner of an equestrian breeding operation in Middleburg, Virginia, I hired my fair share of über-talented Argentinian jockeys and trainers, not to mention polo players, and I recall how special Sundays were to my Argentinian cohorts. The Sunday night festival of food, drink, dance and intense conversation (which, by the way, started at 10 pm) went well into Monday morning on more than a few occasions.

My recent trip to Buenos Aires was all about the food, as I was scouting great locations for a Culinary Discovery Tour that will be offered later this year.

Utf-8''L1060266Buenos Aires is intoxicating, and the panoply of restaurants and cuisines is dizzying. But my quest was to find the pulse of emerging culinary trends, which often involves the preservation of regional or traditional cuisines. Barbecued meats, known as asado, will always be a staple here, but I also noticed culinary trends that went beyond the Argentinian fascination with meat and embraced other aspects of this rich culinary culture. With the help of my delightful guide Eugenia, I was transported into the belly of the Argentinian culinary scene and discovered a passionate commitment to the regional cuisines of this diverse country, deference to the cooking methods of native populations and a celebration of pre-Columbian cooking traditions.

We set out first to explore local markets, an increasingly rare venue in cosmopolitan cities worldwide. Eugenia selected Mercado San Telmo built in 1897 by Juan Buschiazzo as an open, airy, glass-filled arcade, the perfect haven for artists, butchers, bakers, antique dealers, spice mongers, cheese makers and anyone with a unique product to sell.

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We strolled through the colorful stalls of fruits and vegetables, and it was clear that we were here in the middle of summer – the tomatoes were irresistible.

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Argentinians do love their meat, so finding chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage) and assorted embutidos (sausages) was not difficult. Eugenia pointed out the choripan, a beef and pork sausage that is the official street food of Argentina. It’s typically grilled and placed in a soft bun with chimichurri sauce.

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As we made our way through the market, we noticed a line at the stand for quesos artesanales, the local artisan cheeses. You can often sense the immigrant heritage of a place in its cheese, and Buenos Aires is no exception. While cheese is integral to Latin cuisine in general, here you can see the influx of the Spanish and Italian cheeses – esparto-woven manchego and the peppery Sicilian pepato made from sheep’s milk.

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I was determined to find some spices, so I was thrilled when we stumbled across a treasure trove at a stand run by a man and his son. I have learned over the years that being genuine wins over being pretentious, so I confessed that I was a chef interested in trying some of his best spice mixes.

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The truth is, I am a chimichurri addict, and I was most interested in uncovering any secret ingredients in this heavenly salsa of the gods. Chimichurri, besides being one of those words I just love to say, is typically served by the spoonful with grilled meats in Argentina. It is a blend of herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, with some heat from black pepper or pepper flakes. Chimichurri is a lot like Indian garam masala in that it will vary from household to household, each cook having his or her own secret blend. When I was in Barcelona, I learned that many a Spanish chef has embellished chimichurri by adding pimenton (Spanish paprika) for a smoky, herbaceous flavor. I've shared my favorite chimichurri recipe with you below.

Needless to say, I walked away with not only the owner’s private blend of chimichurri spices – and instructions on how to bring the dried herbs to life – but also a sampling of both smoky and sweet pimenton and the house blend of maté. The dried leaves of the yerba maté plant make a heady tea with a bitter, tobacco-like taste, often sweetened with large amounts of sugar and a dried citrus peel.

As the granddaughter of a poultry farmer, I always make a stop at the egg vendor to jog my memory on what breeds of chicken lay what size and color eggs. On this day there were not only organic eggs but also double-yolk eggs, which I grew up believing was impossible to tell until you broke the egg! I have done the research since, and while there are a few hybrids that are bred to lay double-yolk eggs, it appears that, by and large, this is still one of nature’s wrapped packages, and the single-versus-double surprise is left until the shell is cracked open. I will continue to search, and perhaps in the meantime, Harold McGee can get to the bottom of this mystery!

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After an informative and invigorating stroll through the Mercado San Telmo, we were off to explore potential sites for a luncheon for our Culinary Discovery Tour guests. Our first stop, La Ventana, was selected because it personifies the gaucho barbecue and allows guests to learn about the unique cuts of Argentinian beef as well as taste the country’s celebrated cherry-rich Malbec wines. La Ventana is also a popular nightspot for tango dancing, which is one of those experiences I would encourage anyone to put on their bucket list.

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Our next stop was El Maté Café: The Argentine Experience. We were greeted by the chef and his partner, who not only run a trendy nightspot but also offer classes on Argentinian cuisine and wine. It’s a hands-on cooking school where seasonality and authenticity reign supreme. I was impressed! Eugenia had brought a group here recently, and she raved about the experience.

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After a morning of exploring, we were ready to sit down and enjoy an Argentinian lunch. We chose Aldo’s Vinoteca, known more for its wines than its food, although the food was outstanding. After a tour of the restaurant, the private dining room and the wall-to-wall wines, we settled in and chose a wine from the seemingly endless wine list. As I am known to do, I beckoned the lovely sommelier and asked her to select wines for us, and she did not disappoint. 

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We started with a Torrontes from the northern region of Salta. This searing, brilliantly acidic wine had the heady floral aromatic of a botrytis dessert wine. It was paired with our humita, a delicious pudding of corn and creamy brie wrapped in a cornhusk.

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Next was a filet steak grilled to perfection and served with an arugula salad. The pairing was a 2010 Mundo Revés Malbec, a smooth and full-bodied companion to our entrée. I was intrigued by the wine list presented on an iPad, but I guess I have been sailing for too long, as I hear this is no longer a novelty at shoreside restaurants.

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After lunch we said goodbye to our gracious hosts and returned to our car. (Our driver confessed to me that he had lunched at McDonald’s. I am not sure if that was meant to impress or not.) My knowledgeable guide wanted us to stop at one more place: Havanna. This café is known for its prized dulce de leche cookies. Dulce de leche is a sweet milk and sugar spread that is an iconic treasure of Argentina. It is used like Hershey’s syrup on everything from morning toast to cookies (in between shortbread cookies like an Oreo) to ice cream.

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After I filled my market bags with Havanna cookies (for class tomorrow, I swear!), we made one final quick stop at the famous Volta ice creamery for a dulce de leche ice cream cone. To be honest, I am usually not much for sweets, but this was a little piece of heaven.

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As always, I am indebted to the generosity of my guides selected by Oceania Cruises’ local tour operators. It was a day well spent, and as I returned to Marina, I was convinced that this was yet another essential destination for a Culinary Discovery Tour. I hope you can join us next December when Marina returns to Argentina and sample some of the treasures I uncovered on this scouting mission!

Chimichurri Recipe:

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed

1 bunch cilantro, washed

6 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup champagne vinegar or white distilled vinegar

3/4 cup grapeseed oil or mild extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of smoked paprika (pimenton), optional

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend, adjusting the amount of garlic to taste. If the sauce is the consistency of a thick paste, thin with more oil. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks. 

January 8, 2013

CHEF KELLY SCOUTS LOCATIONS FOR A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RIO DE JANEIRO

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Brazil, like so many places, is an amalgam of cultures. The influx of the Portuguese settlers and the slaves from West Africa along with the native Brazilian Indians have created a dizzying collection of regional cuisines.

I find the cuisines of tropical areas fascinating, largely because they make use of the abundance of freshly grown ingredients without having to rely on culinary “crutches” like butter and cream.

The Fjords and Wonders cruise sailed last month from Rio de Janeiro amidst beautiful sunny skies and temperatures a bit higher than the average for this time of year. I was taking over for Chef Annie Copps, who had been on Marina since September. Before she boarded her flight back to the US for a well-deserved holiday, we took our almoco – the Brazilian mid-day meal – at Porcão, a popular churrascaria on Ipanema beach. Utf-8''L1060102

It was buffet-style with many Portuguese and Brazilian favorites, like coxinha (chicken croquettes), a variety of beans (broad beans, black-eyed peas, black beans) and scrumptious fruit salads made with tropical rainforest fruits. As is typical of these barbecue restaurants, the passadors – knife-wielding, meat-toting waiters – circulated with grilled steaks and sausages on skewers, slicing off portions of grilled meat tableside. Luckily for me, I was able to return to the ship and take a nap!

My first morning in Rio, I arranged for a guide to take me to a few culinary highlights of the city. Carlos was an avid home cook and was keen to share his love of Brazilian cuisine. My mission for the day was to design a Culinary Discovery Tour to be offered in this vibrant city starting in December 2013. I was also joined by Illiana, a member of our Destination Services team, all of whom are always helpful in crafting the perfect day for our foodie guests.

I like to visit fish and produce markets early, so this was our first stop. I had already visited Mercado São Pedro in Niterói, which is sure to be a hit with our guests, so on this morning we went to Mercado Cadeg in the Benfica neighborhood, to research a second option. It is a commercial-grade market where the flowers as well as the produce are highly regarded by locals and chefs. With its high ceilings and colorful aisles, the Mercado Cadeg is a nice place to shop and also people watch from one of the many quaint stand-up cafés and family-style luncheonettes.

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The Portuguese influence on Brazilian cuisine is evident in the multitude of bacalhau vendors, with their layers upon layers of salted and dried cod. During our Culinary Discovery Tours in Portugal and Spain, we frequently encounter salt cod and admire the quality of the preservation and the many varieties that can be purchased. Carlos suggested we try the fried cod cake made with mashed potato and deep-fried. It was delicious, especially with an über strong cup of Brazilian coffee. Carlos told us that these two local favorites were a typical mid-morning snack. Caffeine and cod – what an unusual combination! He also shared his grandmother’s recipe for cod cakes (oddly enough, the same recipe as my grandmother’s!): equal parts potato and cod combined with onion, celery, chives and garlic and then rolled into small balls and dipped in egg and bread crumbs. Be sure to soak the cod well, rinsing three to four times to remove the salt.

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Because it was early in the day, we peeked into several of the restaurants that line the aisles of the Mercado Cadeg to see what was on the menu for lunch. The place that caught my eye was Gruta São Sebastião, where several cod dishes were the specials of the day. Bacalhau à lagareira, a Portuguese recipe, is best when quality olive oil is used to sauté the fish and when served alongside smashed potatoes or a root vegetable soaked in the same high quality olive oil. Apparently the lines outside this local hot spot are quite lengthy around lunchtime, and I was excited to have arrived early enough to have a chance to take a quick stroll through the kitchen (with the permission of the chef) to see the impressive mise en place of fresh vegetables, fish and sausages.

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The Brazilians love their peppers! The market was full of colorful fresh peppers, which are an integral ingredient in the relishes found on Brazilian tables, much like ketchup and mustard on American tables. If you don’t find a relish you like, an assortment of hot sauces is always in abundant supply!

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After an enjoyable morning at the market, we were off to eat at Restaurante Aprazível, an authentic Brazilian restaurant enjoyed by foodie tourists and locals alike. As we drove to the restaurant, we toured the winding streets and unique architecture of the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The artist-colony feel of this neighborhood reminded me a little of Nob Hill in San Francisco with its charming homes, shops and restaurants. We passed the famous Bar do Mineiro, home of the best feijoada in Rio de Janeiro, according to Carlos. Feijoada is considered by many to be the national dish of Brazil. It’s often made with meat scraps, such as pigs’ ears and feet, and served with black beans.

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Dining at Restaurante Aprazível was a bit like sitting in a tree house in a tropical forest. As the three of us sat for lunch, I was reminded of how often a dining table unites us, as a meal compels us to share the traditions of our culture with others. Our party was from Croatia, Brazil and the United States, and yet each dish evoked a personal comparison to some meal, memory or cooking technique.

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Our gracious host suggested we start our lunch with a local cocktail. The cheery bartender stood behind a large wooden bowl with a staggering array of tropical fruits at his disposal along with the ever-present cachaça, a distilled liquor made from cane sugar. When asked to pick a fruit, I chose a combination of passion fruit (maracujá) and star fruit (carambola). Illiana selected the stunning red strawberries. Carlos, who was driving, enjoyed an iced maté, a strong local black tea. Given that the temperature was unseasonably hot, the drinks went down easily and we were able to forget (or not care about) the heat and humidity. My drink had a sprig of rosemary as garnish, which tempered the sweet passion fruit. It was heavenly!

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As I frequently do, I asked our waiter to suggest some local favorites for lunch. Our first course was pastels, fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables, similar to empanadas. Two relishes were served as accompaniments, one of onion and peppers and another of pickled peppers. The pickled relish was made with pimentas malaguetas, and these fiery hot peppers preserved in oil, vinegar and cachucha are a standard condiment on most Brazilian tables. (So much for the timid dash of hot sauce – these people are serious about their heat!) Apparently Brazilian pastels are regional, and the different stuffings and cooking methods, such as fried versus baked, define the region.

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The next course was roasted yuca, mild sausages, lime wedges and warmed dende oil, a palm oil that was brought to Brazil by the West African slaves. It has a unique nutty taste. The yuca was starchy, but with the fat of the sausages and the sour limes, it was a perfect mouthful! The limes in Brazil are a little sweeter and milder than varieties elsewhere, and we were warned that the lime oils would stain our hands a mustard color when exposed to the sun if we did not wash them. Guess I won’t be drinking many caipirinhas on the beach!

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Next up was patinha de caranguejo, a bowl of steamed crab claws with canjiquinha (dried corn), tamarind mustard sauce and the ever-present farofa, a favorite Brazilian side dish of warmed and toasted manioc flour.

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The highlight of our appetizers was roasted fresh palmitos (hearts of palm), which were doused in olive oil and an herbaceous pesto and carved and served tableside. I had never had fresh hearts of palm, so this was a real treat. My research shows that it takes 12 years to grow the heart to three to four inches in diameter, at which point it is harvested from the mature palm. No wonder it is such a treat!

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Having sampled meats at the churrascaria the day before, I wanted to try some local fish. We were served a perfectly tender, grilled tropical fish – a locally caught snapper – with an orange sauce and roasted banana. In contrast, we tried a moquequinha, a fish stew in a savory and flavorful sauce of coconut milk, roasted peppers, ground nuts and herbs.

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After a delicious lunch in the treetops with the occasional monkey swinging from tree to tree, we headed back to Marina with our hearts and tummies full from the generosity of our lovely hosts at Restaurante Aprazível. On the way we saw a bus converted into a mobile produce store – perhaps the next generation of food trucks!

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Considering our wonderful experiences in Rio, we will be sure to return this winter with a Culinary Discovery Tour to retrace this phenomenal market tour and lunch!

If you won’t have the opportunity to join us for a Culinary Discovery Tour in the near future, but you’re eager to learn about the cuisines of Latin America, I highly recommend Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla. I’ve been nose deep in this book for the past month, partially because I was traveling to South America onboard Marina, but also because it is heralded as a must-read cookbook of 2012. When Rick Bayless, José Andrés, Jacques Pépin and Harold McGee use words like “sexy scholarship,” “complex and intricate,” “tireless explorer” and “amazing foods that tell a rich history” to describe the book and its author, I am all in!

November 21, 2012

JACQUES: A TASTE OF PERFECTION

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Jacques Pépin, Oceania Cruises' executive culinary director
It is no secret that food is a very important part of the Oceania Cruises experience. This is largely because the first thing that Jacques Pépin set out to do as Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director was create the finest cuisine at sea. At his side was the dedicated and extraordinary culinary staff of Oceania Cruises and their fleet corporate chef, Franck Garanger.

Both Pépin and Garanger hail from France and specialize in French cuisine, so it was only natural that there would be an onboard restaurant devoted entirely to French food and that it would be some of the finest French cuisine available anywhere.

Available onboard Marina and Riviera, Jacques is Jacques Pépin’s first namesake restaurant. Designed in the tradition of the great French bistros and brasseries, Jacques serves timeless food that gives you a taste of the authentic classics prepared the right way and created with only the finest ingredients.

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In the forward to Oceania Cruises’ culinary lifestyle book, Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises, Pépin says:

51CjEFgThhL._SS400_“There is something irresistible about eating well at sea. I suppose it’s partly the sea air and the relaxed pace that makes everything taste better. But for me, a great deal of the pleasure comes from knowing what a true feat of organization and skill it takes to pull off a satisfying meal under such challenging conditions.

As I travel all over the world with Oceania Cruises, doing demos and working with the chefs to develop new dishes and ideas, I am more impressed with every voyage. I’m struck, first of all, by the quality of the ingredients and the fundamental respect for techniques and tradition. The brioche smells like butter when you break it open. The onion soup is made with real Gruyère, real bread, and real stock, seasoned the right way, and served in the right bowl with that little indentation that catches the cheese so it forms a perfect crust in the oven. These small touches add up to a very great difference. There is heartfelt pride in that brioche and that soup, and for my part, I am proud to be associated with the men and women who devote their lives to getting those details right every day.”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Jacques a few times. An evening at Jacques begins with the enviable challenge of selecting which of the delectable dishes you will try. This choice is often complicated by the creativity of Chef Garanger, who loves to design new recipes for the menu. The good news is that no matter which courses you select, you are certain to be delighted. You can see from the menu we chose during our most recent visit that my husband and I aren’t terribly efficient at narrowing our choices.

Cuisses de Grenouilles en Persillade, Flan de Persil

Sautéed Frog Legs with Garlic-Herb Butter, Parsley Flan

The parsley flan was a perfect, delicate complement to the flavor of the frog legs. And what more can be said about anything cooked in garlic butter? It was incredible.

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Gratiné à l’Oignon

Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust

A classic prepared perfectly. I didn’t know what that meant until I tasted this. The onions are slowly simmered and topped with a layer of toasty Gruyère. Who knew I had to take to the high seas to find this treasure?!

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Pannequet de Saumon en Tartare

Salmon Tartare Wrapped in Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Rosace

With the richness of much of the food, I found this to be a perfect contrast. A light, flavorful hors d’oeuvre, it was a salmon tartare wrapped in gravlax and simply but elegantly presented on a bed of cucumber.

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Moules Marinières

Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

Happily, the dramatic presentation of this dish was matched by the incredible flavor. As Pépin mentioned in the forward to Taste the World, preparing and serving food in the proper dish is important. These mussels certainly were, and they were some of the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. I was supposed to share with my husband – let’s just say, he would recommend ordering your own.

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Traditional Baked Escargots in Shell with Burgundy Garlic Butter

Some people shy away from escargots. I am not one of those people. If you are not one of those people, try these. You will discover the way they should be prepared and eaten!

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Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes

Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus

While he usually prefers fish, my husband surprised me by ordering the rotisserie chicken. He wanted to taste a true French classic, masterfully prepared, which is exactly what he got. Juicy and delicious in a perfectly roasted crust, this is how chicken should taste. He chose traditional French accompaniments of haricots verts and gratin dauphinois (because we couldn’t have a course without butter!). Julia Child, a longtime friend and colleague of Pépin, famously said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” So what could be better than using both, as is the case with gratin dauphinois potatoes?!

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Homard Thermidor à ma Façon

Maine Lobster Baked in Shell with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Served with Crispy Parmesan

We capped off our rich, decadent meal with the ultimate in richness (cream, butter AND cheese!). Each time I dine in Jacques, I fully intend to try a new entrée. What actually happens is that I can’t pass up the lobster thermidor. And fortunately for my husband, I usually can’t finish it either!

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In case your mouth is watering and you can’t possibly wait for your next Oceania Cruises voyage to try some of this cuisine, I am including the recipe for French onion soup from Taste the World. In this book you will also find recipes for the gravlax, rotisserie chicken, several gratin dishes and many more, along with the story of one 24-hour day in the galleys, a behind the scenes look at how this fabulous cuisine is created.

French Onion Soup

(makes 5 cups, serves 4)

7 cups beef stock

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

9 cups thinly sliced onion

1½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

3 thyme sprigs

3 marjoram sprigs

12 to 16 slices baguette, each ¼ inch thick

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)

½ cup dry red wine (such as Merlot)

3 tablespoons brandy

3½ cups chicken stock

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

Pour the beef stock into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil and cook until the stock reduces by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and a light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the onion is a rich brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour, lowering the heat as necessary to prevent scorching. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the thyme and marjoram sprigs on a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a sachet with kitchen twine. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly brush the baguette slices on both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven and heat, turning once, until dry, about 5 minutes on each side. Do not allow the bread to color. Set aside.

Add the white wine, red wine, and brandy to the browned onion and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the alcohol evaporates and the onion is glazed, about 5 minutes. Add the sachet, the reduced beef stock, and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Place 4 flameproof serving bowls on a small sheet pan. Ladle the soup into the bowls. Top with the bread slices, and then top the bread slices with enough cheese to cover the bread completely and extend to the rims of the bowls, about ½ cup for each bowl. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and toasted.

Recipes alone do not a chef make, so if you’re interested in honing your culinary skills and learning some of the secrets to Oceania Cruises’ fabulous recipes, I highly recommend taking a class at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina or Riviera. If the Oceania Favorites – Jacques class is featured on your cruise, you can learn to make several of the dishes served at Jacques, preparing them yourself in your own workstation with the guidance of masters like Chef Kelly. Classes also teach other signature recipes from Oceania Cruises and culinary techniques to prepare dishes from all over the world.

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we might suddenly find ourselves inspired to add a little French flair to our holiday dinner and enjoy this feast as those onboard Marina and Riviera will be doing – Jacques style! Happy holidays indeed!

November 5, 2012

THE SOUTH PACIFIC: A PRETTY PICTURE

As your Blogger-at-Large, there is only one thing I enjoy more than traveling the world with Oceania Cruises, and that’s sitting down and getting to know fellow guests. Everyone has their own unique perspective on what makes a voyage with Oceania Cruises so appealing and also what makes each destination so unique. I recently had the privilege of spending some time chatting with Peter and Pauline Pretty, Bronze Oceania Club members who have found their home away from home aboard the ships of Oceania Cruises.

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There are two kinds of travelers I come across on our cruises: “sightseers” and “doers.” Make no mistake that the Prettys are “doers.” They told me the best way to get to know the regions of the world is to step ashore with abandon – talk to the natives, sample the cuisine and embrace the customs. Recently, the Prettys were able to do just that on a South Pacific cruise, and Peter and Pauline were kind enough to share some of their photos.

In American Samoa, they traveled out into the landscape to experience the culture and witness one of the most esteemed ceremonies in Samoan culture, performed by an illustrious High Talking Chief at a traditional village. The journey involves a breathtaking drive west, during which guests delight in the island's natural beauty and historic landmarks. Highlights include the monolithic Fatu-ma-Futi, or Flowerpot Rock, that rises straight out of the ocean as if standing sentinel at the entrance to Pago Pago Bay. Farther west, the Leone Mission Monument and several churches mark the contribution of Reverend John Williams, who landed in the area in 1832 and began spreading Christianity.

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Despite readily embracing such non-native doctrines, Samoans still cherish traditional ways, especially with regard to ceremonies and social occasions. The High Talking Chief, or "tulafale," is the village spokesman, a grand orator highly skilled at holding the audience's attention through his extraordinary use of language and ancient proverbs. Dressed in traditional garb, the High Talking Chief launches into an animated and authentic performance of an ancient Samoan ceremony used to welcome visiting VIPs. After the ceremony, which takes place in an open-sided thatched "fale" building, guests are treated to a traditional dance performance.

DSC07207In Suva, Fiji, the Prettys explored the evolution of Fiji's fascinating cultural history and art during a half-day tour that included a spectacular performance by the Fijian Firewalkers. Greeted by the reverberating sound of a hollow drum beaten by a Fijian warrior, the blowing of a conch shell and the welcoming song of the villagers, guests were escorted to the DSC07190 amphitheater to witness a performance by Fijian Firewalkers and the enthralling group from the Arts Village of Fiji. As elders chant, young men remove the burning logs from a smoking pit to reveal the white-hot stones signaling the beginning of this ancient ceremony. The group from the Arts Village of Fiji entertains with traditional dancing and by re-enacting their legends and history amidst this idyllic setting.

Cultural immersion isn’t the only way to feel a connection the South Pacific. Sometimes the flora and fauna speak just as loudly. In Lautoka, Fiji, the Prettys discovered the beautiful gardens and historic artifacts of the South Seas during a delightful tour. At picturesque Burness House, hosts Don and Aileen Burness greet guests and provide an escorted walking tour through their landscaped gardens filled with fruit and flowering trees, arthurium lilies and lovely orchids. An extraordinary collection of Fijian artifacts is also on display.

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Moorea is always a guest favorite thanks to its tranquil turquoise lagoon and jagged emerald-colored volcanic peaks that rise up into the bright South Pacific skies. Moorea exemplifies the image that most people have of the South Pacific. Remarkably, a trip to the island doesn’t disappoint as it is every bit as dramatic and captivating as it appears in photographs.

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While the South Pacific is spectacular, it was always comforting to return to their floating home courtesy of Oceania Cruises. The cuisine is always a big hit and this cruise was no exception. Pauline spent some time with Executive Chef Renald Macouin, who shared a few secrets on how to prepare meals à la minute for a ship full of guests.

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While meals are a cherished event each day, the classic afternoon tea was one of Pauline’s favorite indulgences. The assortment of finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream and, of course, aromatic and exotic tea selections, were something to look forward to each afternoon upon returning from a day ashore.

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The specialty restaurants, none of which carry an additional surcharge, were something the Prettys looked forward to each time they held a reservation. Dinner with Regatta’s General Manager Raffaele Cinque was a treat, as was the cart of flavored olive oils brought tableside from which guests could choose their favorite.

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While many guests choose to cruise and then return home, the Prettys are big believers in extending their vacation with a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay. Papeete, Tahiti is the hub of the South Pacific but easily retains its reputation as a paradise. There are few hotel experiences that compare to staying in a bungalow suspended over the waters of the lagoon, the moon shimmering over the silver ripples, the stars competing for attention overhead and the tall peaks towering above. Imagine waking in the morning and stepping down to dangle your feet in the waters of a crystal clear lagoon, brightly colored tropical fish darting beneath the pilings as palms rustle just behind you. The Prettys know that feeling well and are convinced that the hotel stay in Papeete was time well spent. It was more than just a chance to recharge their batteries; it was invigorating as well.

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Remember, the South Pacific is only offered a few times a year by Oceania Cruises. A remarkable voyage from Valparaiso to Papeete is still available on December 27, 2012, as are two roundtrip cruises from Papeete on January 16 and January 27, 2013. Those who wish to wander farther afield, as the Prettys did, will be drawn to the February 7, 2013, cruise from Papeete to Auckland, especially considering this sailing offers two new Culinary Discovery Tours. Accompany chefs from the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to experience traditional Maori cuisine in Rotorua or regional dishes and wines in Kerikeri, just inland from the Bay of Islands.

Our thanks to the Prettys for sharing their remarkable South Pacific adventure with us. If you have stories of your South Pacific voyage with Oceania Cruises, feel free to share them here in the comments section of the blog.

October 24, 2012

CHEF KELLY HOSTS A PERFECT FAREWELL DINNER FOR MYRIAD GUESTS AT LA RESERVE

Before I hopped off Riviera in Livorno to join Marina in Athens and host our second Bon Appétit Signature Sailing, I had the chance to have one final meal with our wonderful guests from Myriad Restaurant Group. To bid a fond farewell, General Manager Thierry Tholon and I hosted a table for Drew Nieporent, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina at La Reserve. To dine with one of the most famous restaurateurs in the world was a real treat for both of us, and to showcase our food and wine pairing restaurant, La Reserve, a collaboration between Oceania Cruises and Wine Spectator magazine, was very special indeed!

We started the evening with a glass of champagne on the deck outside of La Reserve and had a lovely time relaxing before dinner and meeting the rest of the 24 guests dining that night at La Reserve. 

After being seated, we began with an introduction to the night’s “Exploration Menu” from Christophe Belin, the senior executive chef of Riviera. (La Reserve offers three menus: Exploration, Connoisseur and Discovery.)

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Chef Belin explained each of the seven courses, focusing especially on the pairing of specific elements in the food with distinct attributes of the wine. Chef Belin is from Brittany and is as engaging and informative as he is entertaining and knowledgeable, so the guests enjoyed his personal touches.

Before the amuse bouche, the waiters explained the four salts served tableside. Drew, Ted and Chris each tasted the salts with the delectable baguette slices and French butter.

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The first course was the amuse bouche, which literally translates from French, "amuse the mouth" – and that it did! We savored a bay scallop on a seared hot rock with lava salt and rock chive cress. The scallop was paired with a prosecco from Veneto. The white pepper and citrus finish of the sparkling wine was a perfect match!

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The appetizer was a stuffed brioche with foie gras paired with a chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. The slight note of quince jelly in this wine paired perfectly with the buttery brioche and the creamy, earthy foie gras. Chef Rozzi and I had a great time photographing the food and its elegant plating – I even managed to snap a photo of him snapping a photo of his brioche. 

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Next came one of my favorite pairings, the risotto primavera with a Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige. The risotto was finished with a smoky scamorza di bufala (smoked mozzarella cheese) that brought it all together, both food and wine.

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Our fish course was a grilled turban of wild salmon and turbot, a dish that Oceania Cruises Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger, the architect of this menu, has won many awards for. A California Chardonnay, with butterscotch, vanilla and melon notes was the perfect match for the flavorful fish accompanied by a seaweed casserole.

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We rounded the corner on the dinner with a Chateaubriand with bordelaise sauce paired with a full-bodied Bordeaux. The beef was perfectly cooked and so soft we could cut it with our forks!

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The cheese course was one of my favorites – gorgonzola, Napoleon style, with poached pear. Light, savory and sweet, it was the perfect cheese dish for this menu. It was paired with a voluptuous, golden Fonseca Porto from Portugal, with a light touch of acidity. Perfection!

As the pastry chefs filed in to finish the dinner, we watched Chef Bruno dip cherries in sugar for the plating of his Chocolate Mousse. This airy and rich mousse is served with a simple and refreshing Moscato d’Asti from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.

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The test of a great food and wine pairing menu, according to Thomas Keller of the famed restaurants French Laundry and Per Se, is that the dinner leaves you feeling satisfied but not stuffed. This was certainly the case with our group. We had progressed through seven delicious and inventive pairings and left satisfied yet comfortable. What better way to end this amazing voyage than a lovely evening, great company, excellent food and wine and the gentle sea air?

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We are all so grateful for the generosity of Drew Nieporent, David Gordon, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina. Riviera guests had a wonderful time and learned a lot from all of them. We are already trying to figure out how we can have them back next year for another fabulous Signature Sailing.

October 22, 2012

OCEANIA CRUISES HOSTS CULINARY AND WINE INDUSTRY ICONS FOR SIGNATURE SAILING

October is an exciting month for the culinary and wine teams here on Riviera and Marina. We are hosting several industry icons on our Signature Sailings, the Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festivals, with daily events devoted to food and wine.

Drew_nieporentToday I am writing from Riviera, where we are hosting a team from the Myriad Restaurant Group. About 6 months ago, I met with Drew Nieporent, the founder of Myriad and the undisputed Pavarotti of the restaurant world, to invite him to join us on a food and wine themed cruise. Not only did he graciously accept, but he also volunteered to bring along his master sommelier, David Gordon, and two Myriad chefs, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina. Over the past few months, we planned a series of wine tastings and wine lectures, Q&A sessions with Drew on the restaurant industry and cooking demonstrations with his renowned chefs.

Guitar-vincenzo-martinelliTo kick off this cruise on October 14th, just after embarkation from Athens, we hosted our first wine tasting, featuring four sparkling wines selected for the event by David. (My favorite was the sparkling rosé from 22Roussillon.) As guests tasted the sparkling wines in the Grand Bar before dinner, guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli, an acclaimed guitarist who has performed all over the world and as a headline act on several luxury cruise lines, entertained the group with lively and romantic favorites.

On the 15th, as we sailed away from Kusadasi, David held a wine lecture on white wines of France and California. He shared his views on Old World and New World wines, as well as attributes to look for when tasting and pairing foods with white wines.

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What a thrill we had on the following day as we sailed away from the enchanting Monemvasian landscape at sunset. Drew joined me in the Riviera lounge for a Q&A about his impressive career in the restaurant industry. He has opened dozens of restaurants – the most famous being Tribeca Grill with his partner, Robert De Niro, and his many Nobu restaurants around the world. He also owns Crush, a fabulous wine store on 57th Street in New York City.

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His Q&A started with a short video that was prepared when Drew won the “Innovator of the Year” award from Cornell School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. Drew was wonderfully engaging and charismatic, and our guests asked him questions ranging from how to keep a waiter from prematurely busing your plates to what it’s like to partner with super-star chefs. It was a lively conversation that went on for over an hour, after which we all migrated to a second wine tasting featuring Italian wines.

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Later that evening we enjoyed a special featured entrée, Loup de Mere, from chefs Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina and took a walk through the dining room so our guests could meet the Myriad team.

On the 17th, our senior executive chef Christophe Belin and I hosted a culinary demonstration by chefs Rozzi and Messina, where they made a succulent braised short rib dish with fresh pappardelle pasta. They chose the dish because we are in the early part of fall, and they wanted guests to have recipes to take home that would be perfectly suited to the season.

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We are off to a fabulous start here on Riviera, enjoying foods and wines with our celebrity guests, chefs and wine experts! Stay tuned for more updates from the cruise.

October 19, 2012

JAMES BEARD AWARD-WININING CHEF BARBARA LYNCH JOINS CHEF KELLY ON RIVIERA

Barbara_lynch_hdsht1As summer in the Mediterranean turns to fall, we celebrate the produce in local markets by creating comforting autumn dishes. Who better to share the season with than one of Boston’s (and the country’s!) leading chefs and restaurateurs, Barbara Lynch? Chef Lynch is the only female chef in the United States to hold the distinguished title of Grand Chef Relais and Chateaux. In 1998 she opened No. 9 Park in Boston’s Beacon Hill and from there has gone on to create a culinary dynasty, including six restaurants plus ventures in catering, sustainable produce, demonstration kitchens and artisanal butchery. I invited Chef Lynch on Riviera with the hope of enticing her back to host a culinary tour in the fall of 2013.

Truth be known, I have been a fan Chef Lynch since I dined at No. 9 Park in December of 2005. The snow was falling on the Square, the Scotch was single malt and the food and wine pairing was as close to perfection as it gets. In 2008 I was fortunate enough to visit No. 9 Park and see how the back-of-the-house operation works – including an opportunity to make a late night BLT for a tall blonde star making a movie in Boston with Tom Cruise. Since then I have gotten to know Chef Lynch through our mutual friend and Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef instructor, Annie Copps. Chef Lynch and Chef Copps worked on the line together for Todd English in the 1990s.

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Chef Lynch’s cookbook, Stir, combines “practical simplicity with charming sophistication” for the home cook. Known for her silky pastas, my favorite is her gnocchi, which she demonstrated in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for our guests and in the galley for our chefs!

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During the Accent on Italy cruise, we took five of our popular Culinary Discovery Tours – the favorite was a trip to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the wonderful Chateau Eza. Leaving from Monte Carlo, we traveled the stunning road along the Cote d’Azur to Nice. The market was brimming with flowers, fresh produce, herbs and cheeses. 

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IMG_0111After a few hours shopping in the market and eating socca (a chickpea flour pancake and a typical mid-morning snack of Nice), we climbed the winding stairs to Eze. This charming village is home to Chateau Eza, one of the most famous restaurants in France, if not the world. I designed this Culinary Discovery Tour because I wanted to share this very special venue with our foodie guests. We have booked a table for 24 about 16 times this season, and many of our guests have told me it was the highlight of their vacation!

Our first course was a quail egg on a poached carrot round with a fresh seasonal root vegetable sauce.

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The second course was a chickpea flour panisse in a reduced fresh tomato sauce with charred fresh lavender. 

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Course three was braised pork belly with bacon foam followed by course four, a tagine of guinea hen and North African vegetables.

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For dessert we had white peaches poached in Sauternes wine and topped with crème fraîche.

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The meal was served with wines from Provence, which we have been enjoying all summer. This has been one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours and is definitely on the agenda for 2013. Chef Lynch was especially delighted because she had attempted to dine here in 2010 and was not able to get a table. Imagine my delight at being able to impress the most impressive chef I know!

Chef Lynch was able to spend time with Chef Copps and her students in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center before arriving in Amalfi.

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The class menu included ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms and fresh pasta. Chef Lynch contributed her own fresh pasta recipe for capunti, a southern Italian specialty she learned when she studied in Italy. 

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Another highlight of the cruise was the Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno. Guests enjoyed boarding a small boat and winding through the canals of Livorno, which is a lot like Venice. This is the port from which Catherine de Medici left to marry Henry, a Frenchman, bringing with her an entourage of cooks, butchers, bakers and pastry chefs as well as the famous fork, which she introduced to the reticent French.

After the canal tour, we visited the open market in Livorno where we sampled the cinque e cinque, a focaccia and chickpea sandwich referred to as “five and five,” and strolled through the aisles of fresh meats, cheeses, produce and pastas. I always look forward to a stop at a local cheese shop where the owner ages his own Parmigiano-Reggiano. He gives us luscious samples of local Tuscan charcuterie like salumi and lardo, drizzled with olive oil from his backyard trees, and a selection of heady sangiovese wines to complement our morning snack.

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Chef Lynch’s official host was our own Annie Copps, who shares her contagious passion for food, wine and travel with our guests, whether it is in class, on a Culinary Discovery Tour or as she wanders about the ship. On this tour she was in her element among the fabulous wine and food that she shared with her students.

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I believe when I cease to learn, I cease to live, and one of the best things about my fabulous job is that I continue to learn from our guest chefs and sommeliers. This cruise was no exception! We are all hopeful that Chef Lynch will join us again in 2013 and design a signature tour for foodies and her many fans around the world!

October 4, 2012

CULINARY STARS AT THE BON APPÉTIT WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL ONBOARD RIVIERA

Bon App Culinary Center logoAs Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of dining in each of the exquisite restaurants onboard the ships, and I can say we are not overstating our case when claiming to serve the finest cuisine at sea. Renowned as the cruise line for foodies, Oceania Cruises even features the only custom-built, hands-on cooking schools at sea: the Bon Appétit Culinary Centers onboard Marina and Riviera.

As if a typical voyage weren’t already an epicurean’s dream come true, Oceania Cruises also offers food and wine themed sailings hosted by some of the culinary world’s greatest luminaries. Guests are especially excited about the upcoming Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festival onboard Riviera that will sail from Athens on October 14.

 

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Drew Nieporent
Renowned culinary stars and wine experts from the Myriad Restaurant Group, including founder and celebrated restaurateur Drew Nieporent, will be onboard to dazzle guests with their expertise in food and wine. Over the last 26 years, Myriad has opened and operated over 35 restaurants in cities around the world, including Seattle, Louisville, Providence, Boca Raton, London, Moscow and New York.

 

IntroductionNieporent is perhaps most famous for partnering with celebrity restaurateurs such as Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Frances Ford Coppola to open some of the most recognized restaurants in the world, including Tribeca Grill, Nobu New York City, Rubicon and Corton. Recently, Nieporent was featured with chef-partner Paul Liebrandt on the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary, A Matter of Taste.

 

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David Gordon
Joining Nieporent is Myriad Wine Director David Gordon, who will give a series of wine lectures and tastings for guests. As a young manager at Gotham Bar and Grill, Gordon was seduced by a bottle of Penfolds Grange and never looked back. He has created stellar wine lists for top restaurants in New York and across the country, including the list at Tribeca Grill, which has won Wine Spectator's Grand Award every year since 2002. He frequently participates in the New York Times wine panel and produces and distributes his own wine under the Jeanne Marie and Bacchus labels.

Rounding out the events, Myriad Corporate Chef Ted Rozzi will lead a series of culinary demonstrations in the Riviera Lounge. Rozzi currently oversees the 400-seat Acela Club at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Rozzi has

Ted Rozzi
Ted Rozzi
spent time at New York hotspots The Waverly Inn and Crown and has worked with world-class chefs like Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud, Terrance Brennan at Picholine and Juan Mari Arzak of the famous Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain.

When asked about his upcoming voyage onboard Riviera, Nieporent responded that he was very much looking forward to it. “Oceania Cruises’ reputation for fine cuisine has intrigued me for quite some time, and my team and I are excited to be part of this special sailing. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and work with Oceania Cruises’ guests, as well as sample the food we’ve heard so much about.”

Guests onboard Riviera for this exciting sailing are certainly in for a treat. Please share your stories of the cruise with us here on the blog, and we’d love to see your photographs on our Facebook page.

October 1, 2012

PRESIDENT KUNAL S. KAMLANI ANNOUNCES ENHANCEMENTS TO OCEANIA CLUB LOYALTY PROGRAM

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Kunal S. Kamlani with guests

Loyalty. It’s a word that seems to have lost its importance to some in today’s modern world. Consumers are increasingly switching brands they once trusted for years. Companies have introduced "Loyalty" benefits that expire annually unless you achieve certain milestones every year. These companies argue that expiration dates should apply if there is no annual commitment. Perhaps that’s true elsewhere, but certainly not at Oceania Cruises. Our past guests continually show their loyalty by returning to us again and again. That dedication has built Oceania Cruises into what we are today and allows us to deliver the most value-packed cruise vacation in the industry. That is also why we’ve always sought to recognize such commitment by offering the best loyalty program in travel, the Oceania Club. 

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Town Hall

I’ve spent the past few months talking with our guests about our loyalty program. In fact, on the most recent Reunion Cruise aboard Riviera from Lisbon to Rome, we spoke at length on the subject in our Town Hall, and I was greatly inspired by your insight and suggestions.

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Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis with guests

That’s why I’m excited to announce today that we are expanding the Oceania Club program to deliver even more value to you every time you sail with us. We are adding a new entry membership level called "Blue" for guests to start earning rewards as quickly as their first cruise. And we are significantly enhancing every milestone level with added benefits such as FREE Air Deviation Fee Waivers and substantial savings on onboard activities, including Internet access. Many of these changes are a direct result of your feedback.

Oceania Club Blue Pin
Introducing the NEW Oceania Club Blue Pin

From the very first time you sail with us, we want you to know how much you are appreciated and that we hope to welcome you back time and again. If you don't sail every year, don't worry; our Loyalty doesn't expire.

The new Blue Level membership allows you to earn benefits faster than ever before. With just two cruise credits earned, you will receive benefits such as savings on Oceania Cruises logo merchandise and a complimentary cocktail reception with the Captain and Senior Officers. We’ll also ensure you are always “in-the-know” with advance notice of new itineraries and exclusive members-only offers.

For our Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond members, we are offering more benefits and greater savings on those aspects of your cruise that you have told us you enjoy the most. Whether you like to sip a fine wine, surf the Internet, relax in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub® or venture out on a shore excursion, the more you return to enjoy the Oceania Cruises lifestyle, the more savings we offer on all of the above. 

Oceania Club Bronze Pin
Oceania Club Bronze Pin
Oceania Club Silver Pin
Oceania Club Silver Pin
Oceania Club Gold Pin
Oceania Club Gold Pin


Oceania Club Platinum Pin
Oceania Club Platinum Pin
Oceania Club Diamond Pin
Oceania Club Diamond Pin

We also offer a combination of loyalty benefits that no other cruise line provides, BOTH shipboard credits and prepaid gratuities. And while other cruise lines might offer reduced specialty dining surcharges as part of their loyalty programs, we simply cannot as we NEVER charge a dining supplement to begin with. So we start by offering an incredible value upfront, and then we add to that value the more you sail with us.

The new program is effective with the first 2013 sailings, and you can click here to learn more about the new benefits.

Simply put, we’d like to say “Thank You.” We are so grateful for all of our loyal guests, and we want to ensure you know how deeply you are appreciated. Whether you’ve sailed with us one time or 50 times, you are a treasured part of the Oceania Cruises family.

On the eve of our 10th Anniversary, we made these enhancements to the Oceania Club because we believe our guests’ ongoing commitment should be mirrored by the same passion and appreciation in return. Our guests deserve nothing less than the best, so we will continue to ensure that is always what we deliver. 

On behalf of all of us at Oceania Cruises, Thank You.

Kunal S. Kamlani

President

August 10, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part Three

This is the third and final blog of a series on my recent adventures in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey. I love Mediterranean cuisine and hope to inspire you to plan a cruise to this area, so you can IMG_1918enjoy the flavors of these ancient cultures as I did on this voyage, Lands of Time.

After a delightful few days in Israel, it was off to Rhodes, one of my favorite ports. The old town was bustling with colorful shops and friendly merchants (and even a white parrot). For me, lunch in Rhodes is always at the welcoming fish house overlooking the church ruins. Here the tzatziki was creamy with a hint of garlic and the keftas were grilled to perfection.

L1000579After lunch I returned to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Riviera to teach a class on Greek cuisine. We had fun using the grape leaves I purchased in Israel a few days before. We also made twice-baked barley cakes that we immersed in water for 10 seconds and then dressed with grated tomato, salt, olive oil, feta cheese and dried oregano. The taste of the barley is earthy and the sweet tomato and salty feta are a perfect complement to the fruity Cretan olive oil and uniquely flavored Cretan oregano.

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Our Lands of Time cruise concluded in Turkey in one of my most beloved cities, Istanbul.

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Because we didn’t arrive until noon, I had time for a Turkish Delights class onboard that morning in
the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We made Turkish lentil soup with bulgur, b’stilla with a Turkish twist,
keftas on yogurt with a sweet tomato sauce, grilled flatbread, and a delicate rice pudding scented with rose water.

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L1050621One of the class favorites was the b’stilla: puff pastries filled with spiced rice and chicken, served with a cilantro and mint yogurt sauce. Here is our sous chef, Daniel, popping those in the oven.

L1000448When we arrived in Istanbul, my first stop was the spice market to visit my favorite spice merchant, Andnet at Sen Baharat. This is the best place I have found to purchase the red pepper paste that we use in our Turkish lentil soup and karniyarik (stuffed eggplant). My sister and I stopped into a recommended restaurant, Hadimi, where we enjoyed some traditional Turkish foods: humus with ground walnuts, nazuktan (eggplant with mint, almonds and yogurt) and cerkez tavugu (shredded chicken with walnuts and coriander).

Since we stayed overnight in Istanbul, we had a second day to hang DSCN4487out in Sultanahmet, one of my favorite neighborhoods because of the great shops, food and people watching. I had to try the baklava at an adorable little food cart and make a stop at the exquisite English bookshop, Galeri Kayseri, which specializes in English-language books on Turkish art, architecture, travel, DSCN4502
history and cooking. Here I found a fabulous Turkish cookbook, Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan. It’s very approachable, and the recipes are traditional and authentic. We are testing several in the culinary center now.

L1000395It was a warm day in Istanbul, so we stopped for some perfectly pink watermelon. I always enjoy the unique offerings of Istanbul’s street vendors, such as grilled corn, freshly squeezed orange juice, and simit, which is a circular sesame bread DSCN4484 often made with ground cherry kernels. I love that many of the merchants in Istanbul specialize in one thing and know that one thing well.

41JV262MRTL._SL500_AA300_I am reading John Freely’s Istanbul (the book that Hugh Grant tried to sell Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill), and it’s clear that this city has a rich and complex culinary history. I think to really understand any cuisine, one must dive deep into the history of its people. Nowhere is this truer than in Istanbul. I recommend this book to anyone who is traveling to Istanbul or who simply wants to learn more about this dazzling place.

Pepin-Essential-Cover200Before leaving Istanbul, we were able to squeeze in a class celebrating

the latest book by Jacques Pépin, Essential Pepin. In the class I focused on 10 tips that Pépin offers to help anyone “cook like a professional” at home. We covered the basic emulsion used for salad dressings, dry and moist heat cooking methods, L1050619crepes and the perfect tart dough. It was a great class, and we enjoyed sharing Jacques and Julia stories from his television shows with Julia Child. We also drank Jacques’ favorite wine, a Provence rosé!

And so ended another delightful trip through one of my favorite areas of the world. It was sad to leave the bustling harbor of Istanbul and say goodbye to the guests I had gotten to know over the last 15 days. I hope they will be back to visit their Oceania Cruises family soon. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the extraordinary sights, sounds and tastes of the Mediterranean, I hope to see you onboard as well. Bon appétit!

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part Two

While it would be difficult for me to pick a favorite regional cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine certainly makes the short list, so I am excited to be taking some extra time on the blog to share my recent
adventures in Spain, Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey. As we begin Part Two of my three-part series on the Lands of Time cruise, Riviera has just arrived in Israel.

Small-book-01I have been studying a fabulous cookbook called The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur and have recently developed new Culinary Discovery Tours to the markets of old Jerusalem, Ashdod and Haifa. These tours, which will be offered this fall onboard Marina, will also visit several award-winning wineries.

Israeli cuisine L1020597 is in the process of being rediscovered in the food scene, but I have always loved it because it is fresh, healthy and full of tradition. Celebratory Jewish dishes mixed with traditional foods of Arab and North African nations and the inventiveness of young Israeli chefs have turned cities like Tel Aviv into up-and-coming culinary destinations.

Last year when we were in Ashdod, I spent a lovely day at the market, and I was looking forward to exploring the markets of other Israeli cities on this cruise. We first called on Haifa. I hired a driver and off we went to explore the Jewish and Arab markets in the Old City of Haifa and in Acre, 20 minutes north of Haifa. Because it was Sunday, we first headed to the Wadi Nisnas district and the Jewish market in the Old City. The mangoes, peaches and melons were in season and plentiful. I stopped at one of the spice vendors and found grape leaves, which we used in our Gloriously Modern Greek class later in the week.

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Dried fruits are always plentiful in Middle Eastern markets, and the apricots were so bright and soft, I had to buy a few bags for the tagine recipes in the upcoming classes on Moroccan and Turkish cuisine. The olive monger was happy to let me sample lots of olives until I found the pungent and salty variety that was my favorite.

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My taxi driver accompanied me through the market, and I loaded him up with lots of goodies. Soon our arms were full so we returned to the taxi, having only spent about 100 shekels, or 25 US dollars – not bad! But we were just getting started. We dropped off our load and returned to the market. The driver figured out that I was a chef and was happy to tell each merchant, “She is a chef on the Big O ship in the harbor.” Here’s the view from the top of Haifa, so it’s clear the locals know when we are in port.

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I then asked the driver if he knew “the greatest falafel place in Haifa,” because I had been there before but could not remember the name. Apparently, this restaurant lives up to its billing because he drove me right to it. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I snapped some photos to ensure I remembered it for my next visit. Falafel Hazkenim – I won’t be forgetting that name any time soon!

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L1050577We continued through Haifa and on to Acre to visit the Arab market, which was open even though it was a Sunday. The owner of the market is also an endurance rider with his Arabian stallion, and we shared stories of his races and my days of foxhunting. (Needless to say, I did not share my most recent equestrian adventure in Cairo on Humphrie the camel!) L1020518

I wanted to visit a spice shop that I found last year, Kurdi and Berit, to purchase some coriander, cloves, cardamom and black pepper. When buying spices, I always tell our guests to avoid ground spices. Purchasing them whole and grinding them is so much more fun, and the food is more flavorful as a result of the extra care.

After spending a whopping $75 on spices, we wandered through the market so I could stop and taste my favorite hummus with mushrooms in garlic sauce at the local hummus hang out, Humus Said. The umami of this dish is delicious, and it’s easy to make at home! You can make hummus by pureeing garbanzo beans with extra virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of tahini paste, salting to taste and adding a squeeze of lemon. Then sauté a pound of sliced mushrooms with garlic in about 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Pour the mushrooms and butter on top of the hummus and enjoy with grilled flatbread or pita. It’s a simple recipe and it’s heavenly! 

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Spices and hummus were only the beginning of my market adventure in Acre. Like many markets in the region, the Acre market offers almost anything your heart desires – produce, fish, pastries, ceramics, clothing, kitchen supplies, and even a cobbler to fix your shoes!

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When we were traveling to the Dead Sea, we saw groves of date palm trees with nets to protect the dates from the hungry birds.

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And here at the market those dates were for sale. Of course, I had to pick up some for a tasting in class.

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I also purchased a kilo of sunflower seeds. We eat these by the bagful when in Israel, snacking on them like popcorn. The seeds here are huge and very tasty.

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The breads and pastries in Israel were beautifully displayed and baked fresh daily. These little breads were covered with za’atar, a mixture of sour sumac, dried thyme and marjoram and sesame seeds. The bread is eaten plain as a snack or with the many varieties of hummus that you find here.

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All kinds of fruit drinks were available, many freshly squeezed to order. Prickly pears were in season, and they make a delicious drink. You can find pomegranate and orange juices almost everywhere, and they are especially refreshing in the heat of the summer.

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After a morning of heavy-duty shopping, I was ready for lunch, so I headed out to the German Colony to one of my favorite restaurants, Fattoush. I love their welcome sign, which is a beautiful tribute to tolerance and how food unites us all.

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I ordered a shredded chicken dish (an Israeli take on shawarma) with grilled onions and fresh tomatoes and, of course, the pickled cucumbers that are so much of part of the cuisine of Israel.

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At Fattoush I dined outside amidst the Baha’i Gardens, where brightly colored glass lanterns and balls dangled from the trees overhead. The setting was delightful and the food even better.

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After three fabulous days in Israel, it was time to sail on to Greece and Turkey. As much as I would have loved to stay and explore more, I was very excited for what was to come in some of my favorite ports of call. In my final blog of this series, I will share more photos and experiences from my Mediterranean adventure, as the Lands of Time cruise concludes.

August 8, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part One

DSCN4554Riviera has just sailed from Istanbul, the city described by a 14th-century poet as “surrounded by a garland of waters.” The Galata Bridge diminishes behind us as we cruise along the Golden Horn to where it meets the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This was the final port on our 15-day cruise, Lands of Time, during which we traveled from Barcelona to Istanbul, stopping in Alexandria, Haifa and many other ports along the way. I had the opportunity to experience cuisines from all across the Mediterranean, and so I will be sharing a three-part series here on the blog with the many highlights of this magical voyage.

We welcomed guests onboard in Barcelona, including my sister, Erin, who is traveling with me for a month. Our first stop was the Boqueria Market, a must-visit every time I am in Gaudi’s city by the sea, for breakfast at my favorite little stall. They always have a plate of fresh vegetables, such as artichokes and mushrooms, that they sauté with your eggs and of course, jamon. What would Barcelona be without jamon Iberico and fried eggs for breakfast? Yum!

 

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We had two sea days on this cruise, which are always busy days in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The classes were full and, as always, a lot of fun. We welcomed several families who took classes together and many guests who were true “foodies.” Having just returned from the Baltic, we celebrated with some new recipes in the Crazy for Crepes class: Swedish pancakes with saffron (a spice brought to Sweden by the Vikings from Constantinople) and authentic buckwheat galettes from Brittany.

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After stops in Ibiza and Malta, we arrived at the healthy cuisine capital of the planet, Crete. Escorting 24 of our guests, I led a Culinary Discovery Tour to the small Cretan village of Arolithos, one of our favorite culinary destinations this summer. We were greeted by the friendly faces of our hosts who shared their favorite Cretan dishes in a hands-on cooking demonstration. Guests learned to stuff tomato and grape leaves with a heavenly vegetable mixture. They also made agnopites – a phyllo-like dough made with the local raki liqueur and rolled with myzithra cheese into a treat resembling a cinnamon roll. It is fried and then served drenched in Cretan honey that has a delicate hint of thyme. After a few hours of cooking demonstrations, tasting and strolling through this historic village, we sat for a delightful lunch overlooking the ocean and the olive and grape vineyards below. As they nibbled at the wild herbs and olive tree leaves around us, flocks of sheep bleated as if encouraging us to come and visit anytime!

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After an enchanting day in Crete, we were off on a four-day immersion into the cuisines and cultures of Cairo, Ashdod and Haifa. Since my favorite cuisines are those with lots of fresh produce, vegetables and grilled meats, I was looking forward to tasting the foods of these ancient cities.

In Cairo, we began with a visit to the pyramids where my sister made me ride a camel. His name was Humphrie, and the ride felt nothing like the riding I did for 20 years on my sporting horses in Middleburg, Virginia! But you couldn’t beat the scenery – three pyramids and a Sphinx!

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As we drove through Cairo to rendezvous with the boat that would take us down the Nile, it became clear that mangoes were in season because they were being sold in little stands every few feet. Eating seasonal foods is still a way of life here, not a farm-to-market “movement,” as it is in other parts of the world.

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L1050468We ate lunch on a beautifully decorated riverboat as it sailed down the Nile. The buffet was a delicious collection of mezze: hummus with black olives, grilled eggplant puree with yogurt and chilies, dolmas (fresh grape leaves stuffed with minced lamb, raisins and seasoned rice), minted yogurt and freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. The keftas, or meatballs, made with ground lamb, beef and veal were L1050460delicious. Keftas are an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine, and it is always fun to taste the various seasonings and meats that are used to make them.

After a wonderful day in Cairo, we were off to Israel. I had been studying Israeli cuisine and was eager to spend some more time in this amazing country. I look forward to sharing my stories from Israel with you in Part Two of this series on our adventures on Riviera's Lands of Time cruise.

July 12, 2012

RIGA’S MARKET AND LATVIAN COOKING LESSONS WITH CHEF KELLY

L1050072Latvia is an enchanting country, and Riga is one of my favorite cities. After a few of my colleagues and I visited the expansive market in Riga last year, I knew that we had to share this with our guests as a Culinary Discovery Tour.

L1050065On our recent tour, we rode along the boulevard of Art Nouveau buildings that are so much a part of the personality of Riga. Each one has an intriguing character all its own. It was a sunny day, and people were already picking their spots in the many parks for a Saturday of lounging and picnicking. There had been a festival the previous weekend celebrating the pig (everything’s better with bacon… right?), so the parks were decorated with beautiful rustic statues of pigs made from wood. L1050070

 

After a quick bus tour of the city, we took a short walk to the cooking school. I had been emailing the school’s chef about potential recipes for our time together and was excited to see what local seasonal fare we would find today. I had a chuckle at the sign outside the restaurant that read, “99% Latvian Food.” (I later found out from the chef that his love of olive oil accounts for the other 1%.)

 

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We were warmly greeted by Master Chef Karlis and the owner of Viesistaba, Agate Luse. Their facility occupies the second floor of a trendy restaurant and boutique hotel and is a brightly lit, fully equipped teaching kitchen. Cooking schools like this are popping up all over the world, and this one is perfect for a group of 24, the size of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center class.

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After the cooking program and menu were explained, our guests were given several stations and knives to begin preparing the salad, a watermelon and fresh tomato mix with rhubarb vinaigrette and a local Latvian cow cheese, brinza, which has a tart finish similar to feta. Both in season, the tomatoes and watermelon were so flavorful. Chef Karlis pointed out that this is why his menu changes weekly and seasonally. The climate in Latvia is typically very cold in winter with long seasonal summers when bumper crops produce fruits and vegetables that are either consumed or pickled and dried. 

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With the salad, Chef Karlis served a Latvian meatball with a homemade harissa yogurt sauce. Chef explained that the peppers in Latvia are plentiful, and chefs have their own variety of harissa they use to add a warmth and spiciness to their yogurt sauce. Chef served the meatball with fresh beans and carrots he found at the market earlier that morning.

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With our lunch we tasted three beers. Chef explained that beer is very popular in Latvia because of a strong Germanic influence and that wines are an emerging trend.

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L1050101The table was beautifully set and we enjoyed the food, beer tasting and company. As Jacques Pépin says, it is not just about the food – a great meal is a memory of good company, good wine and good food. That was certainly the case on this day.

After lunch we hopped back on the bus with Chef Karlis as our guide and ventured into the sprawling market of Riga. The market is mostly covered and also has several L1050109
outdoor stalls, referred to as the “private sector,” that locals can rent to sell the week’s bumper crop. The stalls inside are owned and operated by butchers and vendors who have been in the same spot for generations. There are five pavilions, all former zeppelin hangers from another era.

The first pavilion we visited was the fish market. Chef Karlis explained that fish in Riga is largely from the Baltic, and that the selection is not as varied as it is in the Mediterranean or in Seattle, where he was a chef for many years. There are both fresh and salt-water fish available, but nothing huge like the swordfish or tuna we have seen in Sicily. What they do have in abundance here is smoked fish – aisles and aisles of it! There is so much fish they make arrangements of them in baskets – like flowers! We did spy some sturgeon and caviar, but as Chef explains, the prices have shot so high that caviar is not affordable for even the wealthiest citizens of Riga.

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L1050121Before exiting the fish pavilion, we noted the beer stand with a tap right into an enormous drum.

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After the fish pavilion came fresh produce. We scurried on to the pavilion with the picked vegetables…wow, was that a feast for the mouth and eyes! Chef had arranged for us to have a few tastings, so we stopped at a stall owned and operated by two sisters. They offered us sliced pickles to start followed by curried cabbage and slaws from large, mounded displays. This pavilion also had legumes, dried fruits, cucumbers and dill, ready for this season’s pickling.

 

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Before leaving the pavilion, we stopped by a vendor who specializes in garlic. He pickles fresh garlic, including the stalks, which are considered a delicacy in Latvia. It seems they pickle and smoke just about anything! In fact, the underground floors of the market not only have lockers to store food at night but smoking and pickling rooms as well.

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Fortified by the various tastings, we moved on to the dairy pavilion where we were treated to cheeses with caraway and sun-dried tomato. Dairy is very important in the Latvian diet, and it is clear that Latvians appreciate both fresh and aged cheeses in their diverse cuisine.

We popped outside to the “private sector” to check out what the local farmers had to offer at this Saturday’s market. What a feast for the eyes: cherries, berries, potatoes (and not just one variety – dozens of new potatoes, fresh and unscrubbed from the garden).

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But what stopped me in my tracks were the chanterelle mushrooms at 2.50 euro per kilo! On the next tour on July 17, I am hoping they are still in season, as I know Chef Noelle and her tour will want to make a stop and take a few bags back to the ship for class. I didn’t have time to stop and purchase some, and I am still kicking myself a day later!  

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Before heading into the meat pavilion, we stopped in a section of the market that sells flowers. My mother is a master gardener, and I always think of her when I see lobelia, begonias and hanging fuchsia – as was the case today. Thanks to Mom’s instructions over the years, I am actually as good at identifying flowers as I am produce! Thanks, Mom!

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We moved on to the meat pavilion where we saw many beautiful cuts of meat – smoked meats, sausages and my personal find, lardo. There was also a conveniently located vinoteca, where we could wash down the local smoked sausage with a glass of wine.

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Invigorated by our walk through the market, we headed to the bus and back to the cooking school to taste a beet soup that chef prepared for us as a bon voyage offering.

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To cap off our day, we met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for our Flavors of the Sea class. It is a technique class where I focus on moist heat methods (shallow poach and deep poach) and dry heat methods (sauté and pan fry) so that our guests can master the art of fish cookery. For this class I took out a salmon I had cured the day before and shared it with the group. They were so intrigued that I got out a fresh piece of salmon and made another gravlax. Guests often email me when they try these techniques at home, and I’m expecting to hear many success stories about their adventures curing lox. Given the price of gravlax these days, it should help save some pennies for the next Oceania Cruises adventure and Culinary Discovery Tour!

July 9, 2012

A FARM-TO-TABLE ODYSSEY WITH CHEF KELLY IN GOTLAND

Having spent two years in upstate New York’s famed Hudson Valley, I thought I had seen the best farm-to-table restaurants, seasonal farmers’ markets and agricultural sustainability. As idyllic as the Hudson Valley is, if I were a vegetable, I would want to live on the Swedish island of Gotland.

L1040900Recently we officially launched the first season of the Baltic series of our Culinary Discovery Tours by boarding our bus and heading out for an authentic farm-to-table day in magical Visby, Sweden. 

Our first stop was Lilla Bjers Farm, 10 minutes from the port, where we met Margareta and Goran Hoas, pioneers in the Gotland organic farming scene.

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Lilla Bjers Farm has been in the same family for generations. After Margareta and Goran had their first child 15 years ago, they needed to decide whether they wanted to sell the family farm or become farmers. Goran was born on the farm and was inclined to sell, but Margareta, who comes from upland Sweden, thought it would be romantic to move their young family to the farm and live off the land. Shortly thereafter , Goran's father became ill with ALS, and they felt that his illness was linked to the enormous amount of pesticides used on the farm. So they committed themselves to organic farming, and the rest, as they say in Visby, is history.

When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by these passionate yet humble farmers. After taking a few minutes to tell us about the property and their mission, we were invited to tour the asparagus patch, where this spring’s harvest was just recently completed.

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Apparently, once asparagus is harvested, it must be left to bolt and go to seed for next season’s crop. Lilla Bjers Farm is famous for their asparagus, and we were promised a taste later in the day. We were told that asparagus season at Lilla Bjers Farm starts on April 13 – Goran’s birthday– and ends on June 17 – Margareta’s birthday. Made sense to us!

 

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As we strolled through the farm, workers were harvesting everything from red leaf lettuce to brightly colored beets and carrots. Even our sous chef, Veneesh, got his hands on the newly harvested carrots. The fields were lush with peppers, lettuces and the hint of young plants that will mature as the summer progresses.

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Next we headed to the greenhouses that were spilling over with herbs and peppers. Our guide talked about each of the herbs and let us pluck the leaves and savor the intense aroma. Tarragon is a specialty of the island, and we were treated to a leaf to try. They make a tarragon vinegar at the farm that is shipped all the way to Stockholm.

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Three lemon trees had just arrived, and it seemed that there was nothing that would not grow at Lilla Bjers Farm. Even the roses were happy to live here.

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The most recent addition to the farm is a new restaurant. The menu changes daily, and the commitment is to seasonal and local products and producers. We were told that every element of the restaurant was sourced locally, and since opening, the restaurant has been a great success.

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In the chicken yard across from the restaurant, the guinea hens, chickens and roosters were feasting on the cucumbers and dill stalks discarded by the restaurant prep chefs.

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Before leaving, we stopped into the little store that the farm operates. By design, Lilla Bjers Farm caters to Visby restaurants and local families who shop there daily. The restaurant uses a majority of the produce, so there is no plan to distribute their products further. The store is stocked with fresh produce, preserves, salts, nuts and breads.

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I purchased strawberries for the Swedish pancakes we planned to make later in the culinary center and dill for the Swedish meatballs.

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To ensure we capture a “taste of Visby” in our pancakes, we will use saffron, originally brought to the island from Constantinople by Viking traders.

After a good-bye hug and a wave from Margareta and Goran, we boarded our bus. I told them to keep an eye out for my colleague, Chef Noelle Barille, who will arrive with our next group in about 10 days! By then, Goran tells me, the melon plants will be popping from this magical, mineral-rich island soil.

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Our second stop is Ejmunds Gard, which translates Ejmunds Farm, where at the end of a long tree-lined driveway, Maud and her fifth-generation cattle-farming husband are transforming the face of Sweden’s beef industry.

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Inspired by the Kobe beef craze, Ejmunds Farm is raising the most prized meat in Sweden. We were greeted by Maud and her amorous chocolate lab, Stella. After a discussion about the philosophy and history of the farm, we began a tour of the property. It was clear these cows were “living the good life,” feasting on potatoes and enjoying a lot of space to roam – even when indoors.

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The Canyon Ranch staff would be impressed to know that there was a large green bristle brush, hanging like a punching bag, for these cows to scratch themselves on. After their shyness wore off, they treated us to quite of show of nuzzling and scratching. 

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We spent some time in the barns talking about hay production and cattle farming and watching the cows enjoy the warm July sunshine.

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L1040979Before we left, Maud showed us the experiment they recently launched – a truffle patch! They purchased hazelnut trees from an up-island source that had successfully harvested a species of black truffle in the 1990s. They are attempting to cultivate these black “stava” truffles on the farm – with the help of some good fertilizer from their furry friends!

L1050008After saying good-bye to Maud (and Stella), we headed to Visby for a short walking tour and lunch. There was a summer festival, so we were warned that it would be a busy day in “the big city.” 

 

We strolled through a beautiful park that used to be the port.


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Picnickers were lounging under centuries-old trees, and because of the extended spring on Gotland, the flowers were overflowing out of their pots and the roses were climbing the limestone ring walls that surround the old city.

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Lunch was at the famed 50 Kvadrat, hosted by chef and owner Fredrik Malmstedt, the award-winning innovator (along with his wife) of modern Swedish cuisine.

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L1050027We were seated outside on a delightfully warm afternoon and served fresh baked breads and the local Sleepy Bulldog Ale. The first course was asparagus (from Lilla Bjers Farm) and a thinly sliced smoked beef from Ejmunds Farm. Chef explained that he is trying to introduce Visby to non-traditional cuts of meat. Because of the abundance of great beef on the island, most people eat only the prime cuts and grind the rest into burger. He’s not trying to inspire an offal trend; he’s just introducing cuts like hangar and skirt steak to a population that has heretofore feasted primarily on rib eye and tenderloin!

 

L1050034The second course was another non-traditional cut of beef from Ejmunds Farm and baby vegetables from – you guessed it – Lilla Bjers Farm. Several of us paired this dish with the sommelier’s recommended Spanish tempranillo. Its deep red fruits and mellow tannins were perfection. Dessert was rhubarb and strawberries on a bed of panna cotta, adorably presented in a preserve jar. After autographing his fabulous cookbook, “A Taste of Gotland,” Chef Malmstedt gave us good-bye hugs, and we were escorted back to the ship to rest before our cooking class.

I took a short detour to a recommended cheese store called Wisbyost where I picked up some island specialties: a Salambar berry preserve, truffle salt, salumi and saffron salt. Then I headed to the culinary center where Chef Vaneesh had a display of all our local purchases to use during our class.

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At 4 pm our intrepid group of foodies reconvened for a class in the culinary center. We made authentic Swedish meatballs with a sour cream sauce and cranberry coulis, saffron pannkaka (saffron pancakes) and mulled wine.

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I also demonstrated how to make gravlax at home. We discussed what we saw that day but also what was to come in the markets in Riga and Helsinki – the land of salmon (and gravlax).

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A great time was had by all as we celebrated the farm-to-table lifestyle of Gotland. 

July 6, 2012

A MAGICAL DAY IN THE TUSCAN COUNTRYSIDE

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I am so excited about all of our new Culinary Discovery Tours; some of the experiences we have had have been truly magical. Such was the case on a recent tour in Livorno. Because it was a Sunday and the market was closed, we boarded our bus and headed to the Torre a Cenaia winery in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. As we approached the winery on a gravel driveway lined with cypress trees, it was clear this was a very special place. I felt like I was on a Merchant Ivory movie set! 

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The first stop was the quaint winery and cellars, which were impeccably kept. We were shown an oxygen release system on the old barrels that we were told was invented by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The Pitti family has been making red, white and rosé wines for centuries, and the primary grape is the Sangiovese – my personal favorite of this region of Italy. In one part of the cellar, the private reserve bottles were stored in a unique triangular pattern. We wondered if it was for theft prevention, like oranges at the market – if you take the wrong one, the whole display comes apart!

 

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L1040524After a half hour in the winery, we were treated to a carriage ride behind a two-in-hand team of beautiful draft horses. There were 24 of us, so we divided into two groups, and two carriages took us to the stone field house where we would have our cooking classes and lunch.

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As we approached the little stone house, we could see it was set for our meal – so inviting and lovely. Tables were set in the middle of a field of wildflowers and tall cypress trees, like a Tuscan painting. The house had been converted to an open-air kitchen, complete with a large working table and a wood-fired oven.

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Our host, Chef David, was well prepared to begin his first dish, a focaccia made with olive oil and farina.
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He asked for help from our guests, who were happy to dive right in.

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After a good dousing with olive oil the dough went into the white hot oven, and then out it came for us to taste with a lovely white wine made from grapes grown on 200 of the 1,000 acres of vines the family maintains.

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The next item on the menu was pizza. While we waited, we were treated to salumi made from pigs that were raised on the property. L1040549

Fortified, we dove into pizza making with vigor.

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Sitting on top of the refrigerator was a bunch of arugula that had been picked that morning. We couldn’t help but sneak a few leaves, and we were impressed with how zesty and peppery they were. With the pizzas sauced and ready, in they went to the blazing oven, hot enough to create a perfectly crispy, caramelized crust with an intense tomato flavor.

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Not a lot of toppings were needed here! Happy with our accomplishments, we moved to the picturesque lunch setting to sip Brunello di Montalcino and munch on pizza. 

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After our lunch, the carriages took us on a 30-minute ride around the property while Chef David prepared our dessert – a family recipe for cantucci, a semi-soft cake made with anise. As we took in the amazing scenery, we all noticed a white horse following us. He entertained us on the entire carriage ride by coming close and then venturing off to torment other horses in their fenced-in paddocks.

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When we returned, Chef David was waiting for us with a cooking demonstration and dessert. I could not resist getting in on the action and helped Chef David with the cantucci. L1040568

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You can see Chef here with his anise liquor and his flat of eggs. He was kind enough to share the recipe with us: 1 pound butter, 2 pounds sugar, 14 eggs, 1 packet of yeast, 2 pounds flour and ½ cup anise… You’ll have to come on a future tour to see how it is made!

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One of our guests, a physician from the Northeast and a great friend of Oceania Cruises’ culinary centers, made friends with the white horse, who became our unofficial escort for the day.

 

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After dessert and a lovely dessert wine, we were taken back to the cellar and allowed to purchase wines and delicacies.L1040612

It was sad to say good-bye, especially when there was a family wedding celebration taking place with children running about and delicious pastas and braises coming out of the home-style winery kitchens.

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Back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, we had a class on pasta making, and it was such fun!

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The magnificent pasta dishes that were being served to the wedding guests at the winery inspired us all!L1040636


It was a perfect Sunday in Tuscany and one I will not soon forget. The wine, the food and the hospitality – as well as the new friendships – are what make these tours so special. I’ve said many times, “I have the greatest gig in the world!” And this was one of the days that makes that statement an indisputable fact.

 

July 4, 2012

SCOUTING LOCATIONS FOR CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS WITH CHEF KELLY

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We are so pleased by the overwhelmingly positive responses to our Culinary Discovery Tours this spring. We have visited markets in Corfu and Nice, had lunch overlooking the Cote d’Azur and enjoyed a lunch and wine tasting hosted by the “grandfather of Provence cuisine,” to name a few favorites.

After the successful launch of over 20 Culinary Discovery Tours in the Mediterranean, we are moving on to the Baltic. On this cruise we will experience a farm-to-table adventure that starts at Ejmunds Farm, founded in 1860, and ends in Visby’s renowned restaurant 50 Kvadrat, all the while dining on dishes from local farms. Also, we will visit the impressive markets in Riga and Helsinki. 

I am often asked, “How do you find these locations?” So I thought I would share some of my most memorable moments exploring different locations for possible Culinary Discovery Tours.

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L1040724After spending time in the sunny Mediterranean on Riviera, I traveled to Dover for our Northern Interludes cruise to Ireland, Iceland and Norway. It was time to switch gears, and I was excited to join Chef Noelle, who had already begun scouting locations in Dublin, and concentrate on the cuisines of cooler climates. First up was Iceland. I took the “Golden Circle” tour and enjoyed the geysers and waterfalls, but I was even more fascinated by the use of geothermal energy in Reykjavik. They use it to bake bread and to warm greenhouses for vegetable farming! I’m recruiting one of the master bakers from the Culinary Institute of America to join us on a future cruise to explore this island and the culinary and farming traditions.

Next I was off to Kristiansand in Norway, where we were greeted in the port by a giant moose! The fish market here is legendary. After a short stroll from Marina, I crossed a little wooden bridge to a too-quaint-for-words village and found a red wooden clapboard building housing a tiny fish market.

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L1040868I often demonstrate fish fabrication for my classes, but these enormous salmon would be a challenge. They were twice the size of the salmon we normally see in the States. There were many varieties of fish swimming in tanks, including something I had never seen – a winter flounder settled comfortably on the bottom of the tank.

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Staring at the huge lobsters swimming freely in their tanks, I imagined them holding signs that said, “Pick me!” There were vats of pickled fish and beets and other delicacies that would make for a lovely picnic. An impressive little fish market indeed!

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L1040872I wandered in to town on the recommendation of several guests who had mentioned a local produce vendor in the center of town. There I found brilliant white and mystically purple cauliflower, conical shaped cabbage, seasonal strawberries and cherries and my personal favorite, celery root.

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The radishes were huge, evidence of the magnificent growing season here in the “land of the midnight sun.” (Not great for sleeping through the night, by the way, but they tell me that’s not an issue for the locals.) It was a great day exploring and definitely a Culinary Discovery Tour prospect for 2013.

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When we visited Copenhagen on the first day of the Baltic Treasures cruise, I took a trip to the meatpacking district, a trendy new neighborhood with artisanal food shops, fish mongers, sausage makers, wine bars and great coffee houses.

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I stopped along the canal for a cup of coffee at an adorable little truck that the barista drives to and from her locations. (At six feet tall, I would never fit into the tiny driver’s seat!)

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Afterward I stopped for some granola at a neighborhood café, aptly named Granola. I talked with the owner about how the dozens of varieties of preserves that lined the walls were made. Of course, they were made right there in the shop!

 

 

 

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Earlier this season on one of our Mediterranean sailings, I had an amazing opportunity to scout a new tour in Venice. We will be offering the tour in the fall, and I am really excited to share it with you. As many of you know, our onboard venue known as La Reserve pairs the perfect wines with the creations of our brilliant executive chef, and my culinary twin, Franck Garanger. The newest menu for La Reserve was launched this spring, and for the Kobe beef and chocolate sauce dish (yes, you read that correctly!), we found the most magnificent pairing in an Amarone from the Fumanelli winery.

In addition to making some of the most velvety and sensuous wines in Veneto, the Fumanellis have also turned part of their property into a culinary school. The winery has been in the family for centuries, and the current owners are an enchanting couple that travels the globe promoting their wines (in addition to playing polo, racing cars and hobnobbing with celebrities).

 

 

 

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L1040245You can imagine how excited Franck and I were as we set out to scout this new venue. After a 90-minute drive through Veneto, we were greeted by the cellar master and a local cheese master, who offered us several cheeses to sample with the Fumanelli Valpolicella. We had never heard of most of the cheeses, and we were delighted to learn that they were named after the owner of the sheep or goats from which the milk came! Then we were led up narrow stairs to the attic where hundreds of wooden flats lay ready for this year’s grapes. Amarone is made from “raisinated” grapes, which means that after the grapes are harvested, they dry in the attic for several weeks before being crushed.

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After a tour of the cellar, which housed an underground tunnel, Mr. Fumanelli treated me to a ride to the cooking school in his vintage Aston Martin. He was racing in the Mille Miglia the next day with the president of BMW, so I figured I was in good hands.

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Off we went down a little gravel road to a farmhouse that had been converted into a cooking school and inn. We spent time with the chef and learned about many of the unique ingredients of the region, one of which is a rare breed of small chicken that makes a lovely ragu. (As a former poultry farmer, I know that all good things come to an end!)

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After a tour of the school and an hour with the chefs, we sat down with the Fumanellis and several of their guests to enjoy an unforgettable lunch. It was the beginning of cherry season, so the table was spilling over with fresh cherries.

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We had pasta with white ragu followed by a cookie made with semolina and nuts and topped with grappa. (I was glad I was not driving). The Fumanellis were wonderful hosts, and our day could not have been more perfect.

 

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Needless to say, the tour will be amazing, and we are thrilled that our first guest chef to host this tour in the fall will be none other than Barbara Lynch, the owner and executive chef of six restaurants in Boston, as well as a judge for the U.S. team competition for the Bocuse d’Or, the Olympics of cooking. I know this tour will be a huge hit with our guests who are diehard food and wine lovers!

I hope this gives you some insight into how we scout locations and venues for our Culinary Discovery Tours. I couldn’t do this without JoAnne Skrukrud of Oceania Cruises’ destinations team, who connects me with our brilliant operators in various ports and regions. I’m also grateful for chefs Annie Copps, Noelle Barille, David Shalleck and Susie Heller, the faculty of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Like me, they are always on the lookout for great tours.

Now I’m off to an open house to greet our new guests. It will be an exciting cruise, and I will post lots of pictures and happenings from our three new tours. Until then, bon appétit!

June 24, 2012

CHEF DAVID SHALLECK AND KUNAL KAMLANI ENJOY A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR

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Chef David Shalleck has just joined the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Riviera. He is the author of Mediterranean Summer, has produced television shows for Jacques Pépin and has appeared on Iron Chef with Riviera’s godmother, Cat Cora.

Today was truly something special for both David and myself. It was our first Culinary Discovery Tour: The Flavors of Provence. Chef David navigated the culinary delights of Provence while I had the chance to observe how much our guests enjoyed this epicurean adventure.

 

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Mrs. Deborah Murphy, Chef David Shallack, Kunal S. Kamlani, Mrs. Debra Clay, Mr. Paul Murphy


IMG-20120623-00375We started at the fish market in the old port of Marseille where the fishmongers were displaying their catch. There was everything from swordfish to shark to moray eels and, of course, the all important rascasse, or scorpion fish, which must always be considered when even thinking about making bouillabaisse!

Afterwards we headed to Chateau de Fontblanche in Cassis about fifteen miles from Marseille, where we were treated to a five-course tasting and wine pairing menu prepared by Provençal Chef Gui Gedda. We enjoyed this casual and delicious meal in the shade of a giant oak tree on the edge of the vineyard with a glorious panorama of the foothills behind us.

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We started with a classic barbajuan paired with a light, dry, crisp rosé wine. The barbajuan was a delightful vegetable beignet filled with roasted and chopped zucchini, onion, tomato and a hint of herbes de Provence.

IMG-20120623-00395Next we enjoyed a purée of eggplant and garlic (lots of garlic!) with a touch of anchovy, scooped out of interesting little ceramic bowls using garden vegetable crudités. This dish was matched with a delightful white wine made from Marsanne grapes.

Then came a version of pissaladière, the pizza-like snack from Southern France made with caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives. It was spectacular. Instead of anchovies, Chef Gui's version was topped with a bite-size mignon of red mullet. The tart was paired with a Cassis white wine, unique in that the grapes had not been pressed as they would be in the traditional winemaking process. The natural weight of the grapes extracts the juices.

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Chef David, Chef Gui and Kunal Kamlani

Before desert we dined on incredibly tender beef daube – braised beef – accompanied by noodles generously topped with grated Gruyère cheese. Chef Gui's secret for his daube is that it is made with beef cheeks marinated in red wine and bay leaves for 24 hours. It is then seared and cooked at a very low simmer in wine, thyme, rosemary and other herbs for four hours. This was paired with a very well-balanced red wine that was 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Mourvèdre.

 

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We finished with an apricot tarte tatin served with fresh cream and lavender honey. This was paired with a cuvée made from Ugni Blanc, Marsanne, Sauvignon and Clairette grapes.

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Paul and Deborah Murphy

While Chef David and I will always remember this Culinary Discovery Tour, it was the people we were with that truly made it special. Paul and Deborah Murphy are on their second Oceania Cruise, joining us from Wichita, Kansas. The Murphys shared with us that they are very excited about their Baltic sailing onboard Marina next year. Louis and Christine Lizzadro from Houston are sailing with us for the first time. For a grand finale shared by all, we finished the meal by toasting our good friends Craig and Joanne Houliston, who have sailed with us 18 times. Today was their 30th anniversary, and we were honored that they were celebrating it with their Oceania Cruises family, dining in a vineyard in Provence.

After a very comfortable ride back to the ship, there was a nice break before the introduction to Provençal cooking later that afternoon at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. With big smiles on their faces upon entering the kitchen, everyone participated in demonstrations and hands-on cooking to put together a simple and very approachable meal of the region: garden vegetables and mesclun salad greens with a Dijon vinaigrette, shrimp Provençal with chickpea-flour-based panisse – very typical of the region – and a classic cherry and plum clafoutis, a popular and easy dessert to make when stone fruit are in season. As an extra treat, Chef David purchased some glistening fresh shark steaks at the market and prepared them in the classic bouillabaisse method for everyone to taste. 

We certainly will cherish these memories forever.

June 12, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN CRETE

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Not an article is written about the healthy Mediterranean diet without reference to the diet of the people on the island of Crete. When we developed the Culinary Discovery Tour for Aghios Nikolaos on Crete, we wanted guests to experience the true magic of the foods of Crete. The only way to do that is to get up into the mountains, so we travel to Zaros, high atop Heraklion, about 45 minutes from the port.

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L1040057On our recent tour, the guide pointed out wild thyme and salvia (sage) growing in massive bunches along the road. We then arrived at a restored Cretan village perched on top of a mountain.

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This beautiful village depicted the lives of people who lived in simple but functional homes decorated with beautiful woven goods. Weaving was not only a functional part of life in this village, but it had religious overtones as well. After a stroll through the village we arrived at a lovely, large room where we spent the next few hours cooking and learning about Cretan cuisine.

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The menu for this day was dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), gemista (stuffed vegetables) and fyllo (stuffed cheese pies). We also prepared rusk with tomato and feta cheese, the food of shepherds.
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L1040088We started class by gathering around a large table and meeting our hosts, two Cretan women who shared their families’ cooking secrets!
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L1040064Our first task was to hollow out tomatoes and zucchini so we could stuff them with onions, zucchini, tomatoes and fresh oregano. We quickly learned that the secret to the Cretan diet is olive oil and more olive oil. In fact, one third of the calories in the traditional Cretan diet come from olive oil. (Another factor that may contribute to their general good health is that the average Cretan walks 13 kilometers a day!)

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Next the ladies brought out rock-hard bread called rusk, a twice-baked barley bread carried by shepherds into the hills where they tend their flocks for months at a time. We soaked the bread in water for a few seconds to soften it up and then topped the rusk with shredded tomatoes, feta cheese, oregano – and of course, MORE OLIVE OIL. Everyone had a job to do. Below you see one of our guests (a veterinarian from Alaska, no less!) shredding the luscious local tomatoes for the rusk, and Iria from Destination Services sprinkling on the oregano.

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L1040072Next we moved on to the dolmadakia… And what fun that was! We used fresh grape leaves (not the kind in bottles and jars) to wrap our vegetable and rice stuffing. We learned how to hold the grape leaves properly (smooth side down) and not to use too much stuffing. I think we did very well for our first try. Doused in olive oil, of course, they went into the oven to bake for our lunch.

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Last but not least were the cheese pies, which looked like cinnamon buns, made with fyllo. (That’s how they spell it!) The dough is made with flour and water and a bit of raki, a local liquor that gives the dough the ingredient it needs to be soft and supple. We learned how to roll out the fyllo and had fun making the swirls when it was filled with the local tart sheep cheese, myzithra.

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L1040103After all that work, our reward was to enjoy what we made together as a class. We sat at a beautiful table in the courtyard and enjoyed each other’s company as well as the fruits of our labor. We were treated to some local wine and the enchanting hospitality of our hosts.

L1040099After the bus ride home, we returned to the village to shop for local oregano, olive oil and Cretan cookbooks. Then we headed back to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for our “Healthy Mediterranean” cooking class, where we learned several new healthy and savory recipes. We made a white bean hummus with roasted garlic and L1040105chickpea crackers, shallow-poach fish with a lemon butter sauce, and a quinoa-semolina-spinach cake.

It is easy to see why the Cretans are so healthy. They live on an idyllic, sunny island with loads of fresh fruits and vegetables and LOTS of olive trees. But as important, they seem to enjoy each other and are always interacting. Our guide was very informed about the vegetation of Crete, and we all enjoyed hearing his stories of growing up on Crete  – what has stayed the same and what has changed.

 

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As always, we were thankful to the team of sous chefs in the culinary center who accompanied us on the tour. They enjoyed seeing the vegetation in the village and pointed out that much of it reminded them of their villages at home in India.

L1040333The world really is a small place, and food is a wonderful way to bring us closer together!

June 8, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SICILY

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Our adventures on the new Culinary Discovery Tours continued during Riviera’s recent call on Sicily. Guest Chef Francesco Milana and I took 24 students to the bustling market in Catania last week. As the bus left the port that morning, we were lucky enough to catch a view of the steaming Mt. Etna, which is often eclipsed by clouds.

L1040359BWhile the market in Catania is referred to as the Pescatore, or fish market, there is a lot more than just fish to be found here. Our students broke into teams with an envelope of 10 euro and an assignment of produce or product to purchase. Our sous chefs, Daniel and Shamal, had brought both our market carts, knowing that they would be completely full after our hour in the marketplace. 

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Chef Milana, who was born and raised in Sicily, headed out with his group to the fish section. The sea urchin was fresh, and the merchant standing there opened them one by one for us.

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We were all amazed by the presentation of a scaleless eel that was curled in a circle. We found out that the way to cook this eel was to sauté it over high heat in olive oil (Sicilian, of course).

L1040371It’s mussel season, so there were boxes of fresh mussels for us to enjoy, presented beautifully with sliced lemons. Snails were going for 4 euro per kilo, but I couldn’t find any of our guests who wanted to try them back at the culinary center. Haha! According to Chef Milana, they are quite a popular snack in Sicily!

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Swordfish season was also upon us, and I was so impressed with the fresh steaks that were being sliced for the locals. Guess who would like to come for dinner?

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Chef Milana explained how the fishing industry has changed so drastically in his lifetime alone.  As a boy, the fishermen would leave in the morning with their nets and catch hundreds of tuna as they made their way into the Mediterranean Sea. Now there are quotas, and the number of fishermen and boats has been considerably reduced. But they still use the tambourines to tap-tap-tap the fish into the nets. 

I had my eye on some pecorino cheese, so my team and I headed off to purchase a wedge for the arancini recipe we were going to make later that day in the culinary center. We found some great cheese made from sheep’s milk and laced with pepperoncini peppers, which are ubiquitous in Sicilian food. We were also making a caper sauce, so one of the students found this fabulous container of plump capers in a coarse grind salt.

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We were also going to prepare one of Chef Milana’s signature recipes, Pasta con Pesto di Pistacchi e Gamberi (pasta with shrimp and a pesto of pistachio), so we were on the hunt for a fresh pistachio that is harvested once every two years in Sicily. And we found it! The pistachio di Bronte is a prized nut and costs, as you can see if you look closely, 70 euro per kilo. That’s $35 per pound! After tasting the final product in class, we decided it was worth the expense. The pesto also called for fresh basil, and we found a young, beautiful green selection at the herb vendors.

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L1040436It’s still late spring in Sicily, so there were wonderful beans, like the broad bean in the striated red casing here. We opened and cooked these beans, and they were delicious with a little Sicilian olive oil, fresh olives and sundried tomatoes. Chef Milana shared that Sicilian dishes typically have no more than five or six ingredients and are quite seasonal. So we thought we’d try our hand at making up a recipe for the beans – we didn’t do too badly!

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The produce was beautiful. Fennel, tomatoes, onions, wild strawberries, long pale zucchini, cherries and lemons were a treat for the senses. The merchants could see our four chefs in whites wandering through the market, and they all wanted us to taste something from their stall.

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I finally caved when we came to the stall with fresh melons. The melon flesh was bright yellow, and the watermelon was pink – signifying the beginning of the season. Daniel and I had to sample both melons. Luckily, we didn’t get juice on our clean chef whites!

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L1040390I came upon the smell of sweet garlic and saw this young man cleaning garlic that had obviously just been plucked from the ground earlier today. The dirt was still on the roots, and the flesh was so soft it could have been an apple. We took the garlic back to the ship and used it in our pasta pesto. 

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I try to purchase something from most of the vendors when we visit these local markets, as a sign of respect and also in appreciation of their allowing us to photograph their produce, fish, meats and products. Today I made a new friend; he had a stall with fresh string beans. I hope to see him again when we return with another group.

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After finishing our shopping, we all met back at the elephant statue outside the market to walk to our next spot – where we would make cannoli! The shop was called I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza, which translates to Grandma Vincenza’s Sweets, and the tagline was “Amore per la Tradizione,” or love of tradition. When we entered the quaint shop, we were greeted with a little tray of confections and warm, friendly smiles from the family, whose matriarch started the business 50 years ago. Her photo is on the brochure, and they tell us she stops by sometimes to check on her children and grandchildren, who manage the shop today.

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Being Sicilian, Chef Milana takes charge and works with the pastry master to show us all how to make the cannoli shells and then stuff them. Not too much time had passed before our students had mastered the skills of filling the cannoli – and enjoying them! What fun we all had with the different fillings: pastry cream, ricotta and chocolate as well as pistachios and chocolate shavings to touch up the open ends of the cannoli. Our guide, Caterina, was delightful. Here she is inspecting the baked cannoli shells.

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After enjoying a tasting of the cannoli and some local liqueurs, we were back on the bus and off to our winery visit. Benanti is one of the premier Mt. Etna wineries, and we were excited to see the winery and taste the wine. We arrived in the lovely village of Monte Serra and walked to the facility through a beautiful tree-lined canopy. I was struck by the many things in bloom. The prickly pear, which is abundant in Sicily, was flowering, and the petunias in a wine barrel were already hanging down and abundant.

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I was also fascinated by the tiny vintage Fiat in the driveway. Thinking it was meant to be on display, I was promptly told it belonged to one of the winemaker’s sons, who had driven it to work today!

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As we entered we were greeted by our knowledgeable winemaker, a sommelier who impressed us all with her knowledge of wines and her passion for the grapes of Benanti and the unique soil and growing conditions on Mt Etna. We sat down in a beautiful stone-walled room to enjoy a tasting of two wines paired with cheeses and salamis, olives and sundried tomatoes, and of course, freshly baked bread. The wines we sampled were Pietramarina, made from the indigenous Carricante grape that is grown only on Mt. Etna, and Serra della Contessa, a Negrello grape variety harvested with intense minerality and best paired with the kinds of mature cheese and meaty salami we were served. 

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After our snack we were treated to a walk through the vineyard on this beautiful, sunny day. We also had the chance to visit the old winemaking house, where many decades ago the grapes were pressed by women in their bare feet. Apparently there are still occasions at the winery where the old traditions can be observed, but we were assured these methods were not used to produce the bottles we were served! I was reminded of the I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy and Ethyl stomped the grapes. I’m sure many of us have enjoyed a hearty laugh watching those reruns – although I have to admit, I do remember the originals as well!

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With our bellies full and our spirits high, we returned to the culinary center for our Sensuous Sicily class. We arranged all of our purchases on the main countertop, so we could discuss them and have Chef Milana share his knowledge of Sicily and the cuisine of this beautiful island. We had purchased some zucchini flowers, so we made chickpea fritters with them in the traditional Sicilian way. I think they will be the last of the zucchini blossoms we will see this spring, and we were delighted to find them so fresh and well kept. We used the pecorino cheese we had purchased to prepare arancini, the delicious fried rice ball snack from Sicily.

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L1040451We also enjoyed Chef Milana’s pasta with shrimp and pesto, as well as calamari from the market that Shamal stuffed and sautéed for us.

We always have such a wonderful time in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. After spending the day together, we all become good chef-buddies and enjoy exchanging our favorite foodie adventures and must-see recommendations. And everyone was quite proud of the delicious Sicilian food they made.

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In this class we also enjoyed an additional treat. Chef Milana is known as “The Singing Chef” so he treated us all to a song at the end of class (and a few times during class), which was enchanting.

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What fun it is to have a guest chef who can share his passion and knowledge about his boyhood home with our students and guests.

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Our deepest thanks to Chef Milana, and we look forward to seeing you again soon on Riviera!

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