Chef Alain Bohn leads a culinary team of more than one hundred employees for CroisiEurope. // © 2014 CroisiEurope
Feature image (above): River cruise chefs make do with small kitchens known as galleys. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Few members of the staff get the warm reception that passengers offer to river cruise chefs when they appear onboard.
During a cruise, culinary discussions abound. Guests wonder how the culinary staff, working in small galleys, can create the quality and variety of cuisine available on European river vessels. And who are these chefs who organize a seemingly unending supply of meals, snacks and treats?
I’ve heard many dinner conversations where guests speculate that the chef must be a local cook who comes onboard to whip up the regional favorites set before them. Not quite.
Here’s an introduction to the identity and background of seven of the best chefs on European river cruises, all luminaries in the culinary world.
Bernhard Zhorn, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise
Chef Zhorn came to Uniworld in 2009, impressed by Zagat’s mention of the company as the only river cruise line to offer exceptional dining and to work extensively with the local famers along the waterways. Zhorn said he decided to work with the company because, “after I saw the elegant, stylish ships, I thought there could be room for innovation and a distinctive culinary signature.”
Bavarian trained, Zhorn spent much of his previous career on seagoing ships, including Royal Viking Line’s Sun with Paul Bocuse, Cunard Line’s Sea Goddess I, Crystal Cruises’ Harmony, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Cloud and Peter Deilmann’s Deutschland.
Although Zhorn sometimes lent his talents to his parents’ restaurant in Wurzberg, Bavaria, travel beckoned. “The suitcase was a friend since I could think,” he said. That suitcase brought his culinary craft to hotel kitchens, from Kempinski’s Four Season Munich to the Universal Enterprise Resorts in Maldives and Sun International’s Sun City in South Africa.
Zhorn has been designated a Global Master Chef by the World Chefs Association and is a Confrere member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs.
Chef Zhorn said his personal preference is “home style cooking — what my Mam’ served. And not to much ‘jinglelings’, meaning four waiters at my back waiting for me to drop my spoon and asking if they can take the plate out. I like basics,” he added. “Good food, made with passion.
Primus Perchtold, AmaWaterways
Chef Perchtold attended cooking school in Innsbruck, graduating at the top of his class. “My career began much like any aspiring chef or young lover of food: with cooking school and a dream,” he recalled. Perchtold worked on a number of seagoing cruise lines in every position from apprentice to sous chef to executive chef.
He joined AmaWaterways in 2006, introducing the company’s first ship, the AmaDagio. Since then he assisted with the launch of 12 more ships and became the company’s hotel operations manager/food and beverage director in 2009.
Perchtold has earned a number of gold medals in European cooking competitions as well as a membership in the prestigious Chaine des Rotisseurs culinary guild as Mitre Rotisseur. He is also a Certified Master Chef of the American Culinary Foundation — there are only 68 in the United States — and Global Master Chef in the World Association of Chefs Societies.
Perchtold said he uses only the freshest local ingredients to bring guests the closest farm-to-table experience on the river. He acknowledged that his passion for cooking and good food infuses every aspect of his life. When he isn’t working, he spends time with his family and volunteers at children’s charity events.
Stefan Bloch, Avalon Waterways
Head chef Stefan Bloch studied in Germany and went on to work in five-star hotels, including Hotel Primero Berlin and the Grand Hotel Russicher Hof in Weimar, which won the Five-Star Diamond Award as Germany’s Best Restaurant.
He also created dishes at the Hotel Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, where he won awards at the Salon Culinaire and was named Middle East Junior Chef of the year in 2006, moving from sous chef to chef de cuisine. The rivers are in his blood: his parents ran a restaurant near Dresden on the River Elbe. Bloch eventually worked on a seagoing ship, then became executive chef for River Advice/Catering in Limassol, Cyprus.
Since 2009, Bloch has been Avalon’s executive corporate chef. He goes from ship to ship throughout the cruising season, assisting the chefs in their galleys, and acts as the head chef on a variety of itineraries to give other chefs time off. He works with 64 chefs on Avalon’s various ships and is personally in charge of the ingredients purchased, slipping away in port to check local markets.
Bloch said his guiding philosophy is that the high standards of the line “can only be achieved when every single employee is absolutely convinced that he or she is a vital part of our successful concept.”
Chef Bloch created a cookbook for Avalon featuring recipes for international dishes from Bulgaria’s Shopska salad to Rhenish Sauerbraten and creme brulee.
Alain Bohn, CroisiEurope
CroisiEurope, based in Strasbourg, regards cruising as a gastronomic experience, with each menu designed to strike a balance between French haute cuisine and regional specialties. The line’s culinary leader, Chef Bohn, began his career in the Cote d’Azur as an apprentice chef. After a few years, he returned home to Alsace for his first head chef position before moving to Baden-Baden, Germany, where he served as a chef at the Golf Club Restaurant for two years.
In the early 90s, at 25, Bohn joined CroisiEurope. At the time, the company operated a fleet of only four ships; now Bohn leads a team of more than 100 culinary employees on 41 ships. He was recently nominated as a member of Maitres Cuisiniers de France, a highly selective French association created 50 years ago that now includes more than 250 chefs worldwide who aim to maintain, develop and spread the tradition of French gastronomy.
Bohn’s favorite dish on board is quail wrapped in a pastry shell with grapes and a Porto wine sauce. The dish is offered on CroisiEurope’s gastronomic cruises.
Mario Hribernik, Scenic Cruises
Contrary to what I heard repeated on a couple of cruises, Mario Hribernik, Scenic’s senior executive chef, is not Australian. Hribernik is from Austria.
He served his apprenticeship as chef in Bad Gleichenberg, Austria, and worked his way up to Chef de Partie in the Robinson Club resorts in Villach, Austria, and Epiros, Greece. He was executive chef at a number of Austrian restaurants, including the four-star Tyrolean Hotel Belmont in Imbst, and chef in charge during the reopening of Restaurant Stadl in Kitzbuhel. Hribernik also served as sous chef and executive chef on several expedition ships.
His is a traveling position, which means Hribernik creates meals on all of the Scenic vessels through the year. His personal favorite dish on Scenic’s menu is ossobuco Milanese, currently being served in Portobello, the company’s onboard Italian restaurant.
Ringo Karsch, Tauck
Corporate executive chef Ringo Karsch designs, develops and executes menus for Tauck and trains the galley crew on all of the company’s ships, which serve fine French, Italian and international cuisine.
Karsch studied at the Culinary Academy in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, specializing in Mediterranean and German cuisine. He was previously chef de cuisine for Sea Cloud Cruises’ five-star River Cloud and River Cloud II, and later served as chef de cuisine for Viking River Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
Karsch’s favorite dish is himmel and erde (heaven and earth), a traditional apple and potato dish served with pork or sausages.
Karl-Heinz Zwanzleitner, Viking River Cruises
Executive chef Karl-Heinz Zwanzleitner had previous experience with cruising before he came to Viking, applying his skills as chef on the Renaissance Cruises ships. He has wanted to be a chef since he was six years old, and he has a passion for food, spicing, colors and textures.
He spends a lot of time interacting with Viking guests, checking their preferences and explaining regional cuisine from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. He talks to guests about local produce at the markets and gives them recipes and advice.
“I love to share my experience and knowledge,” he said. “It’s like your grandmother has been cooking for you.”
That’s if you were very, very lucky in your grandmother.