Culinary Cruisers

Clients get cooking while at sea

By: Marcia Levin

Remember the old song, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah”? Well, Dinah is still hanging out with the pots and pans, but so are Gunilla, Serge, Jean Paul, Juanita, Vincenzo and Chang. They, and many other guests from across the globe, are taking the opportunity on Holland America Line ships to learn more about cooking from some of the best chefs in the world. At the same time, these guests are learning how to make some of the best recipes at sea.

I sailed on Holland America Line’s ms Maasdam shortly after the ship came out of dry-dock this spring. Maasdam was the last ship in the fleet to receive major enhancement in the company’s $225 million Signature of Excellent initiative. Complete is the outstanding Exploration Cafe powered by The New York Times and the Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine Magazine. The latter is in response to the great popularity of cooking shows on television, and it’s just the type of program passengers are looking for on 21st-century cruise ships.

The new test kitchen, which is housed in the Maasdam’s Wajang Theater, is outfitted with a state-of-the-art refrigerator, range, oven and more on a stage that is perfectly suited for the teaching concept. (While not in culinary use, the venue serves as a movie theater, complete with complimentary popcorn.)

Each Culinary Arts Center features a show kitchen; plasma-video screens and a large cooking display counter designed to appeal to cooking aficionados and devoted foodies. I sat in one day as chefs Sheldon and Steven prepared two outstanding dishes: grilled prawn bruschetta with primavera salsa and a mangospacho. Audience participation included tasting the cooked recipes, and both were a hit with the standing-room-only crowd.

In addition to the free cooking demonstrations, each cruise offers a hands-on cooking class limited to 12 guests. The line charges a small fee. On my New England-Canada cruise, it was $29 per person and well worth it.

Our class menu featured monkfish with a fig relish, goat cheese polenta and a creme brulee. My “classmates” (an equal number of men and women) and I shared an enjoyable, as well as educational experience. Chefs called out instructions, students responded to the call, and we all whisked, mixed and combined ingredients into a gourmet meal. Afterward, we all felt a sense of accomplishment, as we received a Culinary Arts Center apron, chef’s toque and recipe cards.

Martin Groendyk, HAL’s executive chef, explained that on longer cruises, the classes will take place more often. HAL also plans to offer culinary arts demonstrations for children. The culinary theme will change to coincide with the itinerary. On Mexican cruises, for example, crispy chiles rellenos may be offered, and classes will teach students how to make mole or other local specialties.

Some cruises will offer cookbook signings, market tours in ports of call and specially designed onboard menus. Certain Maasdam sailings will feature top chefs, wine experts and leading cookbook authors, to make even more of the Culinary Arts experience.