Zakynthos Grotto
Zakynthos is a beautiful Ionian island that has a very special place in my heart because it is the “sea turtle capital” of Greece.

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Loggerhead turtleMarina was anchored close to Marcus Square, where the local sea turtle watch posted today’s nest count of the loggerheads who lay their eggs in one of the six nesting beaches on the Bay of Laganas. Today there were 716 nests counted and 570 sea turtles hatched. Usually only a few loggerheads survive from the 1200 nests on the island every year.

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I live on the beach on Amelia Island in northern Florida, and we have a similar turtle watch organization. This “Nest Count” poster made me ponder how one can be thousands of miles from home and still see passions and foods and humanity that are so similar they bring the world a little closer together. Zakynthos is full of shops with stuffed turtles and turtle memorabilia – so cuddly and cute.

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After checking out the turtle count, I was off to find the local market. Soaking in the bright Grecian sunlight, I walked down several side streets with inviting tables waiting for the lunch and dinner diners to arrive.

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As I rounded the corner, I came upon the local market, a corner stall filled to the brim with fresh produce and cheeses. This time of year I look for the bumper crops, and today I was told by the affable owner that the onions and tomatoes were not to be missed. We have been buying eggplants all summer long – striated, white and deep purple – and they were all in abundance here.

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With fall right around the corner, I was anxious to try some of the early apples and pears and make a cobbler in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, so guess what was in my bag?

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Across from the market was a pastry and bread shop with lots of cookies and buttery confections.

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L1000153Shopping always makes me hungry. So I asked the owner of the local market where a hungry chef could find a great lunch. I usually ask where he would eat lunch, or where I can find a spot with locals and few tourists. He asked me if I liked Greek food, to which I replied, “Really… are you kidding me?” He directed me to a place around the corner and across from the water called “Bopkopojo” (or something like that as best I could make out from the lettering). Loaded down with my bags of tomatoes, apples and onions, off I went to find this little gem.

I am a sucker for checkered tablecloths and street-side dining, so this little taverna fit the bill at first sight.

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L1000162The menu was bursting with all kinds of Greek mezze favorites like tzatziki and tyrosalata. I asked the waiter to choose something for me that was typical of the island and one of his favorites. For my first course, he brought me a Greek salad with grilled bread. Now if you follow this blog, you know I cannot get enough Greek salad – ripe tomatoes, crispy cucumber, briny olives, tart feta and pungent red onions doused with a local Greek extra virgin olive oil and laced with Greek oregano and sea salt – simple, refreshing and heavenly. These salads are meant to be eaten by two, and as I was dining alone today, I made myself a little plate of salad and settled in to watch the world go by for a while. I had picked up a book on Greek mythology, so out that came for a read.

Not too soon after I had finished my second plate of Greek salad, the waiter arrived with my luncheon entrée – a plate of grilled vegetables topped with grilled haloumi cheese. There was a light dressing made with balsamic vinegar and local honey.

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Haloumi cheese is a sheep’s milk cheese that is quite popular in the Arab world. It’s a semi-firm, mild-flavored cheese that is laced with mint. There is a lovely aftertaste of mint, and with the caramelization from the grilling and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar and honey, it was hard not to finish every last bit! The grilled vegetables were aubergine and red pepper and zucchini, and the combination of the vegetables and the cheese was delightful. Of course, it was all washed down with the house white wine, which I was told was a local grape. Nothing earth shattering, but it blended well with the luncheon my waiter had chosen for me.

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As I wandered back to Marina, I stopped to watch the locals taking a dip in the sea. I am used to the sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, where I call home, so to see swimmers with their towels and baskets on the rocks was amusing. The sea looked inviting, and the locals seemed oblivious to the big cruise ship not 100 yards away.

As I approached the ship, the security staff was there to wave hello. We have a charming custom at Oceania Cruises of welcoming our guests back on the ship – whether it be when the buses return from a long journey or when a tender arrives back to the ship. It never fails to warm my heart to hear “Welcome back, Chef Kelly” when I pass security after a day ashore.

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Today in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, we are having a French and Fabulous class, which is always a guest favorite. On the menu are Leek Quiche and Shrimp Provençal (à la Jacques restaurant) with a white burgundy of Jacques Pépin’s choice. And to top off the class, we all make Crêpes Suzette and Bananas Foster!

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I am always amused by how proud our guests are when they master crêpe making. This is a day when class is over at 6:00 pm, and we are still enjoying our food and each other’s company until 6:30. (Then we scurry off to dress for dinner!)

French food was the topic of Bon Appétit magazine’s October issue. There is a wonderful article about Jacques Pépin, and it also mentions Susie Heller, his friend and producer who spearheaded our Taste the World book, which is now available at Amazon.com. For a look at that article on Jacques and some fabulous French recipes, go to bonappétit.com.  And as Jacques always says, “Happy cooking!”

Bon appétit!

Chef Kelly

Executive Chef, Bon Appétit Culinary Center

 

 

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