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
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.