When cooking is your passion, you know instinctively that certain people are blessed in the kitchen. That’s how I feel about Franck Garanger, the Fleet Corporate Chef for Oceania Cruises. A true culinary genius, Chef Garanger is ultimately responsible for every bite of food served to Oceania Cruises guests onboard Marina, Regatta, Insignia, Nautica and the soon-to-launch Riviera.
Franck grew up in Angers, France, as the son of a baker. He has worked in Michelin-star restaurants and under the tutelage of masters like Paul Bocuse and Alain Passard. He holds the prestigious Maîtres Cuisiniers de France and has been at the helm of the Oceania Cruises culinary team for as long as anyone can remember.
Franck and I have been working together since I joined Marina in February of 2011. He, Wolfgang Maier and Eric Barale (Oceania Cruises’ senior culinary management team) greeted me with five pallets of pots and pans last winter when we opened the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Four chefs with very strong personalities is always a recipe for fireworks, but somehow we managed to open the first culinary school at sea and become culinary soulmates!
This past cruise, I had my other hat on – Culinary Enrichment Director – so Franck and I were working on the next generation of culinary enrichment for Marina and Riviera. Highlights of the expanded program are largely concentrated on market tours, guest master chefs and intensive culinary excursions to 20 to 30 cities where we are excited about the food, cuisines, local markets and culinary innovation. One of these ports was Ashdod, Israel, a busy port town and a gateway to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
A taxi picked us up first thing in the morning, and off we went with our guest chef, Christophe Jegou, to explore where the locals shop. Christophe Jegou is a native of the Loire Valley and in 2009 won the most prestigious baking competition in France, the French Bakery Cup. He was onboard Marina for our Sands of Time cruise to work with Chef Garanger and his team to continuously update our bread program.
Within 10 minutes from the port of Ashdod, we were dropped off by the taxi driver, who pointed out that the produce ran along the perimeter of the market and the fish and meat were housed in the inside area.
At first, we were a bit hesitant about whether we actually needed to stay the full hour that our taxi driver had given us before he would return to pick us up. But I spotted a pastry shop with croissants and doughnuts, so off we went to explore the shop with Christophe, a French master baker. Having lived many years in New York City, I treasure Jewish pastries such as rugelach, hamentashen and others, and this bakery did not disappoint.
We got comfortable quickly when we realized that most of the merchants spoke French. So the questions were flying when they figured out that we were chefs from the “beautiful cruise ship with the big O.”
I have been studying Jewish and Israeli cuisine using the fabulous cookbooks by Claudia Roden and Marianna Yerasimos. There was an abundance of vegetables and fruits that came out to greet us at the market. Mangos were a rich and luscious orangish red.
It is pomegranate season, so these bright red symbols of fertility (think about those seeds!) were everywhere.
I have been impressed in Greece, Turkey and Israel with the little stands of pomegranate juice makers. These guys are pressing the fruit and adding sugar and selling these delicious drinks to thirsty tourists and locals.
The stalls were bursting with dates, olives, yams, grapes, fresh herbs and peppers. I thought Chef Garanger’s heart was going to stop when he found a box of perfectly sized zucchini.
When we left the ship, two of Marina’s provision officers, who shop for supplies at ports along the way, were in a taxi behind us. Chef Garanger was so impressed with the quality of the produce that he wished the officers had been along with us so we could load them up with goodies to take back to the ship. Even Christophe got into the mood and suggested we just go ahead and buy some things to take back to the ship to experiment with!
As the chief culinary architect of Red Ginger, our newest restaurant onboard Marina, Chef Garanger always encourages guests to try the Duck Confit and Watermelon Salad. So when we also came across deep red and luscious watermelon, we all wanted to scoop it up and haul it off to the Red Ginger galley.
There was also a very white eggplant that the locals told us was used during the Passover meal.I love the little purple eggplants that I can cut in half and carve out the middle, and then sauté the mash with pancetta and cheese and make a twice-stuffed eggplant! I learned this in Livorno from a local farmer there.
All summer long I have been so impressed with the beautiful radishes from Belfast to Nice to Israel! When I was a little girl, we used to eat fresh radishes with salt as snacks. In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center this past winter, we taught a great recipe in our Southwestern Cuisine class with chiffonade of spinach, shredded radish and toasted pepitas!
As we turned the corner of the produce section of the market, I noticed a man sitting near his truck shedding the skins from his onions to make them more presentable. It strikes me that these farmers really do make the presentation of their fruits and vegetables look like artwork. It is heartwarming to see that we eat with our eyes, even when we are buying our food!
There was one fabulous aisle in the market devoted to dried fruits and nuts. Franck confessed that he loves golden raisins, and when he came upon a merchant with juicy little raisins, I thought we might have lost him!
There was a single wine and liquor merchant, and of course we had to stop and check out the supply of Israeli wines and beers. By then, it was time to begin to buy for the trip home, and we had five minutes to gather our goods before the taxi returned. We loaded up with pomelo, prickly pear, mango and figs. I was looking forward to making our favorite figs in feta cheese wrapped with a sage leaf and prosciutto.
After returning to the ship, Franck and I had a nice lunch at Waves Grill and changed into our whites to teach the class Indulging in Italy.
You can tell from the smiling faces that it was another successful day in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.
Executive Chef, Bon Appétit Culinary Center