One of the nicest things
about our second season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM
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
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.
Since it’s spring in Latvia,
the peas and cherries were abundant. There were also cups full of wild strawberries from the local forests.
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!
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.
Our 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!