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Sharpening Culinary Skills At Oceania

It’s more than two years since we experienced cooking at sea (and we lived to write about it) and, at the time, Oceania’s Director of Culinary Enrichment speculated what her upscale cruise line was doing would continue to grow.

Chef KellyKathryn Kelly also said that she believed in five years only Oceania would be teaching customers like this, because it was too expensive to create the Culinary Centers on the Riviera and the Marina.

What’s happened?

Two years ago, shore excursions under the title of Culinary Discovery Tours were conducted mostly in Europe. In a nutshell, you shopped at local markets, ate at local restaurants and cooked the ingredients you bought as part of a culinary class.

Today, while the tours are still mostly (15) in Europe, the concept has been expanded to Australia and New Zealand (2), South America (2) and, later this year, the Caribbean (3). Today, the tours have evolved so that you may wind up at a biodynamic farm in Tortola where organic produce was planted according to the lunar calendar…or cooking pizza in a Tuscan oven…or picking herbs to go with lunch on a New Zealand hillside.

It’s all about time in the kitchen, because that’s where you learn to cook. The kitchen could be on the shore excursions, or back in the ship’s Culinary Center. That’s where Chef Kelly — as she is widely known — will teach up to 24 people at a time how to…well, cook.

“Guests love it,” she said. “They’re on vacation. They learn to relax. When we’re at sea, there are two classes a day. In ports, we take guests to market. There are so many fabulous markets.”

Maybe the people at Norwegian Cruise Line love it, too. Oceania’s ships will soon be owned by Norwegian, and you know what they say about reaching somebody’s heart through the stomach…

Today at portsandbows.com: “3 for Free”  Princess promotion

Celebrity Constellation
11 nights
October 25, 2014
Istanbul, Ephesus, Haifa, Jerusalem, Valletta, Messina, Naples, Rome
Inside $599
Cost per day: $54

Kathryn Kelly a fascinating study

Having been fortunate to have met some fascinating people on cruise ships, we sometime feel compelled to tell you their story in more than one installment.

Such is the case with Kathryn Kelly.

To passengers on Oceania ships Marina and the new Riviera, and to people in the parent company, she is simply Chef Kelly. Her story is being told here in two parts…today, how she came to play a part in the culinary world, and on Monday, why she does what she does, which is help passengers learn how to cook at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.

Yes, on a ship.

That part of her story began when a friend, the eminent pastry chef Dieter Schorner — who brought creme brulée to America — said he had an interesting opportunity: Float around the world cooking. Herr Schorner also said he was too old (in his 80s) and that she — at 56 — should do it.

By then, Chef Kelly had paid some dues, or at least earned some credits.

"My whole life," says the lifelong entrepreneur, "I always wanted to be a chef. In my 40s, I had sold my third — and last — company [mergers and acquisitions]. I took six months off. I watched a lot of Bette Davis movies, I walked on the beach and I adopted a dog. Then I had a call from a headhunter who said there was a Fortune 500 company on the West Coast looking for a CEO, and would I be interested. I'd been idle long enough that I would take a look but the minute I put on that suit and pantyhose and headed for the airport, there was no way. I went back home."

Following the obvious phone call, she made another one.

To the CIA…and that's not what you think it is. The Culinary Institute of America.

"I asked if I was too old to come to school, and they said if you can keep up, do it," recalls Chef Kelly. "I was living in Florida. I went to New York for 21 months. I have two Masters and a Doctorate, and cooking school was a helluva lot harder than any of them. I was studying for exams at 50 years old and when I graduated, it was the happiest day of my life."

Her story was impressive enough for the Wall Street Journal to carry a piece about her this summer, as an example of somebody who had made a career change late in her business life, and done it by choice.

"You know the movie Up In The Air, with George Clooney?" she asks. "It made me sad, not because it was a sad movie, but because it was me. I'd been in all those airports. And I had a therapist who told me 'You need to give yourself permission to do what makes you happy.' I knew in two seconds what would make me happy, and what was the worst that could happen? If I get there and find I don't want to be a chef, I quit."

That led her to Oceania, and the job that won't quit.

Monday: Find out why

Carnival Imagination
3 nights
December 7, 2012
Miami (return): Nassau
Inside:  $149
Cost per day: $49

Celebrity Chefs on Land and Sea


What's cookin' in cruisin'…are celebrity chefs.

On the same day, two major cruise lines were promoting associations with celebrity cooks. Actually, only one was a celebrity cook, the other a celebrity chef. Sounds like splitting pasta hairs to me.

In both cases, your taste buds will have to wait.

Royal Caribbean is engaging the cook, Paula Deen of the Food Network, for one cruise, on Mariner of the Seas from Galveston in late January. The cruise will coincide with the Super Bowl and you can be sure Mama Deen will be hoping one of those good ol' southern teams will be in the game. She's from Savannah (so the Atlanta Falcons would do just fine) and southern cooking is her specialty at The Lady & Sons restaurant she operates with her two boys, Jamie and Bobby.

On Mariner of the Seas, events she'll be part of include a "welcome pajama dessert party", the Deen Family Olympics, Not Your Mama's Meals and, of course, a Super Bowl party. There's one catch, although it's more of an incomplete pass: It's really a Pre-Super Bowl Party because the ship returns to Galveston before Super Sunday's opening kick-off. It has to be booked at pauladeencruise.com, which is also accessible from her website, pauladeen.com.

Norwegian is engaging the chef, Geoffrey Zakarian. He's also a Food Network star and he's going to have his own restaurant on NCL's new ship, the Breakaway, once it starts sailing from New York next spring and early summer. The restaurant is Ocean Blue, a "luxury seafood dining experience" — that means it'll come with a price tag.

Chef Zakarian will preside over the restaurant and will prepare and supervise it just as he does his two land-based restaurants in New York, The Lambs Club and The National. Except, of course, that he won't likely be on the Breakaway as much as he'll be on land. Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan says it's like winning the culinary lottery: "We win big…but so do our guests." Opening day for the restaurant, and for Breakaway, is May 12.

Here on land, I have my own celebrity chef, seven days a week. She may dispute the celebrity part but there are no doubters when it comes to her cooking talents.

Now, if only some cruise line would recognize that!

Sapphire Princess
7 nights
December 22, 2012
Los Angeles (return): Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada
Cost per day: $114

Van Stadens…Celebrities of Celebrity

Four years ago, Celebrity hired Jacques Van Staden as its Vice-President of Food & Beverage Operations. He was just 36, a rising star in the culinary world (nominated as such by the prestigious James Beard Foundation), and eager to make his mark on what the general population considers fine dining.

On the Celebrity Eclipse, a chef named Van Staden was introduced in the Atrium one day, and we soon discovered his name was not Jacques, but Michael (right). He is the younger brother and also works for Celebrity. His title is “Traveling Executive Chef” which means he is often found on cruise ships implementing big brother’s new creations.

It’s a tough job but…

Actually, the roots of cooking the Van Staden way were tough.

“Our grandmother was Italian,” explains Michael. “She grew up in Italy and met my grandfather during World War II. They had seven children, one of them our mother, and they moved to South Africa after the war. We grew up there and I remember if we wanted to go out and play, we often couldn’t because we had to go help Grandma peels potatoes. Some people don’t know how to cook an egg, but we just learned how to do a lot of things.”

Having served in the South African army, Jacques (below) sold his car and moved to the U.S. with $50 in his pocket. His sister Angelique was friends with the South African ambassador’s family, which put him up and got him a job cutting lawns at the embassy in Washington. One day, the chef was sick.

“Let me in there,” said Jacques, who studied at L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington only because a mentor there agreed to let him make a deposit and work off his tuition.

A job under a famous chef, the late Jean-Louis Palladin, at the Watergate Hotel followed and he was on the way to working around the world and earning the six-figure salary he now commands.


“I wanted to go to cooking school,” he remembers. “Jacques said: ‘Are you sure you want to do it? It’s a lot of work. If you want to, then come over, but it’s not easy. It’s not going to be sunshine and roses.’ He was right. My brother Peter and I went to the same school in Washington, five years after Jacques did, it took about one year, and it was a lot of work…18-hour days, then sleeping on flour bags when there were double shifts.”

Today, from a home base in Sacramento, Michael spends about two months at a time on Celebrity ships. He is married to Raquel, whom he married when she was a sous chef for pastry at Alize, a renowned Las Vegas restaurant.

Peter, who is Jacques’ twin, is also a chef.

“He lives in Las Vegas and has a company that does a lot of canapes for Mandalay Bay, among other hotels,” says Michael.

And Angelique, their sister?

“She cannot cook,” laughs Michael. “She hates cooking.”

Tomorrow: The Van Staden influence on Celebrity ships.

'Little' Marina Big on Activity

The year isn’t even two months old and already our colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows has been on four cruise ships, but we’re planning to catch up. Meanwhile, this week Phil is willing to share his point-by-point assessment of the four ships with our readers.

Today:Oceania’s Marina

Brand of ship: Deluxe-plus.

Number of passengers: 1,200.

Food: Good to excellent. All the restaurants are unique, and they make for a good rotation on a cruise, especially if it’s a longer one.

Food extra: A culinary school with 24 stations, each containing a single burner and a sink. You can spend a couple of hours taking cooking lessons and it’s not “look and listen.” You really do get to participate.

Be prepared: Wine and gratuities are on top of the cruise price. However, the specialty restaurants are part of your package. You’re assured of eating at all of them on any cruise.

Poolside: There are loungers for everyone. The pool is in the centre of the ship, which cuts down on any wave action when encountering not-so-calm seas. The level above it is surrounded with loungers, and seems more than enough when the ship is full.

Staterooms: At 242 square feet, large and comfortable, with the exception of a desk that I felt was a bit small, given the size of the room. The shower is small but there’s also a shower in the bath tub of verandah rooms. Beds are comfy with a capital C.

Surprises: Of all places, the library. In the shape of four boxed-in areas, it’s an extremely comfortable surrounding in which to sit and read.

My favorite spot: Outside the Terrace buffet. Lots of tables right to the railing, where you could read, contemplate and — yes — enjoy writing Blogs in the sunshine or just sit back and relax. It’s not the sexiest part of the ship, just one that I enjoyed.

Conclusion: Good lines, from the bow to the stern. While the cruise line has its own designation for this ship, I’ve always thought of Oceania as deluxe, right behind luxury. After spending this time on Marina, she  deserves to be deluxe-plus.

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