103 posts categorized " Dining "

February 17, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY AND THE VIETNAMESE COUNTRYSIDE

SaigonAlthough Ho Chi Minh City made the news last week for the grand opening of Vietnam’s first McDonald’s, guests on board Nautica got nothing but a quintessentially Vietnamese experience over the weekend while exploring this city of more than nine million and its surrounding countryside.

Known as Saigon prior to the end of the Vietnam War and still referred to as such by many, the city’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, in honor of the revolutionary leader who served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. Oceania Cruises offers several shore excursions that explore this bustling metropolis, from its wartime relics and colonial architecture to its folkloric traditions and spiritual heritage, and excursions into the Vietnamese countryside are available as well.

Because Nautica frequently stays overnight in Ho Chi Minh City, guests have ample time to explore and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the contrast of city and country life. For me, there is nothing as energizing as immersing myself in the culture of a thriving urban center, but just as appealing is the serene countryside, where often I find a more authentic expression of cultural traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

Guests on board Nautica enjoyed warm temperatures and bright sunshine while exploring the Vietnamese countryside on the Mekong River Cruise shore excursion. At the mouth of the seventh longest river in Asia, the Mekong Delta is one of the “rice baskets” of Vietnam, contributing about 50 percent of country’s rice production. Life in the Mekong Delta is centered on the river, and many of the locals spend their time paddling its canals and tributaries, whether farming, fishing, trading or escorting visitors on tours.

Mekong River Dusk

Vietnam Canal Cruise Paddler

The shore excursion began in My Tho. Considered the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the city was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan in the 1680s. Here guests toured the Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ornate sanctuary near the city center set amidst beautiful gardens and decorated with carved and gilded wood. The laughing Buddha statue, an image believed to have originated in Chinese folklore, towers over the peaceful retreat where monks provide a home for orphaned, needy and disabled children.

Vinh Trang Buddha

Guests then boarded a motorboat and began to get a feel for daily life on the Mekong Delta as they passed fruit orchards, stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and a vast variety of boats.

Far from the lines at the new McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City, guests stopped to explore the picturesque Thoi Son Island and enjoy a lunch of authentic Vietnamese food before continuing on to visit a family-run coconut candy factory. They then traded their motorboat for smaller, more traditional sampans and concluded the day with a scenic cruise through the narrow, tree-line canals of the lush delta.

Lunch at Thoi Son Island-Saigon

Thoi San Island-2

Oceania Cruises offers several opportunities to visit Vietnam in 2015. Enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the countryside, a thrilling day in Vietnam’s largest city, or both, because all the 2015 cruises feature overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City!

 Photos by Peter Pretty

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.

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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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December 20, 2013

AN EVENING OF AUTHENTIC ITALIAN CUISINE IN TOSCANA

DSC04822 - Version 2As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I share this post today to right an egregious wrong. In looking through past posts, I discovered that somehow I have never devoted a blog to Toscana. Considering it is not only my favorite restaurant on the ships but also one of my favorite restaurants period, I can’t believe I’ve neglected Toscana in this way.

Perhaps I’ve been reluctant to share my passion for Toscana because I’ve been teased about how much I love this restaurant. This is probably because each time I join friends for dinner here, my first question is, “How many courses is everyone having?” At my birthday dinner in Toscana, one of my friends answered, “Two.” I very nearly invited her to leave the party.

Toscana03Toscana serves authentic Italian recipes prepared with all the love and care of a Tuscan grandmother. And in some cases the recipes actually came from a Tuscan grandmother. Many dishes were created by Oceania Cruises’ talented team of international chefs, and others are generations-old family recipes shared by Italian crew members.

These wonderful recipes beg to be accompanied by a fabulous wine, so as with all evenings in Toscana, my most recent visit began with perusing the list of exclusive Italian wines. While the obvious choice would be a Chianti, my party selected a Famiglia Anselma Barolo from the Piedmont region, northwest of Tuscany. Typically bold and full bodied, Barolo is one of Italy’s greatest wines, and the Anselma family certainly knows Barolo because that is all that they make.

Next it was time to select that essential ingredient in any Italian meal, olive oil. We were presented a menu detailing the range of flavors and intensities of several extra virgin and infused olive oils. With olive oil this good, I prefer to savor the pure characteristics and aromas of the oil, but for those who like to add balsamic vinegar to their olive oil, an equally high-quality selection of balsamic vinegars is also featured. Our chosen olive oils were poured for us, and there was a diverse assortment of fresh homemade breads presented to dip in the oil.

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Then it was time to get down to business. I almost always begin with the Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese, as I simply can’t resist fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and fragrant basil. The Caprese salad is one of the best ways to enjoy these Italian staples – fresh, full of flavor and complemented by a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The more adventurous will want the try the Carpaccio di Polpo. This octopus carpaccio served with a warm potato salad and champagne vinaigrette is not only delicious but also one of the prettiest dishes on the menu.

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On this particular evening, I decided to try a new antipasto, the Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata, which showcases one of the most treasured of Tuscan delicacies, the truffle. This timbale is made with artichokes and Parmesan cheese, served with a black truffle sauce and drizzled with arugula-infused olive oil. The flavors were exquisite, both rich and perfectly balanced.

In Tuscany, pasta is not typically served as an entrée but rather as an earlier course in the meal. So in Toscana, you can enjoy a small pasta dish as a first course, or “il primo,” and still try one of the delectable beef, lamb or fish dishes as an entrée. The chefs seem to have anticipated my difficulty in deciding between all the wonderful pastas, as they kindly created the Trio Toscana that allows you to sample two delicious pastas and a risotto in one dish. The trio includes a perfectly prepared lobster risotto, a classic fettuccine carbonara, and a spinach and ricotta tortelloni laced with a delicate sage butter. If you prefer a tomato-based sauce, try the Linguine Cioppino with seafood in a light pinot grigio and cherry tomato sauce.

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Toscana10The Tuscans are fond of their grilled meats, so on this visit I selected the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina as my entrée. The filet mignon is served with a Gorgonzola crust, sautéed garlic spinach, grilled polenta and a Brunello sauce. I typically order steak when I dine at Polo Grill, but now I will definitely consider a steak entrée at Toscana as well. Each bite melted in my mouth.

The veal dishes are also very popular, such as the bone-in veal chop in wild porcini mushroom sauce. And as if there aren’t enough options already, Toscana also features dishes from neighboring regions of Italy, such as the Osso Buco alla Milanese and Lasagna al Forno alla Bolognese. If you somehow manage to save room for dessert, Toscana has an excellent tiramisu.

 

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Needless to say, I am completely satiated when I finish a meal in Toscana, and yet each time I leave I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you love Toscana as much as I do, feel free to share your favorite dishes in the comments here on the blog!

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

Marina and Riviera have said goodbye to Europe for 2013 and set sail for warmer waters for the winter. Both ships ended their final European cruise of the season in Barcelona, an amazing city that I’ve so enjoyed exploring as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

One of the things that makes Barcelona distinctive is its blend of traditional architecture interspersed with the modernist buildings of Gaudí. The renowned architect’s inimitable style is found throughout the city, as he designed everything from private homes to public parks and churches. One of Barcelona’s most famous façades, Casa Batlló is the most unique and striking building I’ve ever seen. Now a museum and event space, Casa Batlló was built from 1904 to 1906 as a private home for textile industrialist Josep Batlló.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo 2

Next door is another modernist building, Casa Amatller. While it was designed by Gaudí contemporary Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the style is drastically different. The contrasting styles of these buildings, along with two more nearby homes by two other modernist architects, have earned this block the moniker of Illa de la Discòrdia, or Block of Discord.

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

Wine and TapasAfter visiting Casa Batlló, I stopped for some tapas and wine on the patio of a restaurant just down the street on Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most fashionable and expensive streets in Barcelona. Every time I visit Spain I’m truly amazed at what the Spanish can do with just bread, tomato and a touch of garlic. Pan con tomate (literally “bread with tomato”) is one of my favorite tapas. Add a little manchego cheese and I am in heaven! I also enjoyed a glass of El Perro Verde (The Green Dog), a lovely and very reasonably priced Spanish verdejo.

It was a good thing I fortified myself with tapas, because my next stop, Park Güell, is perched on the top of a very steep hill overlooking the city. Esuebi Güell, a well-known Catalan industrialist, commissioned Gaudí to create a residential garden village. Although the residential project failed, the city of Barcelona acquired the property and opened it to the public as a park.

The entrance, unmistakably designed by Gaudí, is composed of four flights of ornately decorated stairs, including a beautifully tiled dragon-like lizard, one of the best-known images of the park.

Park Guell

Among the completed buildings were two pavilions for visitors and park keepers, also distinctly Gaudí. The number of beautiful, detailed mosaics, sculptures and structures is astounding. The park is essentially a spectacular outdoor museum with free entrance!

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I’ve shared a few blogs about Barcelona, but there is so much to see and do in this city that I’ve only scratched the surface. I look forward to sharing more when Oceania Cruises’ ships return to Europe next season, and I hope I’ve inspired you to plan your European cruise for 2014! Oceania Cruises makes frequent stops in Barcelona in the summer season, so hopefully you will have a chance to visit on one of these cruises or the many others offered:

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

Last week Nautica, Marina and Riviera all called on the port of Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. From this port, you can explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and so many charming towns, from Pisa to Cinque Terre to San Gimignano. Of course, one of the most popular places to visit is the grand city of Florence.

View of Florence

I recently took the Florence On Your Own shore excursion, which is perfect if you want the freedom to wander the streets of this amazing city at your own pace without worrying about getting back to the ship on time. A comfortable, air-conditioned bus picked me up at the ship for the two-hour trip to Florence, during which a guide shared info and maps that helped me navigate the city. Once we arrived, I had six lovely hours to enjoy Florence before the bus picked me up and returned me to the ship.

The bus dropped me off at the Piazza di Santa Croce, just off the Arno River and near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where I began my day. Construction began on the basilica, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, in 1294. With 16 chapels, it is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the burial place of some of history’s most famous Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

At the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue dedicated to the great Italian poet, Dante. Donated in 1865 to celebrate the sixth century since Dante’s birth, the statue was moved to the steps of the basilica in 1968. Born in Florence, Dante was eventually condemned to exile for political reasons, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Dante’s sentence was rescinded. Thus, while the city of Florence built a tomb for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the 19th century, his remains are still in a tomb in Ravenna, the city where he died. At each corner of the base of the Dante statue sits a rather stern-looking heraldic lion with one paw on the city’s coat of arms, said to represent the power of the people of the Republic of Florence.

Basilica di Santa Croce Dante Statue Basilica di Santa Croce Lions Dante Statue

With only one basilica down, I was already starving. I stopped at a restaurant on the piazza and enjoyed one of the best Caprese salads I’ve ever had, accompanied by some delicious prosciutto, a rich lasagna and a glass of red wine. Suffice it to say, I was sated and ready to continue exploring.

Lunch Caprese Salad

My next stop was Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. Originally built during Roman times, it is the oldest bridge in Florence. The current structure was built in 1345, and the workshops along the bridge were mainly used by butchers and tanners. Today the shops offer a wide array of jewelry and souvenirs to the many tourists that visit.

Ponte Vecchio

Plaza VecchioAfter Ponte Vecchio I moved on to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. At the end of the 13th century, Florentines decided to build a palace that provided greater security to the magistrates. The massive Romanesque fortress is one of the most impressive in Tuscany and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.

The Fountain of Neptune stands on the piazza, as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s David, marking the place where the original statue once stood. The original is now housed in the Accademia Gallery, about a 15-minute walk north of the Palazzo Vecchio, and I consider it to be one of Florence’s must-see sights. While you’ve probably seen any number of the images and replicas of the statue that seem to pervade Western culture, the original is truly astounding in its scale, detail and beauty.

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

Uffizi Gallery CourtyardNear the Palazzo Vecchio and also well worth a visit is the amazing Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The gallery houses some of Italy’s greatest works of art, including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. One of my favorite works in this museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, although it’s almost ludicrous to name any favorite amidst the incredible collection of masterworks. There is usually a long line to get into the Uffizi, so I highly recommend advance reservations, which can be made online for a fee. Oceania Cruises also offers excursions to both the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, so you can avoid the lines at both.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Florence, and I haven’t even mentioned the Duomo yet, one of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in Europe! I’ll save that for a future blog, and if you want to see this wonderful city for yourself, here are just a few of the ample opportunities to visit with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 4, 2013

MORE OF THE BIG APPLE

This week Regatta made her final stop in New York for 2013 before sailing south to warmer waters for the winter season, so I am taking this opportunity to share the remainder of my photos from my most recent trip to this fabulous city as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

On this trip I was very much looking forward to visiting to the 9/11 Memorial. Tickets to visit the memorial are free, but you do need to get them in advance if you are not on a prearranged tour. I highly recommend the Oceania Cruises shore excursion Downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial, which includes a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of Lower Manhattan followed by a visit to the memorial.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, the memorial occupies 8 of the 16 acres of the former World Trade Center complex. Names of all the lives lost are inscribed in bronze plaques that surround the two waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the twin towers. Like a beacon of hope, the new One World Trade Center being built to replace the twin towers rises over the memorial plaza. 

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There is no way to describe the feeling of arriving on this solemn scene. The roaring water of the fountains blocks out the ambient noises, so I was left with what felt like a very solitary experience of the monument despite being surrounded by visitors. I knew it would be a powerful tribute, but there is no way to really know how moving the experience will be until you are there. It is a poignant testament to the impact of the tragedy and the incredible strength and resilience of the American people, particularly New Yorkers, in the wake of the devastation.  

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After visiting the memorial, I spent some time walking the streets of Manhattan and just taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. The skyscrapers soaring over historic churches nestled in their shadows. The car engines and taxi horns blending somehow harmoniously with the din of voices, within which I could discern any number of accents and languages as I strolled through the multitude of faces. Ultimately, the tempting aromas from the street vendors and local restaurants drew me to my final quintessential New York experience of the day – pizza!

When an Italian immigrant reinvented a Neapolitan staple food in 1897, New York–style pizza was born. In 1905 Lombardi’s was licensed by the city of New York, becoming America’s first pizzeria. There are now pizzerias on just about every street corner in New York (Ray’s and Original Ray’s being the most ubiquitous), but what makes Lombardi’s special, along with a handful of other pizzerias in the city, is the brick oven. In an authentic New York pizzeria, the ingredients are fresh and the pizza is baked to order in a brick oven.

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I “accidentally” ordered a large pizza and for a few minutes was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish, even with the help of my friend who had happily agreed to join me. But walking the streets of New York and the smell of Lombardi’s pizza have a way of making a girl hungry, and I am proud to say, there was not much left when we were finished.

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One of the greatest things about New York is that, no matter how many times you visit, there is always more to see and do. If you’ve never been, you simply must add this city to your bucket list. And there are some distinct advantages to seeing the city on an Oceania Cruises voyage. New York is a city in which it’s easy to drop several hundred dollars on food and lodging in just a day or two, but with your Oceania Cruises home away from home awaiting you in port, you can sample the local fare, see the sights and then return to the luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine on board and take full advantage of Oceania Cruises’ incredible value. Plus, on these 2014 voyages, you can also visit a number of other wonderful cities along the American and Canadian coasts – and even the Caribbean!

 

October 31, 2013

PUMPKIN CARVING ON BOARD RIVIERA

Carving competition1 The holidays are always a festive time on board the ships of Oceania Cruises – and Halloween is no exception! The chefs embraced the spooky spirit of the season in a pumpkin-carving contest onboard Riviera. Everyone put their knife skills to the test to concoct the creepiest, craziest, most creative jack o’lantern in the galley. Podium

We’ve always known our chefs were gifted, but they really showed off their artistic talents in carving these fearsome faces. The grand prize went to Assistant Cook Emmanuel Paygane. Cook I Komang Pamatha took second place, and Assistant Chef de Partie Vishant Raut took third.

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Congratulations to each of them!

Of course, amidst the Halloween fun, our chefs continue to create the exquisite cuisine that our guests enjoy on board each day. In fact, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger was putting the finishing touches on a new salmon en croute to be served at lunch. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Happy Halloween from your Oceania Cruises family!

October 29, 2013

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

Regatta arrived in New York City today, and guests will enjoy an overnight stay in the city that never sleeps. Overnight stays are one of the hallmarks of Oceania Cruises itineraries, and if any city merits two full days of exploration, New York City certainly does.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to cities all over the world, and each one holds a special place in my heart. But when I visit New York, it’s a different experience than disembarking in a city on distant shores. I know the language; I know the culture; I know the traffic laws. But no matter how familiar it may feel, each visit fills me with new excitement at the prospect of further exploring this wonderful city.

As I’ve previously visited New York’s most famous sights, on my most recent visit I decided to dig deeper into the quintessential New York experience. I began by heading uptown to 112th Street and Amsterdam to get a glimpse at the spectacular Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. One of the largest Christian churches in the world, construction began on the cathedral in 1892. The original design was Byzantine-Romanesque, traces of which can be seen in the dome, but was changed to a Gothic style in the early 1900s. A fire in 2001 badly damaged the inside and it was closed to the public until 2008. Although yet unfinished, the cathedral is just as breathtaking on the inside as it is on the outside.

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As a foodie, I was especially looking forward to my next stop. From 112th street, I made my way down to 80th Street and Broadway to Zabar’s grocery store. In 1934, Louis and Lillian Zabar opened a small counter in the Daitch Market with the idea of selling the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price (a philosophy that Oceania Cruises can appreciate, as the company was founded on offering a luxurious cruising experience at an exceptional value). Almost 80 years later this market is a celebration of everything good about food: barrels of olives, walls of cheeses (some hanging from the ceiling), fresh bread, and I lost count after 15 different kinds of butter from all over the world.

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Zebars Cheese Zebars Bread

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Zebars Olives

I might still be standing in the chocolate section, but after being surrounded by so much amazing food, it was time to eat. So I headed south to Carnegie Deli, across the street from Carnegie Hall. There is usually a line out front, but if your party is small, it moves fast. And if you are as hungry as I was, fear not, because right away you can enjoy a generous serving of an assortment of real New York pickles.

Carnegie Deli 3 Carnegie Pickles

Family owned and operated since 1937, the restaurant has several rooms, the walls of which are covered with hundreds of photos of famous people who have eaten here. There is nothing romantic about it, but if what you want is great New York deli food, you can’t go wrong here. The menu is enormous but I came for the basics: matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich on rye. The portions are generous to say the least, so I recommend sharing! The soup was heavenly and the pastrami was perfect. They just don’t make pastrami like that where I come from!

Carnegie Soup Carnegie Sandwich

These highlights of my day are just the beginning of my New York experience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon. If you are hoping to explore this amazing city for the first time or return for more, there are several opportunities to sail there with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 14, 2013

ENCHANTED BY CINQUE TERRE

Today Marina calls on La Spezia, Italy, and guests have the chance to visit delightful Cinque Terre. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the opportunity to visit the villages of Cinque Terre last year, and they are the most enchanting I’ve seen.

Intro

Cinque Terre is composed of five fishing villages along the stunning Ligurian coast of Italy. Soaring cliffs rise straight out of the sea, and this rugged landscape kept these towns inaccessible by land and completely isolated for centuries. As a result, the traditional Ligurian culture has been remarkably well preserved, and Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Even today it is very difficult to reach the villages by car, and no traffic is allowed in the historical centers. The best way to reach the villages is by boat or train, both of which are available from La Spezia. There are also hiking trails that lead between each of the villages, although some require steep ascents or descents, often via stairs. The easiest, shortest and most famous path is the Via dell’Amore, or “Lovers’ Lane,” that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore and offers spectacular views. But then, in Cinque Terre almost any vantage point offers spectacular views.

My visit began in the village of Manarola. At first I was simply mesmerized by the uniquely scenic beauty of the town, embodying all the romance of the Italian Riviera. But I was even more astounded to imagine what perseverance had been required to create these isolated villages and ensure their survival. In addition to fishing, the locals have made their living through the centuries by constructing thousands of miles of terraces along the cliffs on which grapes and olives are grown. Because of the challenging topography, most of the cultivation of the vineyards is done manually. Today Cinque Terre offers a picturesque and peaceful retreat only because of centuries of hard work and determination.

Manarola Manarola 3

Manarola 2 Manarola Terraces

My next stop was Vernazza. Both Vernazza and Monterosso were devastated during a freakishly severe rainstorm that caused destructive floods and mudslides in October 2011. But both towns rallied impressively afterward and made a remarkable recovery. Now the cafés, restaurants and shops are all bustling again as tourists and locals alike enjoy Vernazza’s charming waterfront, one of the most photographed spots along a coastline that inspires infinite photographs.

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My final stop for the day was Monterosso al Mare, where the Torre Aurora stands on a promontory overlooking the sea. The medieval tower was one of several constructed in the 16th century to protect the town from pirates. A lovely walk along the coast took me from the train station past the Torre Aurora to the Old Town.

Monterossa Monterosso with Torre Aurora

Monterosso has some lovely churches, such as the 14th century Church of Saint John the Baptist with its striking striped façade and rose window.

Church of St

Next door is the Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. This charitable brotherhood for the poor, farmers, fishermen and sailors was committed to providing burials for those who could not afford it. As I was admiring the Baroque details of the church, I suddenly found myself taking a much closer look. The interior was adorned with skeletons, a reminder of the inevitability of death. It is said that pirates donated their treasure to the church in an attempt to save their souls.

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Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor 2

After a day of touring, I stopped into one of the lovely restaurants that lined the narrow streets. I felt obligated to reward the local fishermen and vintners for their efforts, so my choice for lunch was an easy one: seafood pasta and a local wine. Both were absolutely delicious, and the crisp white wine beautifully complemented the flavors of the pasta. Liguria is also known for its pesto, so as an appetizer, I tried some trofie al pesto. The hand-rolled pasta was the perfect marriage for the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.

Cafe Cafe Pasta

Cafe wine

I was content to conclude my visit without seeing the other two villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia, because that gave me an excuse to return! Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Cinque Terre not only from La Spezia but from Livorno as well. I hope you have the chance to visit these captivating villages on an upcoming Oceania Cruises voyage. 

 

 

October 11, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS NEW “TASTE OF THE WORLD” MENU

If you follow Oceania Cruises’ blog, then you know that as Blogger-at-Large, I love travel and I love food. Oceania Cruises has always appreciated that the two go hand in hand, because one of the greatest parts of travel is experiencing the variety of world cuisines. This is one reason that we feature many later evening departures and overnight stays in port, so that guests have plenty of time to sample the local fare and enjoy an authentic meal ashore. At the same time, the onboard cuisine is the finest at sea, and the culinary program is designed to reflect the varied flavors of the international destinations we visit. Our chefs continually strive to enhance this onboard culinary experience, and we are very excited to unveil their latest innovation.

Franck GarangerAfter many months of research, experimentation and plenty of tastings by both chefs and executives, Oceania Cruises is pleased to introduce the Taste of the World dishes. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and his culinary team thoroughly researched and tested more than 80 recipes to create this new collection that captures the essence of 13 countries with six to seven recipes presented on each plate. These new dishes celebrate the authentic flavors of some of the most intriguing areas to which Oceania Cruises sails.

The new Taste of the World dishes will be featured during lunch in the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Café on each Oceania Cruises ship beginning in January 2014 as part of an entirely new menu (about which I’ll share further tantalizing details in a future blog!). Guests who have lunch in the Grand Dining Room can order a Taste of the World selection as an entrée or enjoy it as an appetizer, perfectly sized to share with the entire table.

Cuisine onboard Oceania Cruises is noted for its variety, and the Taste of the World dishes are no exception. Here are few of my favorites (and I freely admit that my love for some of these cruising regions has a lot to do with which Taste of the World choices I will enjoy the most).

What is more enticing than golden and emerald buddhas, red-roofed pagodas, terraced rice fields, buried terra cotta warriors or great walls that stretch for thousands of miles? For me, that would be Asian food, and the Taste of the World from Asia showcases some of the best of countries such as Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Dig into crispy Prawns Tempura, a delectable Thai Beef Salad, creamy Avocado Rolls, tasty Wakame Salad, satisfying Vietnamese Chicken and Shrimp Fried Rolls, and a perfectly cooked Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce.

Taste of the World from Asia

Few countries tantalize the palate like Italy. Until you travel among the hills of Tuscany, glide across the canals of Venice, walk the cobbled streets of ancient Rome or sip a glass of limoncello among the lemon trees of the Amalfi Coast, you may not realize the incredible breadth and depth of Italian cuisine. Somehow the Taste of the World from Italy embodies all of the nation’s great flavors in just one plate featuring refreshing Melon and Prosciutto, delicious Cipolline in Agrodolce with Goat Cheese, tangy Grilled Marinated Vegetables, decadent Tomato Mozzarella Stracciatella, smooth Ricotta and Spinach Panzerotti, and lovely Fagottini di Bresaola e Ricotta.

Taste of the World from Italy

England has given us amazing cathedrals, crown jewels, stunning palaces, historic museums and iconic clock towers, but this popular destination’s cuisine is often overlooked. It’s a shame, because the best of English dishes presented on a single plate is a reminder of why this empire once stretched around the world. The Taste of the World from England presents a wonderful Salmon Cake with Tartar Sauce, savory Roast Beef with Coleslaw, fantastic Soft Eggs with Potato Salad, traditional Fish and Chips, surprisingly good Honey and Mustard Pickled Vegetables, classic Yorkshire Pudding and beloved Minced Beef and Onion Pie.

Taste of the World from England

Wander among the lavender fields of Provence, explore the small towns in the countryside, discover the great museums of Marseille and you have only scratched the surface of what this amazing region has to offer. With the Taste of the World from Provence, you will better understand the many cultural and artistic influences that have shaped Provence through the centuries. Sample Salted Cod Aioli, vibrant Artichokes Barigoule, a smooth Chicken Liver Pâté with Aubergine in Vinegar, spicy Nice Black Olive Tapenade, crunchy Fried Barbajuan with Spinach and Ricotta Stuffing, traditional Salad Niçoise with Tuna and a spirited Green Olive Fougasse.

Taste of the World from Provence

We get so caught up in the swaying palm trees, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and brightly colored undersea worlds of the Caribbean that it’s easy to forget its cuisine is among the most interesting and sought after in the world. With almost every major European power laying claim to an island at one point or another, the dishes served in the Caribbean hark back to an intriguing ancestry. Mix in the native plants and indigenous spices and things really start to get interesting. The Taste of the World from the Caribbean features spicy Jerk Chicken, Dirty Rice, refreshing Avocado and Pineapple Salad with a Passion Fruit Vinaigrette, moist Crab Cake with fiery Poblano Aioli, tart Lemon Marinated Fruit Salad, Dhal Puri Flat Bread and delicate Acras de Morue and Sweet Potatoes.

Taste of the World from Caribbean Island

Many other countries are also delectably profiled in the Taste of the World. Some of my favorites are the positively divine Eggplant Baba Ghanoush that is part of the Taste of the World from Turkey, the Lamb Bourekaki and Spanakopita included in the Taste of the World from Greece and the Beef Kefta with Yogurt Sauce served with the Taste of the World Morocco. I’m a big fan of Indian food, so the Taste of the World from India’s Chicken Tikka Salad, Samosa and Prawns Curry sound delicious. The Philippines are represented by Pork Spring Rolls and a Mango Salad, and Mexico tempts the palate with Fish Ceviche and Empanadas with Salsa Cruda. The rich fishing history of Scandinavian countries is showcased in Gravlax and Marinated Herring with some Swedish Meatballs and Polar Bread to keep things interesting. Last but certainly not least, the Taste of the World from Spain represents the many flavors of the country, ranging from a Valencia Spinach and Orange Salad to Beef Albondigas and Pulpo Alla Gallega.

Taste of the World has been a huge hit with guests who got a sneak peek during the preliminary onboard tastings, and those cruising with us in 2014 can look forward to enjoying this wonderful array of new dishes. The creativity and innovation of our chefs continues to uphold Oceania Cruises’ long-held reputation for serving the finest cuisine at sea.

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.

September 23, 2013

JACQUES PÉPIN HOSTS SIGNATURE SAILING ONBOARD RIVIERA

Sagrada FamiliaRiviera set sail from Barcelona on Thursday on the Mosaic Masterpiece cruise, hosted by celebrated master chef and Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director, Jacques Pépin. Chef Pépin is hosting several special onboard events during this cruise, including culinary demonstrations and guest appearances in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.

Chef Pépin has also been enjoying the opportunity to explore the wonderful destinations on this itinerary. In Barcelona, he visited Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. Begun in 1882, the magnificent church was unfinished at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 and remains unfinished to this day, although successive architects have continued the work according to Gaudí’s original designs. 

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Of course, Chef Pépin also wanted to explore the local markets in Barcelona, so he stopped into the Santa Caterina Market to check out the expansive selection of fresh produce, fish, meats, cheeses and more. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a bite of lunch as well!

While Pépin is renowned as a brilliant master chef, you may not be aware that he is also a talented artist. Some of his own works as well as several works by other artists in his personal collection are displayed in Jacques restaurant onboard the ship. Thus, it’s no surprise that Pépin greatly enjoyed the chance to visit the Miró museum when Riviera called on Palma de Mallorca.

 
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Pépin with friend and fellow chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak

While Joan Miró was born in Barcelona, his mother’s family was from Mallorca, and he began visiting there at a young age. In 1929 he married a Mallorcan woman, Pilar Juncosa, and settled in Mallorca permanently in 1954. He built studios here that he and his wife later donated to the city of Palma, and now visitors can contemplate the artist’s work amidst his own creative surroundings. Pépin and his friends enjoyed a lovely afternoon discussing the works of this legendary artist in such an intimate and personal setting.

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It’s no wonder that Oceania Cruises and Chef Pépin make such a perfect team, as our ships are known for two of Pépin’s favorite things: exquisite cuisine and an exceptional art collection. Upon returning to Riviera, Pépin could observe works from an astounding array of artists, from Pablo Picasso to Wifredo Lam. And guests onboard Marina can see some of Joan Miró’s finest works without even disembarking the ship!

The Mosaic Masterpiece cruise continues with calls on Málaga, Gibraltar, Casablanca and Cádiz. More culinary and artistic delights are sure to come!

September 16, 2013

10TH-ANNIVERSARY SAILING CONCLUDES A YEAR OF CELEBRATION

Nautica arrived in Athens today, marking the end of Oceania Cruises’ final 10th-anniversary sailing of the year. Hosted by Founding Chairman Joe Watters and his wife, Virginia, the cruise concluded with all the fanfare merited by this historic milestone.

Oceania Club Reception
On the evening of September 13, the Captain’s cocktail reception in Nautica Lounge was hosted by Captain Igor Bencina, Founding Chairman Watters, General Manager Carlo Gunetti, Oceania Club Ambassador Sharon Miceli and Cruise Director Nolan Dean (pictured above). Mr. Watters and the senior officers warmly welcomed each guest to the special event.

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At the celebratory reception, Mr. Watters expressed his gratitude for the patronage of all of Oceania Cruises’ guests over the past decade and for their loyalty in the years to come. He also recognized the individual officers and crew who have been with Oceania Cruises for its entire 10-year history, noting that these dedicated members of the Oceania Cruises family are certainly one of the reasons that guests continue to sail with us time and time again. 

10-Year Team Members
That evening Mr. and Mrs. Watters hosted several of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests for an exquisite dinner in Toscana, which of course included a celebratory toast. 

Toscana
Gala Tea with Chef

The celebration continued on September 14 at the Gala Teatime in Nautica Lounge. Executive Sous Chef Mario Santoro and the Nautica culinary team presented a magnificent event that included not only the artisan teas, delicious pastries and finger sandwiches that are guest favorites during the traditional daily teatime, but also ice sculptures, fine champagne, caviar and other special treats. Mr. Watters greatly enjoyed the opportunity to talk more with several of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests. 

 

Mr. Watters and Guests enjoy Gala Tea Gala Tea with Guests
The year 2013 has been full of celebrations marking the landmark 10th anniversary of Oceania Cruises. As the final anniversary sailing concludes, Oceania Cruises’ founders, executives, officers, crew and guests continue to reflect on fond memories of the past decade at sea and look forward with great excitement to the next 10 years and beyond.

September 11, 2013

REGATTA HOSTS MASTER CHEF JEAN-LOUIS DUMONET

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Jean-Louis Dumonet, Karen Dumonet and Eric Barale

Regatta
has been playing host to two very special guests onboard the current Ultimate Panama Canal cruise. Master Chef Jean-Louis Dumonet and his wife, Karen, boarded Regatta in San Francisco for their first cruise ever and presented several cooking demonstrations during the sailing.

 

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Barale, Dumonet and Macouin
Chef Dumonet is executive chef of the Union Club in New York City and president of the North American region of Maîtres Cuisiniers de France. This prestigious association of some of the world’s leading chefs is dedicated to preserving and spreading the French culinary arts, encouraging training in cuisine and assisting in professional development. Maître Cuisinier, or Master Chef, is one of the most esteemed titles that a chef can aspire to attain. Oceania Cruises Culinary Director Eric Barale and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger are also members of this eminent organization.

 

 

Chef Dumonet and his wife were joined by Barale as well as Traveling Senior Corporate Chef Renald Macouin in presenting entertaining and informative culinary demonstrations that were greatly enjoyed by guests throughout the voyage. As an additional treat, the Grand Dining Room menu featured one of Chef Dumonet’s special dishes each evening. Guests enjoyed creations such as Foie Gras Crème Brûlée, Sweet Corn Soup with Lobster, and Dumonet’s signature Chocolate Mousse.

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:

 

August 22, 2013

REGATTA LEAVES HER HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Regatta is wrapping up another fantastic summer in Alaska with a final stop in San Francisco before following sunny skies to the Southern Hemisphere. Highlights of the summer included Oceania Cruises’ 10-year anniversary sailing with Chairman and Founder Frank Del Rio and his wife, Marcia – godmother of Regatta and stops in destinations as far west as Kodiak and Seward. As Regatta calls on San Francisco, this seems like the perfect time to share some of the amazing shoreside activities available from this charming city by the bay.

Alcatraz Island is a 25-acre island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile from the city. Designated as a maximum security prison in 1933, Alcatraz housed many infamous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Straud, known as the “Birdman.” The tour of the island includes a roundtrip ferry ride with scenic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, an opportunity to explore the island with a tour guide, access to the prison and a fascinating 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring interviews with former inmates and prison guards.

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Considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and certainly the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1937 until 1964 when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Completed in four years, the tremendous 746-foot-tall towers, enormous main cables and signature orange color attract 10 million visitors annually. And the views are stunning from either side of the bridge!

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San Francisco boasts several highly regarded museums, and many of the museum sites are as famous as the collections themselves. The Legion of Honor is a three-quarter-scaled adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, perched high on the headlands above the Golden Gate, offering fantastic views of the bridge and the city as well as a wonderful collection. Reopened in 2005, the new de Yong Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is an impressive modern building in the heart of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is also renowned for its cuisine. The birthplace of California Cuisine, the city is also home to some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and fusion cuisine in the world. Wine lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to tour Napa Valley, which offers world-class wineries as well as exquisite restaurants by famed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to visit this amazing city, Regatta returns to San Francisco several times in 2014. Because many cruises embark or disembark here, you can take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel programs and spend a few extra days exploring the city before or after your cruise. It will be an experience you will never forget!

Regatta in San Francisco:

July 15, 2013

10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING ONBOARD REGATTA CONCLUDES

Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio recently concluded Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary sailing onboard Regatta, the ship that started it all. Regatta sailed from Seattle on the Coastal Alaska voyage on July 5th, exactly 10 years after the ship set sail on her inaugural voyage. Mr. Del Rio hosted the sailing with his wife, Marcia, who is Regatta’s godmother.

The sailing featured numerous celebrations in honor of the milestone anniversary. The exceptional culinary team flexed their creative muscles at the Gala Tea. High tea is a time-honored tradition onboard the ships of Oceania Cruises and is held each day at four o’clock in Horizons lounge. But the Gala Tea was a unique celebration that went above and beyond the traditional teatime selections. The talented chefs spent many hours preparing not only a vast assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries but also exquisite sculptures made from ice, fruit and chocolate to adorn Horizons for the special event.

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On one evening Mr. and Mrs. Del Rio hosted a special dinner in Terrace Café for some of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger prepared a special menu that included Steamed Prince Rupert Wild Halibut “au Caviar” with a Fennel and Saffron Emulsion, as well as Roasted Veal Rack Loin with Cocotte Potatoes.

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One of the most special evenings was the 10th Anniversary Oceania Club Cocktail Reception in honor of all of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests as well as the dedicated officers, staff and crew. Some of the most traveled guests in Oceania Cruises’ history were onboard this sailing, including Mr. and Mrs. Kohel, Diamond Oceania Club members who were on their 56th cruise. Also recognized were Mr. and Mrs. Starzman, Platinum Oceania Club members who had sailed on Regatta’s inaugural voyage on July 5, 2003.

Platinum Members

Mr. Del Rio took the opportunity to thank all of Oceania Cruises’ guests who have made the past decade possible. He also joined Captain Vitaliy Silvachynsky and General Manager Jason Gelineau in honoring the team members who have been with Oceania Cruises for its 10-year history.

 

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Frank Del Rio, Captain Silvachynsky and GM Gelineau
 
Culinary Director - Franck Garanger
Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger is recognized


Captain Silvachynsky himself was one of those congratulated, along with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. Several others were also recognized, including those pictured below.

Cabin Steward - Freddy Reyes
Steward Freddy Reyes
Bosun - Kosta Niolov
Bosun Kosta Niolov

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cellar Master - Marlito Medollar
Cellar Master Marlito Medollar
 
Chef De Cuisine - Edgar Valguna
Chef de Cuisine Edgar Valguna


 

 

Chef de Partie - Dindo Sabado
Chef de Partie Dindo Sabado
Chef De Partie - Jonathon Bravo
Chef de Partie Jonathon Bravo


 

 

Chief Purser - Doru Gherghin
Chief Purser Doru Gherghin
Jr Sous Chef - Amador Gutierrez
Jr Sous Chef Amador Gutierrez


 

Mechanic - Evgeni Popov
Mechanic Evgeni Popov
Night Auditor - Emily Flores
Night Auditor Emily Flores


 

Staff Captain - Damir Kurilic
Staff Captain Damir Kurilic

 

The sailing ended with a spectacular show in the Regatta Lounge, after which the entire crew paraded into the lounge to join guests in a final celebration. It was truly a historic and unforgettable 10th anniversary sailing – a wonderful celebration of the past 10 years at sea and the perfect way to kick off the next decade to come!

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July 13, 2013

A GRAND CELEBRATION AT SEA

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When Vice Chairman Bob Binder was on Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary sailing onboard Marina last month, he shared some photos from the gala anniversary brunch. After seeing the spectacular celebration created by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs, I was especially looking forward to this event when I embarked the anniversary sailing onboard Riviera. As always, our brilliant chefs did not disappoint.

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This special “Colossal Brunch” was held during a beautiful day at sea. You could sense the festive atmosphere the moment you arrived in the Grand Dining Room, where the staff stood ready to greet all of our guests with a warm welcome to the celebration. The Grand Dining Room was adorned with ice sculptures, floral arrangements and amazing displays of “edible art.” From the pastries, breads and fruits to the carving stations and the seafood, every creation was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. 

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Guests were treated to an array of culinary delights. There were crab claws, gravlax, colossal shrimp and grilled lobster tail. Prosciutto and Virginia ham were sliced to order. Caviar was served with the traditional accompaniments, and there was a selection of cheeses from around the world as well as a colorful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. The bread onboard is always baked fresh daily using only the finest French flours, and each baguette, bagel and croissant was carefully crafted into a masterpiece.

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IMG_0315The only challenge was saving room for the splendid desserts, each a work of art. A delicious anniversary cake was accompanied by a towering sculpture designed in chocolate. What better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of culinary excellence at sea than with a spectacular brunch as we sailed the Adriatic from Dubrovnik to Venice. It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful day, and the day concluded with an equally special celebration.

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While exceptional cuisine has always distinguished the Oceania Cruises experience, our guests tell me time and again that it is the officers, staff and crew that make every Oceania Cruises voyage feel like coming home. Last night was the Oceania Club cocktail reception in honor of our cherished guests and dedicated team members that are such an important part of our Oceania Cruises family.

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I welcomed guests to the event with (pictured above left to right) General Manager Thierry Tholon, Oceania Club Ambassador Carol Harrington, Captain Gunnar Romtveit and Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias. It was an emotional event as we honored some of the most loyal guests, officers and crew that have sailed with us over the past 10 years.

DSCN1295-2 DSCN1306-2In the above photo are pictured Ms. Deanne Abram and Mr. Stanley Smith, who we welcomed on their 13th voyage with Oceania Cruises. To the left are Mr. and Mrs. Louis Abrams, who were recognized for reaching the Bronze level of Oceania Club membership on their fifth cruise with us. In total, nine guests received their Bronze pins for having sailed five cruises, and six guests received their Silver pins in recognition of their 10th voyage with us. It was truly a pleasure to meet so many of our loyal guests and have the opportunity to thank them for being a part of our Oceania Cruises family.

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We also recognized Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fraterman, who were on their 14th cruise and were our most traveled guests on this sailing. One of the most special moments of the evening was when we honored Cruise Director Leslie Jon, who has been with Oceania Cruises for our entire 10 year history. This day was truly the pinnacle of an unforgettable 10th anniversary sailing, and we look forward to making more fond memories in the next decade to come.

July 9, 2013

A MEMORABLE 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION IN TOSCANA

Toscana PhotoOn a sailing that has already created so many fond memories for me, last night was the most memorable yet. As Riviera set sail from Taormina, Sicily, I headed to Toscana with my wife, Daniela, to host some of our most loyal guests for a dinner in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. Through the windows of Toscana, we could see the beautiful sunset behind Mount Etna, a perfect backdrop for a very special evening.

Riviera’s string quartet played as our guests arrived. Daniela and I welcomed each guest, as did Captain Gunnar Romtveit and General Manager Thierry Tholon. We were also joined by several of the senior officers, each of whom hosted a table for the evening. Our guests were more than 50 of our most loyal Oceania Club members, from Bronze level through Platinum, and we were honored to be celebrating 10 years at sea with some of the guests who had made it all possible.

Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti prepared a six-course dinner befitting the exclusive event. The menu was printed for each guest as a keepsake to remember not only the exquisite meal but also the wonderful company we all enjoyed as we celebrated this special occasion together. It was such a pleasure to be able to talk with our guests in this intimate setting and to hear their delightful stories and fond memories of their voyages with Oceania Cruises. I was pleased to hear that, while the ships are beautiful and the cuisine exceeds their highest expectations, it is our officers, staff and crew Toscana Photo-2that truly differentiate the Oceania Cruises experience from any other. As one guest put it, “It’s like coming back to see family every time.”

We are so grateful to have these cherished guests as part of our Oceania Cruises family, and I offered a toast to their health and happiness. I was glad to have the opportunity to personally thank them for choosing to explore the world with us and for making it possible for us to expand our fleet and deliver even more dream vacation experiences. We raised our glasses to the wonderful journeys we’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years and to creating more treasured memories onboard Oceania Cruises in the years to come.

Everyone in Toscana last night said they are looking forward to the next decade with great excitement, and in fact, we made a commitment to each other that we would reunite the group and celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 20th anniversary together as well. In the meantime, we will always cherish our memories of this special evening, and I hope our paths cross again many times.

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 17, 2013

GALA BRUNCH CELEBRATES OCEANIA CRUISES' 10TH ANNIVERSARY

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The celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary continues on the Scandinavian Serenade sailing onboard Marina. As we sailed into Copenhagen this weekend, Chef Alexis Quaretti created a magnificent celebratory brunch. The centerpiece was a chocolate castle and a cake to commemorate this milestone anniversary. You will note that there were already a couple pieces of cake missing by the time I took the photo. I am not an early riser, and apparently some of the early birds have sweet tooths.

The chefs created a spectacular feast for us. There were a number of carving stations, making it particularly challenging to select my entrée from the many appealing options. I finally settled on the salmon in puff pastry with spinach mousse, and I was very pleased with my choice. Since we were breakfasting, I felt obligated to include some eggs with my meal, so I doubled up on the béarnaise sauce.

It is also important to eat six servings of fruit and vegetables each day, so I toughed it out and had two large servings of this luscious fruit torte.

Brunch service Fruit Torte

For this celebratory event, the chefs not only created beautiful dishes but also sculpted culinary masterpieces to adorn the Grand Dining Room. You would be amazed at what these talented chefs can create from sugar and fruit – true works of art. 

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It was a brunch befitting a 10th anniversary celebration and a wonderful start to another day exploring the wonders of Scandinavia.

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.

June 13, 2013

VICE CHAIRMAN BOB BINDER SENDS GREETINGS FROM 10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Marina has set sail on the first of four cruises this year that will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Oceania Cruises. As one of the founders of Oceania Cruises, I am excited to be hosting this celebratory voyage, and I’m looking forward to meeting many of our valued guests whose loyalty has allowed us to reach the milestone of 10 years at sea.

Butler GreetingMarina set sail from Southampton under rather stereotypical British weather. There was a crisp breeze and a bit of fog and light drizzle, which was all the more reason to spend the day exploring the Marina! We have almost 700 past guests onboard, so most are enjoying refamiliarizing themselves with the ship, and our new guests have been very impressed with what they’ve seen so far. Our team of butlers was ready with welcoming smiles to greet guests and assist with their every need.

I also enjoyed welcoming guests as well as some British government officials and travel agents. I decided I should probably wear a tie for my official duties, but don’t worry, we haven’t changed the dress code. I’ll be packing the tie away soon and enjoying our country club casual dress code for the rest of the cruise.

Bob BinderMarina looks as beautiful as ever, although last winter I sailed around South America onboard Regatta, and I have to say I am equally fond of all of our ships. The only thing I had missed onboard Regatta was the cuisine from Red Ginger, since Red Ginger restaurant is only available on Marina and Riviera. But now we are offering selections from both Red Ginger and Jacques in the Grand Dining Room on Regatta and Nautica as well, so guests can enjoy the full scope of the exceptional Oceania Cruises culinary experience onboard all of our ships.

Speaking of the Grand Dining Room, I’m looking forward to trying many of the 82 new dishes that we recently introduced on these menus. Our culinary team spent nearly a year designing and testing the new dishes, including three new lobster dishes and 10 new pastas and risottos. Now I get to enjoy the fruits of their labors!

You can probably tell that the excellent cuisine is one of my favorite parts of an Oceania Cruises voyage. But I shouldn’t neglect to mention the wonderful ports of call we’ll be visiting. As with all Oceania Cruises itineraries, this one includes a wealth of fascinating destinations, from Oslo to Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, where we’ll stay for two nights so our guests have plenty of time to explore this spectacular city.

This promises to be another unforgettable Oceania Cruises voyage, made uniquely special by all of the onboard events in celebration of our 10th anniversary. I will enjoy reflecting on the past decade and looking forward to the next as I celebrate with our cherished guests. I’ll share more stories of our journey here on the blog soon!

June 11, 2013

A DAY IN DUBLIN

Marina just made her first stop in Dublin for the summer season, which inspired me to pull out photos of my recent trip to Dublin as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises. If you haven’t been, there are several opportunities on sailings this summer and next, and I highly recommend exploring this wonderful city steeped in history.

If you select a sailing with an overnight stay in Dublin, you might spend some time exploring the beautiful Irish countryside. While some decry Ireland’s frequent rains, the reward is lush green hills, verdant pastures and the iconic rainbows – often they even come in pairs! 

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Despite the amount of rainfall, Ireland also gets plenty of sunshine, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunny day during my visit to Dublin. With its heart on its sleeve, Dublin doesn’t pretend or try to be something it is not. Everywhere I looked I saw its jovial spirit written on the faces of its residents, its spirituality exuding from the many churches, its conviviality embodied in the pub culture, and its ancient and modern history harmoniously situated side by side throughout the city.

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One of the nice things about Dublin is that many of the major landmarks can be found along the River Liffey, so I was able to see quite a few sights by meandering parallel to the river for a mile or so.

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I started the day with a jaunt through St. Stephen’s Green. An oasis from the hustle and bustle of urban life, this is one of the larger city parks, covering 22 acres. With more than two miles of walking trails and a faithful adherence to its original Victorian layout, the park is a wonderful example of this country’s passion for landscape design.

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After a quiet walk in the park, I headed a few blocks north to visit Trinity College. A highlight of any trip to Dublin is a stop at Trinity College Library, which displays the original Book of Kells. It is said that the Irish “saved civilization” when Celtic monks set about meticulously copying the books that were being destroyed across Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Thought to have been created in the ninth century, the Book of Kells is an immaculately preserved, illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. Written in Latin, the calligraphy of the text is itself a work of art, and the intricacy of the colorful illustrations is astounding. The book is in a locked display case, so only two pages are viewable, but these are certainly worth seeing. Replicas of other pages are on display along with a treasure trove of other ancient works. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, so you’ll have to visit Dublin and see this magnificent book for yourself.

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Trinity College

Book of Kells Museum

Continuing along the river, my next stop was the Temple Bar District, which is located on the south bank. It is a unique neighborhood in that it has preserved its medieval street pattern, with narrow cobblestone streets that are lined with galleries, boutiques and, of course, a famous pub or two.

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Just south of the Temple Bar District is Dublin Castle, the prestigious city center, which has been continuously occupied since it was built in 1204. Situated on 11 acres, the site includes two museums, two cafés, an international conference center, two gardens, government buildings and the State Apartments. With so much to see, I was not able to spend nearly as much time here as I wanted, thus giving me ample reason to return as soon as possible!

Bedford Tower of Dublin Castle

Religion is a huge part of this country’s history and culture, so there are numerous churches in Dublin, each one more striking than the last. In fact, the city has two medieval churches that have shared status as cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, an arrangement nearly unprecedented in history. Christ Church Cathedral is an impressive structure founded in 1030 by the Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard.

Christ Church Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been at the heart of Ireland’s history and culture since it achieved cathedral status in the early 13th century. The largest cathedral in the country, it has been visited by many of Irish history’s important dignitaries and is also the final resting place of Jonathan Swift.

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The Dublin sunset made an especially lovely backdrop for the city’s churches as well as its more modern facades and bustling streets. As evening approached, I decided it was time to stop for a pint of Guinness (or maybe two) and a classic Irish meal.

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Dating to 1198, The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub. Here you may sip a pint in the exact same spot as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift or Michael Collins. Guinness is not only a delicious beverage but also a fabulous cooking stock, as I discovered in a stew made with beef, mushrooms and onions in a Guinness and thyme sauce served in Yorkshire pudding. You can also enjoy a traditional Irish stew with chunks of lamb, vegetables and potatoes, as well as several other classic Irish dishes. And of course, everything comes with potatoes!

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After dinner and a pint, I headed to the famous Grafton Street to share the remainder of my time with the lively crowds. The city is an open book, and in only one day I was able to enjoy a fascinating look at the history and culture of Ireland. I hope you will be able to do so as well on one of Oceania Cruises’ upcoming sailings!

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2013 sailings to Dublin include:

2014 sailings to Dublin include:

*includes overnight stay in Dublin

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.

Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.

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I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.

On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.

We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.

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The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.

Pantheon panorama

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Pantheon Alter

Pantheon Inside

As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!

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I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!

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Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.

Piazza Navona Sant'agnese in Agone church

Piazza Navona 2

I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.

Piazza del Campidoglio

At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.

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Colosseum close

This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!

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 26, 2013

50 DAYS AT SEA FOR 50 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

A few days ago I received an email from Peter and Pauline Pretty, loyal Oceania Cruises guests from Oakville, Ontario, sharing several photos from their 50-day Grand Voyage to celebrate 50 years of marriage. You may remember the Prettys from a previous blog post I wrote on their South Pacific cruise or from the article in the January 2013 Your World Your Way brochure. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their wonderful photos as well as congratulate them on this amazing milestone.

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The Prettys feel at home on the ships of Oceania Cruises, one of the many reasons they return year after year, and celebrating such an important anniversary did not go unnoticed on this momentous sailing. Nautica General Manager Jason Gelineau arranged a special celebration at the Polo Grill, Pauline’s favorite restaurant, and the social director, Emmanuelle, serenaded the couple.

Of course, the best part of the Grand Voyage for these adventurers was the nearly two months spent exploring Africa and Asia onboard Nautica. As Nautica prepares to sail for Europe for the summer, the Prettys’ stories provide a lovely recap of some of the highlights of a wonderful winter season.

The Prettys got a feel for the history and culture of Mozambique during a tour of its capital on the Discover Maputo shore excursion. Stops included the Central Train Station designed by Gustav Eiffel, famous for conceiving the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and also the Museum of Natural History, Independence Square and City Hall. Highlights for the Prettys were the opportunity to observe semi-wild lemurs and a visit to a local market where they shared a moment with these adorable kids.

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In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Prettys took the Ingiriya Tea Plantation shore excursion, where they got an insider’s look at how Sri Lanka’s most important cash crop is cultivated. They watched harvesters pick the fresh tea leaves – 65 to 75 pounds a day are collected – and saw how the leaves are processed. Afterward they enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of tea and were able to purchase some to bring home.

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The Prettys frequently enjoyed tea onboard the ship as well because afternoon tea is one of Pauline’s favorite activities. Longer voyages provide the chefs the time to really flex their creative muscles and create an extraordinary event even more splendid than the traditional teatime – the Grand Gala Tea Party. The pastries and cakes were not only beautiful to look at but scrumptious too. Jason and Emmanuelle were among the crew members who were in attendance to celebrate the special occasion.

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Back ashore on the Scenic Phuket & Elephant Camp excursion, the Prettys had the chance to ride an elephant after enjoying an impressive show put on by the elephants and their handlers. In this photo the elephant is hoping that the Prettys will tip with bananas.

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As a contrast to their adventures in the countryside, the Prettys also visited some of Asia’s grandest cities. Known as the “Garden City,” Kuala Lumpur is a modern urban environment with an abundance of greenery and beautifully landscaped parks. The Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, are an indelible feature of the city’s skyline.

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The Prettys also enjoyed a day exploring Singapore and the truly unique modern landscape.

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We’re so pleased the Prettys shared their photos and these wonderful highlights of Nautica’s season in Africa and Asia. If their adventures have inspired you, now is the perfect time to reserve a voyage for next season. Nautica will be back in Africa starting in December with Lands of Grandeur, and then in Asia starting in February with Pagodas & Palaces.

A special thanks to Peter and Pauline for sharing this special occasion with us, and congratulations on 50 years of marriage!

 

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.

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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.

Thai Cooking Class Ko Samui (5) Thai Cooking Class Ko Samui (Medium)

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!

April 1, 2013

ANTIGUA: A BEACH FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

Named by Christopher Columbus after Santa Maria la Antigua, the island of Antigua was first colonized by Christopher Codrington in 1632. Long before the English arrived, the island is believed to have been settled around 3100 BC.

Antigua is one of two main islands in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. After the sugar trade began to diminish, these beautiful beaches became the country’s new commodity, and visitors flock from all over the world to thaw out on one of the many pristine beaches on these gorgeous islands. During my last visit to Antigua as Blogger-at-Large, I was only able to visit a couple of these beaches, but I wish I had an entire year to explore them all!

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When visiting Antigua, the ships of Oceania Cruises call on St. John’s, the nation’s capital. One of the first recognizable sights on the city’s skyline is the beautiful white towers of St. John’s Cathedral. After being destroyed in earthquakes in 1683 and 1745, the current incarnation was built in 1845.

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One of the most popular shore excursions from St. John’s is the Champagne & Lobster Catamaran Cruise. This excursion is a wonderful way to visit some of the most idyllic beaches of Antigua – and enjoy a fantastic lunch as well!

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The crew of the catamaran greet guests just a short walk from where the ship is docked. The boat then cruises along the beautiful coastline of Antigua, making a couple of stops at secluded beaches along the way. There are ample opportunities to swim, snorkel, explore or just relax and take in paradise.

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Of course, the highlight of the cruise is lobster fresh off the grill, prepared by the captain and his crew and complemented by a glass of champagne.

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There are several other fabulous shore excursions offered on Antigua as well, including an opportunity to swim with stingrays, a tour of galleries dedicated to local artists and kayaking through the mangroves.

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Nothing cures the winter blues like the blue waters of the Caribbean, and there are several sailings that visit St. John’s in 2013 and 2014. We look forward to seeing you onboard!

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.

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Panama Canal Transit

 

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Tony Didio
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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.

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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.     

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

 

 

March 14, 2013

PUNTA DEL ESTE, CHEF’S PATIO DINNER AND A CAVIAR BRUNCH ONBOARD THE REUNION CRUISE

Greetings from Brazil and the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. It’s hard to believe there are only 6 days left, and we still get to visit Porto Belo, São Paulo, Parati, Ilha Grande, Buzios and Rio de Janeiro.

The past few days have been extraordinary and full of wonderful experiences. On Saturday we visited the delightful city of Punta del Este, or the “Peninsula of the East,” where several of our Reunion Cruise guests took the exclusive shore excursion The Iconic Art & Flavor of Punta del Este. This lovely city on a scenic peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches. We started the day at Brava Beach where there is an open-air collection of sculptures, including the famous Mano de Desierto, or “Hand of the Desert,” by Mario Irarrázabal.

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Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis at Mano de Desierto

Our next stop was the Ralli Museum, which has several galleries all over the world. The first was established here in Punta del Este in 1988; the second in Santiago, Chile, in 1992; the third (Ralli 1) in Caesarea, Israel, in 1993; the fourth in Marbella, Spain, in 2000; and the fifth (Ralli 2) in Caesarea, Israel, in 2007. The Ralli Museums house one of the most important collections of contemporary Latin American art in the world.

Ralli Museum

Then we moved on to the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by renowned artist Pablo Atchugarry in 2007 to promote visual arts, literature, music and other creative pursuits. Atchugarry, a prolific artist, began sculpting when he was only eight years old and had his first show at age 11.

Before the end of the tour, we stopped for lunch at Finca Narbona, where we ate wonderful locally made cheeses and fresh cold cuts and enjoyed some delicious wines. Punta del Este is one of my favorite stops so far!

The following evening, we had a special Reunion Cruise Chef's Patio Dinner for a few of our guests who have sailed with us the most. It was hosted by Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Chief Purser Gurdep Besla, Human Resources Manager Maria Cormane and myself. The six-course meal was selected by Executive Chef Lisa Anne Jones and prepared by Sous Chef Thorsten Czap. We started with a crispy polenta with olive tapenade and cherry tomato confit, followed by a main course of either Chilean sea bass with palmito salad or roast veal rack with rosemary and glazed vegetables.

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The dessert, chosen especially to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, was a Manjari chocolate bar with milky yuzu-flavored gianduja chocolate and hazelnut croquant. Everything was incredible. It was an evening to remember!

The next day we had another very special event – a caviar brunch in the Grand Dining Room. Everyone onboard had an opportunity to enjoy this delicious feast. There was a full brunch menu, including caviar, as well as complimentary mimosas and Bloody Marys. If you are on a Reunion Cruise in the future, I highly recommend attending this event. Everyone had a wonderful time!

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Later that morning there was a one-hour Town Hall Meeting for guests that was hosted by Michael Hirsch, General Manager Carlo Gunetti and yours truly. The turn-out was great, with more than 100 guests in attendance. Cruise Director Leslie Jon moderated the Town Hall and asked our panel a variety of questions based on past guest feedback.

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One request was that I talk about some of the exciting new features in our enhanced Oceania Club loyalty program. The new program started at the beginning of this year with the introduction of a new “Blue” level of membership, plus additional benefits for all existing levels. This information can found in the Oceania Club section of Oceania Cruises’ website, as well as in many of our brochures.

We still have a lot of planned activities for the remainder of the cruise, including an evening pool deck party and an Oceania Club cocktail party. We will also be honoring our 14 Silver level Oceania Club members and 56 Bronze members, 26 of whom will be receiving their Bronze pins! There are still more exciting days to come on the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

March 10, 2013

NICK DESANTIS SHARES STORIES FROM THE OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Greetings from the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise, sailing from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro on the lovely Regatta! As manager of the Oceania Club, I am always so pleased to see past guests onboard with whom I have sailed before, and many have become dear friends. I also love meeting other Oceania Club members for the first time and having the opportunity to thank them for their loyalty.

In short, everyone is having a wonderful time and it has only just begun! Though a lot of work went into the planning of the cruise, one thing my team cannot control is the weather, but this has not been a problem because the weather in Buenos Aires was better than we ever could have planned. Of course, there are a lot of things we can control, so the day I arrived, Oceania Cruises Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch and I met with the senior staff to go over the itinerary, make sure we were all on the same page and see if there were any final details that needed to be ironed out. We all want this voyage to be unforgettable!

I was happy to find that there are a few members of the Regatta team with whom I've had the pleasure of sailing on previous Reunion Cruises: Captain Jurica Brajcic, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Cruise Director Leslie Jon and Restaurant Manager Vladimir Cavic. Everyone understands what an important and fantastic event this Reunion Cruise is, especially in the year of our 10th anniversary, a milestone we attribute to the unprecedented loyalty of Oceania Cruises’ guests.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, we hosted one of the first Reunion Cruise tours, Discover Historic Buenos Aries. It was a half-day tour and included a stop at the Plaza de Mayo, the site of the salmon-colored presidential palace known as Casa Rosada with its famed balcony where Eva Peron once addressed adoring crowds.

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We had the chance to sip coffee at the oldest café in Argentina where notables from Jorge Luis Borges to Albert Einstein once gathered. Before heading back to the pier, we explored El Zanjón de Granados, believed to be the site of Buenos Aires’ first settlement.

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To kick off our first night at sea, we gathered for an exclusive dinner at Toscana with most of our 70 Oceania Club guests who have reached the Bronze level or above. I had the pleasure of hosting three couples, all of whom have traveled extensively throughout the world (even beyond the 30-plus countries I’ve visited, which I once thought was an impressive total!). These three couples will be staying onboard for several subsequent cruises. In fact, there are about 95 guests staying onboard Regatta until the ship arrives in Miami in April.

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Starting from the left: Mrs. Dunn (Bronze), Mr and Mrs. Hopkins (Silver), Nick DeSantis, Mr. and Mrs. Lindley (Bronze) and Mr. Dunn (Bronze)


It was a truly wonderful evening, followed by a beautiful sunrise that greeted us in Montevideo the next day. I can’t wait to share more of our exciting exploration of the east coast of South America.

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February 25, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES LAUNCHES FIRST-EVER TV ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Today Oceania Cruises reaches another milestone in the company’s history. We are launching our first ever television advertising campaign. Airing on national networks in cities on the East and West coasts, the new 30-second spot begins running today and showcases the brand’s pillars of destinations, cuisine, onboard experience and value. 

The first scene opens on an Oceania Cruises ship at sea and highlights the experiences guests can “wake up” to every day, like visiting the Taj Mahal in India or the Meteora monasteries in Greece, whale watching in Alaska or a gondola ride in Venice. The ad transitions to the onboard experience and Oceania Cruises’ extraordinary cuisine, focusing on the freedom guests have to decide when, where and with whom they will dine.

 

The ad campaign is timed to coincide with the launch the 2014 Summer Collection, the largest offering in Oceania Cruises’ history. Unveiled on February 13th, the collection encompasses 90 voyages, an almost entirely new line-up of European itineraries and the highly anticipated return of Insignia. The five ships in the fleet – Marina, RivieraRegatta, Insignia and Nautica – will sail to more than 330 destinations throughout the world.

The Oceania Cruises family is always growing, and with this television campaign, we hope more people than ever will hear about the fascinating destinations, luxurious ships, exquisite cuisine and extraordinary value of the Oceania Cruises experience.

February 6, 2013

THE SECRETS BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

For the past eight months, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and the rest of the Oceania Cruises culinary team have been designing and testing new menus for the fleet’s flagship restaurant, the Grand Dining Room. The menus in the Grand Dining Room change daily, and in total, Garanger has created 85 new recipes for 14 different menus.

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One of Garanger’s latest creations: Zucchini-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Parmesan Cheese and Angel Hair Pasta al Limone

“If you just copied other recipes or used a cookbook, you could do this rollout in two months,” Garanger says. “But we try to be unique in every single recipe we create, and that is a lengthy process requiring the dedicated efforts of the entire team.”

Photo 21So what is Garanger’s creative process for conceiving all of these unique recipes? “I start to think about the recipe and then I start to make notes. Then I prepare it once. If I’m lucky, I only have to prepare the dish three or four times before it’s finalized. But often I have to try it eight or ten times before it’s perfect. And sometimes I give up!” Garanger chuckles. “Sometimes I say, okay, this one is never going to work – and then maybe it works a few years later. It happens sometimes.”

Garanger’s conception of the recipes is only the first step in a launch of this scale. Once the recipes are designed, a great deal of product research must be done to secure all of the new ingredients. This is one of the challenges facing restaurants operating onboard a ship versus restaurants ashore.

“Fresh products are purchased in every port, and the availability changes depending on whether you’re in South America or Europe or Asia, so the executive chefs have to plan ahead and make adjustments,” Garanger explains. “Meanwhile, dry goods and frozen items are delivered via shipping containers, which can take a long time to reach the ship. If a container is traveling from Miami to Europe, it may take three weeks. To ensure we have all the necessary ingredients for these new recipes, we had to begin scheduling these shipments months in advance.”

Onboard restaurants are open seven days a week, 365 days a year, another aspect of shipboard operations requiring ingenuity in management. Galleys operate around the clock, and shifts must be staffed accordingly. Training and oversight must be constant and diligent.

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As an example of the team’s commitment to the ingredients, design and process of recipes from start to finish, consider the dinner baguette in the Grand Dining Room. Only the finest (and most expensive) French flour is used – Viron flour harvested in the Beauce region – because it has a lower gluten content and thus more flavor. The flour is shipped direct from France, and each batch of dough goes through a two-stage proofing process to release the full aromas of the flour. The dough is refrigerated to proof overnight and then worked, formed into baguettes and proofed again before baking. And this is just to create the dinner baguette, one of thousands of items prepared onboard each day.

Here Garanger and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti discuss the finer points of the baguette wafer that will accompany the new Grand Dining Room dish: Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Artichoke Salpicon, Tomato Coulis and Poblano Chili Aioli.

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Considering the complex methods required to make an exceptional baguette, you can imagine how involved the process is when launching entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. The rollout will take nearly four months to complete across the entire fleet, with each ship requiring a full cruise for initial implementation and another full cruise for follow-up training.

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The new dishes are a feast for the senses. The flavor profiles are rich and diverse, and the presentation is spectacular.

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Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shallots, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette

 
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Baby Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail with Marie-Louise Sauce
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Warm Duck Pâté in Puff Pastry with Port Wine Sauce

 

The new menus also include an assortment of Canyon Ranch® Healthy Living Choices that meet the Canyon Ranch standards for balanced nutrition from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins. The calories, fat grams and fiber grams for each Canyon Ranch selection are included on the menu. If healthy living means eating dishes like this, then I’m becoming a health nut!

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Canyon Ranch Vegetable Caponata on Roasted Red Pepper Dressing with Crispy Sardinian Bread
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Canyon Ranch Wild Salmon Tartare with Sushi Rice and Avocado

 

Having created so many exquisite dishes, does Garanger have a personal favorite?

“My signature dish is my mashed potatoes,” Garanger says. With the new rollout, Franck’s Mashed Potatoes will always be available as a side in the Grand Dining Room, and you really must try them. Absolute heaven!

“The pâté en croute on the new menu is also very close to my heart,” Garanger continues. “This is a recipe from my childhood for the classic dish that the French enjoy around the family table.” Here Franck prepares his Childhood Paté en Croute: French Family-Style Encrusted Paté with Smoked Ham and Pheasant.

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Until you’ve visited the Grand Dining Room, you can only imagine the amazing selection of delectable new dishes to be tasted. And the Grand Dining Room is only one of four gourmet restaurants on Regatta and Nautica and six restaurants on Marina and Riviera! When you reserve your next voyage with Oceania Cruises, I suggest you make it a lengthy one, so you have plenty of time to sample all of the spectacular cuisine!

February 5, 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH OCEANIA CRUISES’ FLEET CORPORATE CHEF FRANCK GARANGER

Photo 11Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that esteemed master chef Jacques Pépin is our executive culinary director and the inspiration behind our extraordinary cuisine. But even Chef Pépin knows that it takes more than one person to create a culinary program for a cruise line that can successfully rival the cuisine of even the best restaurants ashore. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of the other culinary team members responsible for creating the finest cuisine at sea.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger might modestly resist the label of “creative genius.” But after tasting the exquisite dishes he has conceived for Oceania Cruises’ ships, I can’t think of a more appropriate moniker.

While many cruise lines employ a single corporate chef, Oceania Cruises has an entire team of culinary directors and executive chefs committed to realizing its culinary vision. Thus Garanger is free to focus his creative genius – there, I said it – on designing recipes that uphold Oceania Cruises’ reputation for the finest cuisine at sea. 

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An example of the finest cuisine at sea: Tamarind-Braised Black Cod with Sweet Ginger Sauce and Vegetable Ragout

While Garanger was born in the Normandy region of France, his family moved to Angers in the Loire Valley when he was two years old. His father owned a bakery, and after being exposed to the culinary world at a very young age, Garanger began working with his father and learning the pastry trade at age 16. One year later he began studies in hospitality and hotel management. French universities are very specialized, and the training involved one week of classes alternating with two weeks of hands-on restaurant experience, at which time Garanger worked with a French master chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Angers.

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Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
After passing his first exams, Garanger worked at one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, followed by the equally renowned Hotel de Cap Eden Roc, a palace on the French Riviera in Antibes. He then returned to school for two years to complete his degrees and after exams, at the age of 24, began officially working as a chef.

His first position on a cruise ship was with Silversea Cruises in 1995. When he was asked to join Oceania Cruises in 2003, he did not hesitate to accept. “I liked the vision they had for the line,” Garanger says. “And I really liked the passion of all the people involved. They were so into food that, in everything we were creating, they were not only behind me but also tasting the food with me. When you have the CEO and the president coming onboard just to taste the food to see if we can put it on the menu, it applies a little pressure, but it is also very rewarding because you can really see how important the food is to the company.”

Much like the passionate commitment of the executives, many aspects of Garanger’s tenure with Oceania Cruises have been both challenging and rewarding. “Regatta was a challenge because we had to start from scratch, and we were working with a ship we didn't build, so we had to make adjustments. We built Marina ourselves, but it was also challenging because we opened eight different restaurants – each a completely different concept – and had 160 cooks onboard to manage. In both cases, there were very high expectations, and we had to deliver in a short period of time. Both debuts were a huge success, and so of course, we’re very happy.”

So what is the secret to continuing to deliver the finest cuisine at sea? For one thing, most members of the culinary team, such as Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Culinary Director Eric Barale and Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur, have been with Oceania Cruises since its very beginnings. And the line’s commitment to cuisine has ensured that the team is provided every tool they need to succeed.

“I’ve always been asked what I needed, and whatever I asked for, I got,” Garanger says. “Of course, then you have to make sure you deliver, and so far, I’ve succeeded. That’s why I’m still here!”

Each restaurant onboard provides its own unique challenges. Jacques is perhaps the most challenging because of the technical precision required to execute true, authentic French recipes using traditional, time-honored methods on a daily basis. Toscana is also technically challenging because of the à la minute preparation of all the fresh pasta and risotto.

Red Ginger is one of Garanger’s favorite concepts because it is truly “his baby.” Garanger traveled in Asia for two years and then spent time in both London and San Francisco researching ideas before developing the restaurant concept and recipes.

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One of Red Ginger’s signature dishes: Miso-Glazed Sea Bass in Hoba Leaf

While Jacques and Red Ginger are featured on Oceania Cruises’ newest ships, Marina and Riviera, guests will be excited to know that they can soon get a taste of these restaurants onboard Regatta and Nautica as well. These ships will soon feature an entrée from both Jacques and Red Ginger each night in the Grand Dining Room. The new features are just one small part of Garanger’s latest large scale project, the rollout of new menus for the Grand Dining Rooms on the entire fleet.

In my next blog post, I’ll share Garanger’s insights into the creative process, training and implementation involved in this extensive menu rollout. Check the blog again soon for more behind-the-scenes stories.

February 1, 2013

MEET THE TEAM BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

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Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin
While most cruise lines employ a single corporate chef that oversees the creation, organization and implementation of menus, Oceania Cruises has an entire team at the helm of its culinary program. Of course, renowned master chef Jacques Pépin has been the inspiration for the program since he became executive culinary director when the line was founded 10 years ago. But consistently delivering the finest cuisine at sea requires a large group of dedicated chefs committed to this vision.

“No one person can be in charge of all the food and beverage for a cruise line and do it well,” says Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro. “It’s  creativity, it’s administration, it’s logistics and human resources; it’s sourcing and tracking and training and quality control. And then there’s bread and pastry. From a culinary point of view, that’s like another planet! How could one person do all that?”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting several members of the culinary team, including Semeraro, who led the team in one of its most ambitious projects to date: the launch of entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. Semeraro has been a key player in the creation of Oceania Cruises’ renowned cuisine since the line’s founding in 2003. In fact, most of the culinary team has been onboard since the company began with a handful of employees a decade ago, which accounts for the family atmosphere amongst the entire team and translates to a warm camaraderie amidst the crew and guests onboard the ships. It truly is a family affair, as several of the original recipes served in the Italian restaurants have come from Semeraro and his wife, Packy, and their mothers.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has certainly found his niche within the team. His sole responsibility is creating innovative new menus that keep Oceania Cruises at the forefront of culinary excellence. Meanwhile, Culinary Director Eric Barale handles the logistics of implementing Garanger’s creations, from purchasing fresh ingredients and acquiring new equipment to assembling the necessary staff and designing menus. Interestingly, Barale used to be Garanger’s teacher at culinary school, and when Garanger was invited to come onboard with Oceania Cruises when the line was founded in 2003, Barale was the first person he called to join him.

“Eric does all the work I don’t like to do,” Garanger says, chuckling. “I am the right brain and he is the left, so it makes a great partnership. When you don’t have to take care of all the logistics and you’re free to just create the recipes, it’s fantastic. It allows me to keep a clear head and to simply create. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day.”

Of course, the right brain and left brain wouldn’t function without a lot of neurons flashing in synchronicity. Several other team members help execute this culinary vision, not to mention the hundreds of chefs and sous chefs working onboard the ships. Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti were both heavily involved in the new menu rollout in the Grand Dining Room. Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin oversaw implementation on Riviera, while Senior Executive Chef Laurent Trias will oversee Marina, and Executive Chef Renald Macouin will oversee Regatta and Nautica

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Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin, Blogger-at-Large Lisa Pancake Fossland and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
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Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti

 

If you saw yesterday’s blog, your mouth is probably still watering over the photos I shared that revealed the fruits of the team’s labors. There are so many delicious dishes on the new Grand Dining Room menus that I wanted to share a few more with you today. 

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Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Creamy Pesto and Crispy Focaccia Bread
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Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish Fillet with Saffron Mussel Sauce

 
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Herb-Crusted Cornish Hen alla Diavolo with Bacon and Shoestring Potatoes
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Dorado and Tuna Ceviche with Cilantro and Heirloom Tomatoes

In my next blog post, read my behind-the-scenes interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and learn where he gets his inspiration to create the finest cuisine at sea.

January 31, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES DEBUTS EXCITING NEW MENUS IN THE GRAND DINING ROOM

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Fresh Sea Bass on Ratatouille Sauce with Chickpea Croutons and Tomato Petals

Oceania Cruises has long held a reputation for cuisine that is not only the finest at sea but also rivals that of the best restaurants ashore. If you’ve dined onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, then you know we take fine dining to an entirely new level. Creating truly exquisite cuisine requires more than just the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. It requires passion, creativity, à la minute preparation and careful attention to detail. 

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Pancetta-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Kalamata Olive Sauce and Vegetable Julienne
Oceania Cruises has further solidified its reputation as the cruise line for foodies by successfully rolling out entirely new menus, including 85 new recipes, for its Grand Dining Room onboard Riviera. The remainder of the fleet will receive the new menus over the course of the next three months.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, my job has a lot of perks, but in this case I have to say, it involved a bit of torment. For the last few weeks, I’ve been receiving mouthwatering photos of all the fabulous dishes that the chefs have been creating, testing and, most importantly, tasting. I can’t wait to sail again to try all of the new dishes. Your taste buds are about to sit up and take notice.

The new menus for the Grand Dining Room are an ode to classic European-inspired cuisine, while also giving a whole new meaning to dishes such as steak au poivre and moules marinières. The team has taken the execution of classic dishes to a higher level, and the vision of Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has revealed interpretations such as Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar, Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer, and Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit. 

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Moules Marinières: Fresh Black Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

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Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar

 

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Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer
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Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit

Menus also include three exquisite new lobster dishes, such as the Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque. If, like me, your craving for Italian food is never satiated, you will love the 10 new pastas and risottos that are featured. How about Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce? Or perhaps Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata, a delicious dish of rigatoni pasta served with sautéed eggplant in a tomato basil sauce and topped with smoked ricotta?

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Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque
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Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata

 

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Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce

If you prefer a light garlic and wine sauce, you must try the Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce. Risotto lovers shouldn’t miss the Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata, a black risotto with a spicy shrimp ragout.

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Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce
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Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata

 

Beyond the traditional dishes from countries such as France, Spain and Italy, you will also find European-inspired versions of other classics, such as the American barbecued pork chop and the Japanese crab tempura.

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Sweet Barbecued Pork Chop with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Stuffed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
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Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Roasted Cherry Tomato Aioli

Jacques Pépin has always said that the finest cuisine must start with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, and Oceania Cruises’ unwavering commitment to this philosophy is evident in all of the new dishes. A new lobster and rice dish is made with saffron from the Castilla–La Mancha region of Spain, known for producing the finest of this priciest of all herbs. Fans of “the other white meat” will find some of the most renowned pork in the world, from roast Segovian suckling pig to jamón Ibérico de bellota, the famous Iberian ham that comes from pigs fed on acorns. 

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Steamed Maine Lobster on Castilla-La Mancha Saffron Rice
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Roast Segovian Suckling Pig with Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Unique international ingredients are also featured, such as the kadaif pasta in the Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa.

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Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa

There are also delectable new appetizers, such as the Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté and the Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream.

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Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté
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Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream

The salads are exquisite as well. Check out the colorful Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette and the work of art known as Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella. 

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
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Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella

 

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Zen
Lest you think I’ve forgotten to mention the desserts, I’ve saved the best for last. The year 2013 marks Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, and to celebrate this momentous occasion, Chef Garanger has created a dessert as extraordinary as this special milestone. Named “Zen”, the dessert begins with a Valrhona 64% cacao Manjari chocolate bar, made from the finest Madagascan cacao beans. That is combined with milky gianduja hazelnut chocolate and citrus yuzu fruit and accompanied by a hazelnut croquant. Now that’s a dessert befitting a celebration of a decade at sea!

If you haven’t already left the blog site to reserve your next Oceania Cruises voyage so you can indulge in these wonderful new dishes, now is the time! But do check back throughout the week for behind-the-scenes stories revealing the secrets to creating such extraordinary cuisine, including an interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. I’ll also share more mouthwatering photos that will have you wishing you could dine onboard every day of the year!

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!

December 10, 2012

OCEANIA CRUISES WINS CRUISE CRITIC AWARDS FOR BEST CUISINE AND BEST SUITES

The 2012 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks were recently announced, and if you’ve ever been onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, you won’t be surprised to learn that Oceania Cruises was chosen for Best Cuisine and Best Suites.

Upon hearing this exciting news, I took a moment to go through the many photos I have taken over the years as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises and select a few of my favorites of the beautiful suites and incredible meals I’ve enjoyed during my adventures onboard the ships. If you’re wondering what inspired the Cruise Critic editors to select Oceania Cruises, here are just a few of the reasons why these awards are so richly deserved.

BEST CUISINE 

Blogger and Chefs
The men behind the menus: Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger (pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large)

GRAND DINING ROOM

One of the sure signs that Oceania Cruises is perfect for foodies is that the Grand Dining Room is just as wonderful as the specialty restaurants. In fact, I’ve spoken with several guests who say it’s their favorite restaurant onboard. The menus change daily, but you will always find European-inspired continental cuisine as well as delicious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® dishes. Here are some photos of a few of my favorite dishes.

GD Zuch
Grilled Turbot with Zucchini and Tomato
GD SHrimp Asp Risotto
Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto
 
GD Lobster
Lobster Thermidor 

TOSCANA

As exquisite as The Grand Dining Room is, I highly recommend pulling yourself away for a taste of Tuscan-inspired Italian cuisine at the wonderful Toscana. The simple but elegant ambiance elicits the romance of the Italian countryside, and quite a few of the recipes are inspired by mothers and grandmothers of Oceania Cruises culinary staff. Also, many of the sommeliers are from long lines of wine-producing families, further enhancing the Italian experience.

Italian food is comfort food for me, and Toscana is definitely one of my favorite restaurants – onboard or ashore. I’ve had the privilege of celebrating two birthdays in Toscana, and if I had my choice, I’d celebrate all of them here! Just look at some of the incredible dishes I have enjoyed at Toscana.

 

TOS Octopus
Carpaccio di Polpo con Patate al Vapore e Vinaigrette allo Champagne (Octopus Carpaccio with Champagne Vinaigrette and Warm Potato Salad)
TOS Eggpland
Involtini di Melanzane alla Ghiotta (Sliced Eggplant rolled and sautéed with Roasted Minced Veal Stuffing and Basil, baked in Fresh Tomato Sauce)


TOS Artichoke
Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata e Olio Aromatizzato all’Arugula (Artichoke and Parmesan Cheese Timbale with Black Truffle Sauce and Arugula Infused Oil)
TOSLinguini Cioppino
Linguine Cioppino (Linguini Pasta with Little Neck Clams, Black Mussels, Calamari, Shrimp, and Monk Fish sautéed in a Light Pinot Grigio and Cherry Tomato Sauce)

POLO GRILL

I admit, when writing about my dining experiences, it is almost impossible not to claim that each restaurant is my favorite. If you have dined with Oceania Cruises, I think you know what I mean, and you’ll understand when I say Polo Grill is another one of my favorites. Polo Grill offers the classic steak house experience with time-honored favorites done the way only Oceania Cruises can, perfectly. The steaks are USDA Prime and dry-aged for at least 28 days.

On a recent cruise, we had reservations at Polo Grill for the last night of the voyage, and my friend spent the entire trip in anticipation of devouring the signature 32-ounce prime rib. Some people claim that a steak this size couldn’t possibly be eaten in one sitting, but I have found the person for whom this cut of beef was designed. He savored every bite, and he was the first one to finish his entrée!

For those of us with daintier appetites, there are plenty of options as well. I find the 7-ounce filet mignon is more my size. And if you prefer seafood, Polo Grill has plenty of excellent options. How does Maine lobster with drawn butter, grilled mahi mahi or jumbo shrimp cocktail sound?

PG Shimp
Colossal Chilled Shrimp Trio with Spicy Cocktail Sauce
PG Prime Rib
King’s Cut 32 oz Prime Rib – Bone-in, Seasoned to Perfection, Slow Roasted and Served Medium Rare

TERRACE CAFÉ

If you’re looking for something slightly more casual, or if you just can’t decide what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, Terrace Café offers a whole array of international selections in a buffet-style setting. The food is just as spectacular, and you can try a little bit of everything! You will find things like Marinated Fennel Salad, Cold Poached Salmon with Herbed Mayonnaise, Breaded Pork Parmigiana and Creamy Carrot and Pumpkin Soup. Onboard Marina and Riviera, there is even a sushi bar, which I try to visit daily. And good luck trying to decide on just one dessert! Whether you choose to dine indoors or alfresco on deck, the views are stunning in every direction.

TC Desserts
Dessert Selection
TC outside
Outside Seating

JACQUES

If you haven’t had a chance to take a voyage onboard Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend you do so. In addition to all of the amazing offerings onboard Regatta and Nautica, you will find two new restaurants, including Master Chef Jacques Pépin’s namesake restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of dining here and can’t say enough about the whole experience. Everything was just perfect, from the classic French cuisine to the charming French bistro ambiance.

Here are some photos of the amazing dishes my husband and I enjoyed on a recent trip:

JA Mussels
Moules Marinières (Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley)
JA Onion Soup
Gratiné à l’Oignon (Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust)
JA Chicken
Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes (Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus with Gratin Dauphinois and Haricots Verts)

RED GINGER

The other new restaurant onboard Marina and Riviera is the Asian-inspired Red Ginger. The restaurant itself is beautifully decorated, the centerpiece being three gorgeous busts of Buddha, each carved from a single piece of glass and lit from within.

Complimenting the stunning décor is an equally creative menu with contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. Rich, bold flavors are perfectly balanced with delicate subtleties. This is one of the most distinctive and delicious restaurants I have ever experienced, and the moment I finish a meal here I am already hoping for the opportunity to return as soon as possible.

RG Tuna Tataki
Tuna Tataki (Seared Tuna Filet, Shiso Sesame Crust, Wasabi Cream)
RG Lobster
Lobster Pad Thai (Rice Noodles, Bean Sprouts, Lime, Tamarind, Peanuts)
Seafood Stir-fried
Seafood Stir-fried (Scallops, Squid, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Spring Onions, Ginger)

LA RESERVE

One of my favorite indulgences is dining at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. The restaurant seats only 24 and has an elite spot high atop deck 12. Each course is meticulously created, often before your very eyes, and great care has gone into pairing each dish with the perfect premium wine.

Dining at La Reserve is much more than a meal; it is a special event. When you finish an evening here, you feel like one of the most important and well cared for people on the planet.

LR Short Rib
72-Hour Slow Braised Short Rib with Gnocchi au Jus
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Paired with Gordon Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
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Chef making the Raspberry Caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan Vanilla Cream
LR Rasb Chat
Paired with Château la Varière, Les Melleresses Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley, France 

BEST SUITES

After a fabulous dinner onboard – and maybe a little dancing at Horizons lounge – there is nothing more perfect than retiring to what Cruise Critic editors called “the most sumptuous suites at sea.”

OWNER’S SUITE

The Owners’ Suites were designed by Susan Bednar Long of New York-based, award-winning Tocar Interior Design and are completely furnished with Ralph Lauren Home Collection. Feeling almost as big as my house, the closets are one of my favorite parts!

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VISTA SUITES

When Marina first debuted, I had the great privilege of spending time in the suites with a few honored guests, including Dakota Jackson, the renowned American designer who created the Vista Suites.

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Dakota Jackson pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large

If you like to know where the ship is heading, you may prefer the view from these suites, which overlook the bow of the ship.

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OCEANIA SUITES

Oceania Suites, also designed by Dakota Jackson, are so large you can comfortably host a cocktail party – and they even have the bar for it! Or, if you prefer, make it a quiet night and relax in the whirlpool tub on the veranda.

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PENTHOUSE SUITES

Penthouse Suites are the smallest of the suites, but small is a relative term! Walk-in closets, marble and granite bathrooms, spacious and comfortable living quarters – one guest told me these suites were her favorite place onboard Marina.

One of the things I enjoy most onboard Oceania Cruises ships is lounging in the beautiful bathtubs. This is just one of many amenities that distinguishes Oceania Cruises suites, and on Marina and Riviera, bathtubs are also featured in most staterooms. There is a shower wand in the bath tub as well as a completely separate rainfall shower.

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With the perfect accommodations and the ultimate cuisine, Oceania Cruises offers an unrivaled cruising experience at an extraordinary value. Some may say that I’m biased, but the editors at Cruise Critic have confirmed what I’ve known for some time: Oceania Cruises truly stands head and shoulders above the rest!

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!