Chef David Shalleck has just joined the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Riviera. He is the author of Mediterranean Summer, has produced television shows for Jacques Pépin and has appeared on Iron Chef with Riviera’s godmother, Cat Cora.
Today was truly something special for both David and myself. It was our first Culinary Discovery Tour: The Flavors of Provence. Chef David navigated the culinary delights of Provence while I had the chance to observe how much our guests enjoyed this epicurean adventure.
We started at the fish market in the old port of Marseille where the fishmongers were displaying their catch. There was everything from swordfish to shark to moray eels and, of course, the all important rascasse, or scorpion fish, which must always be considered when even thinking about making bouillabaisse!
Afterwards we headed to Chateau de Fontblanche in Cassis about fifteen miles from Marseille, where we were treated to a five-course tasting and wine pairing menu prepared by Provençal Chef Gui Gedda. We enjoyed this casual and delicious meal in the shade of a giant oak tree on the edge of the vineyard with a glorious panorama of the foothills behind us.
We started with a classic barbajuan paired with a light, dry, crisp rosé wine. The barbajuan was a delightful vegetable beignet filled with roasted and chopped zucchini, onion, tomato and a hint of herbes de Provence.
Next we enjoyed a purée of eggplant and garlic (lots of garlic!) with a touch of anchovy, scooped out of interesting little ceramic bowls using garden vegetable crudités. This dish was matched with a delightful white wine made from Marsanne grapes.
Then came a version of pissaladière, the pizza-like snack from Southern France made with caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives. It was spectacular. Instead of anchovies, Chef Gui’s version was topped with a bite-size mignon of red mullet. The tart was paired with a Cassis white wine, unique in that the grapes had not been pressed as they would be in the traditional winemaking process. The natural weight of the grapes extracts the juices.
Before desert we dined on incredibly tender beef daube – braised beef – accompanied by noodles generously topped with grated Gruyère cheese. Chef Gui’s secret for his daube is that it is made with beef cheeks marinated in red wine and bay leaves for 24 hours. It is then seared and cooked at a very low simmer in wine, thyme, rosemary and other herbs for four hours. This was paired with a very well-balanced red wine that was 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Mourvèdre.
We finished with an apricot tarte tatin served with fresh cream and lavender honey. This was paired with a cuvée made from Ugni Blanc, Marsanne, Sauvignon and Clairette grapes.
While Chef David and I will always remember this Culinary Discovery Tour, it was the people we were with that truly made it special. Paul and Deborah Murphy are on their second Oceania Cruise, joining us from Wichita, Kansas. The Murphys shared with us that they are very excited about theirBaltic sailing onboard Marina next year. Louis and Christine Lizzadro from Houston are sailing with us for the first time. For a grand finale shared by all, we finished the meal by toasting our good friends Craig and Joanne Houliston, who have sailed with us 18 times. Today was their 30th anniversary, and we were honored that they were celebrating it with their Oceania Cruises family, dining in a vineyard in Provence.
After a very comfortable ride back to the ship, there was a nice break before the introduction to Provençal cooking later that afternoon at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. With big smiles on their faces upon entering the kitchen, everyone participated in demonstrations and hands-on cooking to put together a simple and very approachable meal of the region: garden vegetables and mesclun salad greens with a Dijon vinaigrette, shrimp Provençal with chickpea-flour-based panisse – very typical of the region – and a classic cherry and plum clafoutis, a popular and easy dessert to make when stone fruit are in season. As an extra treat, Chef David purchased some glistening fresh shark steaks at the market and prepared them in the classic bouillabaisse method for everyone to taste.
We certainly will cherish these memories forever.