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We are so pleased by the overwhelmingly positive responses to our Culinary Discovery Tours this spring. We have visited markets in Corfu and Nice, had lunch overlooking the Cote d’Azur and enjoyed a lunch and wine tasting hosted by the “grandfather of Provence cuisine,” to name a few favorites.

After the successful launch of over 20 Culinary Discovery Tours in the Mediterranean, we are moving on to the Baltic. On this cruise we will experience a farm-to-table adventure that starts at Ejmunds Farm, founded in 1860, and ends in Visby’s renowned restaurant 50 Kvadrat, all the while dining on dishes from local farms. Also, we will visit the impressive markets in Riga and Helsinki.

I am often asked, “How do you find these locations?” So I thought I would share some of my most memorable moments exploring different locations for possible Culinary Discovery Tours.

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L1040724After spending time in the sunny Mediterranean on Riviera, I traveled to Dover for our Northern Interludes cruise to Ireland, Iceland and Norway. It was time to switch gears, and I was excited to join Chef Noelle, who had already begun scouting locations in Dublin, and concentrate on the cuisines of cooler climates. First up was Iceland. I took the “Golden Circle” tour and enjoyed the geysers and waterfalls, but I was even more fascinated by the use of geothermal energy in Reykjavik. They use it to bake bread and to warm greenhouses for vegetable farming! I’m recruiting one of the master bakers from the Culinary Institute of America to join us on a future cruise to explore this island and the culinary and farming traditions.

Next I was off to Kristiansand in Norway, where we were greeted in the port by a giant moose! The fish market here is legendary. After a short stroll from Marina, I crossed a little wooden bridge to a too-quaint-for-words village and found a red wooden clapboard building housing a tiny fish market.

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L1040868I often demonstrate fish fabrication for my classes, but these enormoussalmon would be a challenge. They were twice the size of the salmon we normally see in the States. There were many varieties of fish swimming in tanks, including something I had never seen – a winter flounder settled comfortably on the bottom of the tank.

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Staring at the huge lobsters swimming freely in their tanks, I imagined them holding signs that said, “Pick me!” There were vats of pickled fish and beets and other delicacies that would make for a lovely picnic. An impressive little fish market indeed!

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L1040872I wandered in to town on the recommendation of several guests who had mentioned a local produce vendor in the center of town. There I found brilliant white and mystically purple cauliflower, conical shaped cabbage, seasonal strawberries and cherries and my personal favorite, celery root.

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The radishes were huge, evidence of the magnificent growing season here in the “land of the midnight sun.” (Not great for sleeping through the night, by the way, but they tell me that’s not an issue for the locals.) It was a great day exploring and definitely a Culinary Discovery Tour prospect for 2013.

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When we visited Copenhagen on the first day of the Baltic Treasures cruise, I took a trip to the meatpacking district, a trendy new neighborhood with artisanal food shops, fish mongers, sausage makers, wine bars and great coffee houses.

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I stopped along the canal for a cup of coffee at an adorable little truck that the barista drives to and from her locations. (At six feet tall, I would never fit into the tiny driver’s seat!)

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Afterward I stopped for some granola at a neighborhood café, aptly named Granola. I talked with the owner about how the dozens of varieties of preserves that lined the walls were made. Of course, they were made right there in the shop!

 

 

 

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Earlier this season on one of our Mediterranean sailings, I had an amazing opportunity to scout a new tour in Venice. We will be offering the tour in the fall, and I am really excited to share it with you. As many of you know, our onboard venue known as La Reserve pairs the perfect wines with the creations of our brilliant executive chef, and my culinary twin, Franck Garanger. The newest menu for La Reserve was launched this spring, and for the Kobe beef and chocolate sauce dish (yes, you read that correctly!), we found the most magnificent pairing in an Amarone from the Fumanelli winery.

In addition to making some of the most velvety and sensuous wines in Veneto, the Fumanellis have also turned part of their property into a culinary school. The winery has been in the family for centuries, and the current owners are an enchanting couple that travels the globe promoting their wines (in addition to playing polo, racing cars and hobnobbing with celebrities).

 

 

 

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L1040245You can imagine how excited Franck and I were as we set out to scout this new venue. After a 90-minute drive through Veneto, we were greeted by the cellar master and a local cheese master, who offered us several cheeses to sample with the Fumanelli Valpolicella. We had never heard of most of the cheeses, and we were delighted to learn that they were named after the owner of the sheep or goats from which the milk came! Then we were led up narrow stairs to the attic where hundreds of wooden flats lay ready for this year’s grapes. Amarone is made from “raisinated” grapes, which means that after the grapes are harvested, they dry in the attic for several weeks before being crushed.

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After a tour of the cellar, which housed an underground tunnel, Mr. Fumanelli treated me to a ride to the cooking school in his vintage Aston Martin. He was racing in the Mille Miglia the next day with the president of BMW, so I figured I was in good hands.

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Off we went down a little gravel road to a farmhouse that had been converted into a cooking school and inn. We spent time with the chef and learned about many of the unique ingredients of the region, one of which is a rare breed of small chicken that makes a lovely ragu. (As a former poultry farmer, I know that all good things come to an end!)

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After a tour of the school and an hour with the chefs, we sat down with the Fumanellis and several of their guests to enjoy an unforgettable lunch. It was the beginning of cherry season, so the table was spilling over with fresh cherries.

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We had pasta with white ragu followed by a cookie made with semolina and nuts and topped with grappa. (I was glad I was not driving). The Fumanellis were wonderful hosts, and our day could not have been more perfect.

 

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Needless to say, the tour will be amazing, and we are thrilled that our first guest chef to host this tour in the fall will be none other than Barbara Lynch, the owner and executive chef of six restaurants in Boston, as well as a judge for the U.S. team competition for the Bocuse d’Or, the Olympics of cooking. I know this tour will be a huge hit with our guests who are diehard food and wine lovers!

I hope this gives you some insight into how we scout locations and venues for our Culinary Discovery Tours. I couldn’t do this without JoAnne Skrukrud of Oceania Cruises’ destinations team, who connects me with our brilliant operators in various ports and regions. I’m also grateful for chefs Annie Copps, Noelle Barille, David Shalleck and Susie Heller, the faculty of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Like me, they are always on the lookout for great tours.

Now I’m off to an open house to greet our new guests. It will be an exciting cruise, and I will post lots of pictures and happenings from our three new tours. Until then, bon appétit!

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