OCEANIA MARINA’S CULINARY COUP
By Janice Wald Henderson
I’m a cruise snob but only about the food. It doesn’t matter how much a ship toots its own, er, horn, or receives glowing reviews. I’m a skeptic, and I’m jaded. So count me as one surprised – and yes, impressed – food writer onboard Oceania’s 1,250-passenger Marina.
Oceania Cruises is ranked upper-premium, a relatively newish category between premium and luxury. Ships in this grouping are larger than luxury vessels, and charge for extras like alchohol so they can’t be deemed luxury – yet still offer many luxurious touches.
Oceania Cruises debuted Marina in January 2011 as an evolutionary step beyond their Regatta-Class ships. Press releases made Marina sound like a food-lover’s dream, making me a skeptic.
Bob Binder, Oceania’s former President (now Vice Chairman, Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company for both Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises), said: “Marina is the first ship purpose-built for epicureans. We are committed to serving cuisine that rivals some of the world’s very best restaurants.”
The first ship built for foodies? Never heard that before.
Oceania’s Marina came out swinging with major marketing alliances. Bon Appétit and Wine Spectator magazines. Spa icon Canyon Ranch. Jacques, the first restaurant affiliated with master chef Jacques Pépin.
And no extra fee for any restaurant, including specialty dining.This is rare – if not a first – for upper-premium. Dining choices include six fine-dining restaurants and two private dining venues. The onboard culinary school is for hands-on cooking lessons, not the entertaining, but ultimately useless, demos. This is another huge first for any ship category.
Could Marina be as good for food devotees as it sounds? A few months ago, I took my first cruise to see what was marketing – and what was real.
Marina’s cuisine is equal to food on luxury lines – and in some instances, better. It blows other upper-premium lines I’ve sailed on, well, out of the water.
Ingredient quality is top-notch. Lobster is sweet and plentiful. Produce looks and tastes fresh-picked. Buffets – in presentation, variety and taste – rival any luxury cruise ships.
Dining rooms are beautifully designed – each radically different from another in ambiance and menus. Service is top-notch, even at buffets.
Much credit goes to Franck Garanger, Oceania’s fleet corporate chef. Garanger was corporate chef for Silversea Cruises from 1999-2004, when that line’s cuisine received nonstop wows. This savvy French chef – who has worked in Michelin-starred establishments – was hired by hands-on, über-smart Frank Del Rio, chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings.
I accidentally met Garanger onboard Marina and couldn’t believe his energy, enthusiasm and dedication. He was like a kid in a candy store.
This was no show. We had no scheduled interviews. I bumped into him, day and night. He was always running from kitchen to kitchen, checking the crust on the French bread (his personal passion), sauce consistency, plating.
Garanger emphasized how he hires passionate chefs who trained or made their mark onshore. Smart move; career cruise chefs become too comfortable and out of touch; land-based chefs are edgier, more in tune with culinary trends.
Garanger has his finger on the food world pulse. He travels everywhere, tasting the best, and then transforms his experiences into dishes of his own style.
The hard work and talent shows. Marina cuisine should wow food connoisseurs everywhere, particularly those who embrace local ingredients, sustainable foodstuff – everything fresh and good in the culinary world. Honeymooners to baby boomers – this ship’s for you.