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CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

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After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs.

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We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people’s lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

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What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn’t get any better than this!

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CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

6a0120a92e343a970b01901cb0f763970b-250wiAs I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!

As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.

As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.

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When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.

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Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.

The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!

This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.

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Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!

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After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year.

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Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”

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Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!

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Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Tangier – Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille – Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

Monte Carlo – Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza:

 

 

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JAMES BEARD AWARD-WININING CHEF BARBARA LYNCH JOINS CHEF KELLY ON RIVIERA

Barbara_lynch_hdsht1As summer in the Mediterranean turns to fall, we celebrate the produce in local markets by creating comforting autumn dishes. Who better to share the season with than one of Boston’s (and the country’s!) leading chefs and restaurateurs, Barbara Lynch? Chef Lynch is the only female chef in the United States to hold the distinguished title of Grand Chef Relais and Chateaux. In 1998 she opened No. 9 Park in Boston’s Beacon Hill and from there has gone on to create a culinary dynasty, including six restaurants plus ventures in catering, sustainable produce, demonstration kitchens and artisanal butchery. I invited Chef Lynch on Riviera with the hope of enticing her back to host a culinary tour in the fall of 2013.

Truth be known, I have been a fan Chef Lynch since I dined at No. 9 Park in December of 2005. The snow was falling on the Square, the Scotch was single malt and the food and wine pairing was as close to perfection as it gets. In 2008 I was fortunate enough to visit No. 9 Park and see how the back-of-the-house operation works – including an opportunity to make a late night BLT for a tall blonde star making a movie in Boston with Tom Cruise. Since then I have gotten to know Chef Lynch through our mutual friend and Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef instructor, Annie Copps. Chef Lynch and Chef Copps worked on the line together for Todd English in the 1990s.

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Chef Lynch’s cookbook, Stir, combines “practical simplicity with charming sophistication” for the home cook. Known for her silky pastas, my favorite is her gnocchi, which she demonstrated in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for our guests and in the galley for our chefs!

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During the Accent on Italy cruise, we took five of our popular Culinary Discovery Tours – the favorite was a trip to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the wonderful Chateau Eza. Leaving from Monte Carlo, we traveled the stunning road along the Cote d’Azur to Nice. The market was brimming with flowers, fresh produce, herbs and cheeses.

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IMG_0111After a few hours shopping in the market and eating socca (a chickpea flour pancake and a typical mid-morning snack of Nice), we climbed the winding stairs to Eze. This charming village is home to Chateau Eza, one of the most famous restaurants in France, if not the world. I designed this Culinary Discovery Tour because I wanted to share this very special venue with our foodie guests. We have booked a table for 24 about 16 times this season, and many of our guests have told me it was the highlight of their vacation!

Our first course was a quail egg on a poached carrot round with a fresh seasonal root vegetable sauce.

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The second course was a chickpea flour panisse in a reduced fresh tomato sauce with charred fresh lavender.

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Course three was braised pork belly with bacon foam followed by course four, a tagine of guinea hen and North African vegetables.

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For dessert we had white peaches poached in Sauternes wine and topped with crème fraîche.

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The meal was served with wines from Provence, which we have been enjoying all summer. This has been one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours and is definitely on the agenda for 2013. Chef Lynch was especially delighted because she had attempted to dine here in 2010 and was not able to get a table. Imagine my delight at being able to impress the most impressive chef I know!

Chef Lynch was able to spend time with Chef Copps and her students in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center before arriving in Amalfi.

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The class menu included ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms and fresh pasta. Chef Lynch contributed her own fresh pasta recipe for capunti, a southern Italian specialty she learned when she studied in Italy.

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Another highlight of the cruise was the Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno. Guests enjoyed boarding a small boat and winding through the canals of Livorno, which is a lot like Venice. This is the port from which Catherine de Medici left to marry Henry, a Frenchman, bringing with her an entourage of cooks, butchers, bakers and pastry chefs as well as the famous fork, which she introduced to the reticent French.

After the canal tour, we visited the open market in Livorno where we sampled the cinque e cinque, a focaccia and chickpea sandwich referred to as “five and five,” and strolled through the aisles of fresh meats, cheeses, produce and pastas. I always look forward to a stop at a local cheese shop where the owner ages his own Parmigiano-Reggiano. He gives us luscious samples of local Tuscan charcuterie like salumi and lardo, drizzled with olive oil from his backyard trees, and a selection of heady sangiovese wines to complement our morning snack.

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Chef Lynch’s official host was our own Annie Copps, who shares her contagious passion for food, wine and travel with our guests, whether it is in class, on a Culinary Discovery Tour or as she wanders about the ship. On this tour she was in her element among the fabulous wine and food that she shared with her students.

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I believe when I cease to learn, I cease to live, and one of the best things about my fabulous job is that I continue to learn from our guest chefs and sommeliers. This cruise was no exception! We are all hopeful that Chef Lynch will join us again in 2013 and design a signature tour for foodies and her many fans around the world!