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Cruising: It’s All About The Food

Chef Curtis StoneFor some of us, there’s an old (and probably outdated) saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…i.e., good cooks get good husbands. The subjects may have changed but the principle has not.

Good cooking gets many cruisers.

As the year winds down, there are two more examples to validate that thinking.

1) Princess Cruises has been hyping the fact that Chef Curtis Stone has opened his own restaurant (SHARE) on select ships, such as the Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess, with more likely to follow. The “headlines” are “Chef Curtis Stone invites you…” and “Chef Curtis Stone shares his love with this special ingredient…”  and “A favorite family recipe from Chef Curtis Stone…”

2) The new Godmother of the Oceania Sirena — next year — will be Claudine Pepin, who has the right surname to be in the kitchen creating cuisines-des-spectacles. She is, of course, the daughter of the famous Jacques Pepin, who is Oceania’s master chef and The Pepinswhose restaurant is named after him and on two ships, the Riviera and the Marina.

See, it’s all about the food.

While we wouldn’t know Curtis Stone from Oliver Stone (we would know him from Sharon), it’s clear this Aussie “Celebrity Apprentice” grad has many followers and many exquisite recipes. He also has a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Maude, which means that a lot of the beautiful people enjoy his menus. And now a lot of cruisers will, too.

Claudine Pepin, also apparently, has some healthy credentials to go with her healthy food. Her Dad, who turns 80 before Christmas, made it big with Julia Child at his side on PBS and now Claudine’s stepping up in class with him at her side. She also had a PBS show — Cooking With Claudine — and this year has her first cookbook on the shelves for Christmas, Kids Cook French.

As generations of cooking go, both she and Curtis Stone represent a passing of the torch.

Or at least the spatula.

In the news…

• MSC Cruises offers 2-for-1 Caribbean fares for balcony guests starting April 23
• Flash from the past: Verandah Restaurant to open in June on Queen Mary 2
• Two sets of tourism students spend a day on Norwegian Epic in Cannes

Today at portsandbows.comSuite time with Celebrity

Carnival Fantasy
5 nights
January 27, 2016
Charleston (return): Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $81

Cruise Critic Editors' Best Of…Cruising


Anybody who has been on more than a few cruises is inevitably going to be asked: “What’s your favorite…ship…destination…cruise…port…activity…restaurant…?”

There are no correct answers, given that everybody’s cruising taste is different in every area. Sometimes, it’s incredible how much stock all of us put in recommendations of others, qualified or not.

Cruise passengers pay attention to “awards” and that’s why we write about them. Among the most credible awards are Cruise Critic’s — some of them determined by cruisers, some by editors. The latter is the latest, announced this week.

The editorial staff at Cruise Critic is nameless, identified only as an ”international team of editors.” The awards they just announced — 18 of them —  cover everything from new ships to itineraries to romance, and we thought a sampling of them would be appropriate today. 


If you’re looking for the best new ship from 2014, head for Bayonne, N.J. and board Quantum of the Seas.

If you’re into luxury, you have to go a little further…to France, because that’s where Ponant is based (Marseille) and where you can cruise on one of three small ships and enjoy authentic French cuisine, among other things.

If you’re after the best bang for your buck, it’s Carnival.

Best dining? Oceania, which features Jacques Pepin and Kathryn Kelly.

Best entertainment? Norwegian…think Blue Man, Legends in Concert, Rock of Ages.

If a few more inches and a few more amenities in a standard stateroom is important, check out Holland America.

And if you wonder which cruise line has the best itineraries, Cruise Critic’s editors like Princess — for the second year running.

What it all adds up to is an educated guess at what you’re going to like best (or better), as long as your taste is similar to the critical eyes of Cruise Critic.

Today at portsandbows.com: Special news from Silversea

Crown Princess
3 nights
January 6, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Ensenada
Inside: $129
Cost per day: $43

Chef's Special a Special Chef

In our first epistle about the Director of Culinary Enrichment for Oceania Cruises, you discovered how a successful business person could walk away and tackle a lifestyle that's fun. Today you'll learn how and why she spends almost her whole life on cruise ships.

Chef Kathryn Kelly's connection to Oceania is Jacques Pepin, whose signature is on two cruise ships: the two-year-old Marina and the Riviera, which was launched earlier this year.

Having joined the faculty of the Culinary Institute of America, she promised the famous chef that when he presided over Oceania's Bon Appétit Culinary Center on the ships, she would teach in one or the other for two months.

That was more than two years ago. Until then, her connection to cruising was a 21-day trip to South America with her daughter when she graduated from college, and a week in the Mediterranean with her mother, who wanted to see where Princess Grace was buried (Monaco).

Both ships were Oceania.

"A friend said 'You're favorite hotel is the Ritz Carlton, and this is a floating Ritz Carlton," she chuckles.

What turned two months into two years was, simply, Oceania. This is the cruise line that focuses the most on cuisine, and not just in the on-board establishments that serve what cruise executives champion as "gourmet" dishes. Besides the restaurants that bear Pepin's name and menu input, Oceania ships sell space in the Culinary Centers for passengers who want to learn more about cooking.

But there's more to it than that.

"You can say we're going to do Moroccan cooking, and then we go to market in Morocco to buy the ingredients," explains Chef Kelly. "We go to a restaurant in Morocco and then come back and gave a class on the ship. It's a 12-hour tour — market for local produce, favorite place to eat, come back, cooking class. There's no corollary to that."

It's more than a unique shore excursion…it's more like the ultimate cooking experience.

"A brilliant idea," she exclaims, "and guests love it. They're on vacation. A lot of them are experienced travelers and they've been to some of these places four or five times, so for them it's 'show me something new.' They see the world through a culinary lens."

Kelly credits Bob Binder, Vice-Chairman of both Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, with the concept.

"This is his dream and his vision," she adds. "I remember once we were in a meeting and we agreed that if Cat Cora is the Godmother [of the Riviera] then Bob Binder is the Godfather of the Culinary Center. I asked the [Center’s] architect if anybody else was doing this and he said no, because it's too expensive. He said in the next five years, we'd still be the only ones doing it. Every idea we've had, Oceania has said 'Let's do it.' I've run two publicly traded companies and I know how difficult it can be to get things done. It takes an enormous financial commitment."

Classes at the Culinary Center last an hour. In them, participants prepare (usually) three dishes at 12 cooking stations for two, under Chef Kelly's good-humored but pointed supervision. Because of the time frame, some raw preparation takes place before the class begins.

Every day she's at sea, Kelly teaches two classes.

"In general, people come in frightened, afraid to pick up a knife," says the Center's Executive Chef. "A woman will drop a man off and say 'Teach him to cook something…anything!' Those are the ones that have such a sense of accomplishment that they wind up taking a second and third class. I'm addicted to it and I want to make sure people learn something."

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, they're investigating if she's ever coming back…

"I don't know," she says. "It's my floating home and I'm having a ball!"

Carnival Ecstasy
5 nights
October 8, 2012
Port Canaveral (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $47

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

Oceania: One Delicious Cruise Preview

A husband and wife from Houston write about (and take photos of) cruises, just like we do, so it will come as no surprise that we are friends. But we knew Harry and Joan Shattuck many, many years before any of us had been on a cruise ship, let alone written about one. Today, the fact that both couples do what we do is nothing more than coincidence.

The Shattucks have been at this longer than us so when they have something to say, we listen. What they have to say about sailing on an Oceania ship is pertinent, at least for us, because when its newest ship is launched early in May, we'll be on deck, reporting back to you.

In the words of our friends, Oceania is the "food-lovers' cruise line."

In our world of being lucky to enjoy the finest of food, and of knowing a little French, that makes this a creme de la creme preview.

"We have done almost 70 cruises, and we've never had better food on an across-the-board, consistent basis," says Harry. "There are 10 restaurants — and almost all are included in the cost of the cruise fare, a terrific bargain. Jacques Pepin oversees the culinary product [but not in person], and his first-ever namesake restaurant is on the Marina [and will also be on the Riviera]. Menus in Jacques and in the main dining room include several of Pepin's signature dishes."

This Jacques was on the Oceania Marina. In May, the Marina gets a new sister — the Riviera — and since these ships are carbon copies (or calorie copies), it's a safe assumption that we'll find what the Shattucks found.

More or less.

Among cruise lines, Oceania is considered "deluxe", and dining at most of its 10 restaurants is included with your fare. That includes Jacques, named after the famous French chef, who at 76 is Dean of Special Programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York.

Our advance party reports that Monsieur Pepin likes lobster.

"Within the complimentary restaurants, I counted 13 different lobster preparations every day, says Harry. "I had a steamed Maine lobster and caviar salad followed by lobster thermidor in Jacques; an avocado lobster salad and lobster pad thai in Asian-themed Red Ginger; lobster risotto and spicy lobster fra diavalo in Toscana, an Italian tratorria; and a pancetta-wrapped veal filet with a Bay lobster tail Oscar-style in the Polo Grill. Daily lunch menus at the poolside Waves Grill included a surf-and-turf sandwich combining Florida lobster medallions with sliced Black Angus filet mignon. Evening buffets in the Terrace Cafe offered unlimited lobster tails."

Over the years, we have been indebted to the Shattucks in many ways. Now we have another one…they've just whetted our appetities for the Oceania Riviera.

Photo courtesy Joan Shattuck

Holland America Zaandam
4 nights
October 23, 2012
Vancouver, Victoria, San Diego
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $62

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