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Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani Launches 10th Anniversary Sailing with Chef Kelly on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno

6a0120a92e343a970b01910419307d970c-200wiSummer has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Tuscany!

We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.

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This market has been a favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also love its atmosphere. Like many public daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?


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All guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise and celebration.


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6a014e8a072452970d01901e233958970b-200wiWe enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s adventure in Tuscany.

I have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.


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We began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for storage. Outside of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and green – and they had been eating all night!


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Off we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired oven. Chef David was there to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!


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Pizza dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.


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Next up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and, of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a sangiovese-cabernet blend.

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6a0120a92e343a970b01910419531f970c-200wiAs we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over great food and wine – what a blessing!

Our meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.

While the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say “arrivederci” and return to Riviera.


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After a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms, so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta that our students made.


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6a0120a92e343a970b01901e235160970b-150wiWe topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we had purchased at the market.

What a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!

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SIGNATURE SAILINGS: A CRUISE … AND THEN SOME

I love sailing with Oceania Cruises. From the food to the familial atmosphere to the incredible destinations, I just can’t get enough. And the Oceania Cruises experience is enhanced even further when you travel on a Signature Sailing. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of these sailings, and the featured dinners, guest lecturers and other special events gave me an even greater appreciation for both the onboard experience and the fascinating destinations we were exploring. My favorite Signature Sailings are the ones with a focus on wine and food. On these cruises you can interact with some of the world’s most renowned chefs, sommeliers and culinary experts.

There are three Signature Sailings coming up this summer that offer this fantastic opportunity. The first one departs in less than two months, so if a cruise vacation is in your upcoming plans, don’t miss this chance to experience one of these unique voyages.

Wine & Food Celebration

There will be two Signature Sailings for wine and food lovers: Marina’s Grand Panama Canal, a 20-day voyage from Lima to New York City beginning on May 6, 2013, and Riviera’s Mediterranean Grandeur, a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Rome beginning on June 23, 2013.

The Wine & Food Celebration on Marina will take guests on a culinary adventure from South America through the Caribbean, ending in New York. South American wine expert Daniel Soto will host wine lectures and tastings featuring the best of South American wines. Joining Daniel Soto is renowned culinary author Chef Paulette Mitchell, who will demonstrate classic South American dishes that guests can learn to prepare and enjoy at home.

 

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Daniel Soto

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Paulette Mitchell

 

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Valerie Elam

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Karen King

During the Caribbean segment of the cruise, Bacardi Rum’s Brand Ambassador Kate Dahlen will be onboard to share the rich history of rum in the Caribbean and give guests a chance to taste some of Bacardi’s best. The executive culinary team from Grand Cayman’s Ritz Carlton will also join Marina’s onboard team to demonstrate some favorite Caribbean dishes.

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Kate Dahlen

For the home stretch, guests will have the opportunity to attend wine lectures, tastings and pairing presentations featuring flavors of America with wine expert Karen King and the executive chef of Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Culinary Center, Kathryn Kelly.

Throughout the voyage there will be wine tasting events where guests can sample and discuss different wines with Marina’s wine experts and sommeliers. Once they’ve found a favorite, guests can enjoy wine and conversation as they are serenaded by Valerie Elam, a recording artist and Cape Coral restaurateur.

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Panama Canal Transit

 

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Tony Didio

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Max McCalman

Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kellywill host Riviera’sWine & Food Celebration. She will be joined by several experts, including the Culinary Institute of America’s Master Baker Eric Kastel. An instructor and an author, Kastel will share the secrets of great bread making.

Renowned New York wine educator, businessman and sommelier Tony Didio will lead a series of wine lectures, tastings and wine pairing presentations throughout the voyage. To complement the wine experience, Master Cheese Expert Max McCalman will be onboard to share the secrets of great cheeses and advise on pairings. Riviera’s onboard experts will also host events, and Valerie Elam will be on this voyage as well to serenade guests as they enjoy great wine and conversation.

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Eric Kastel

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Chef Kathryn Kelly

Wine Connoisseur Cruise

 

 

Marina’s10-day Baltic Odyssey voyage from Copenhagen to Stockholm beginning on September 3, 2013, will be anchored by Armando Fumanelli, owner of the famed Italian winery Marchesi Fumanelli. A wine ambassador from the winery will also be onboard. Located near Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the Fumanelli winery has been creating exceptional wines since 1470. Young actors from Verona’s drama academy will be onboard to perform during select Fumanelli wine dinners offered at La Reserve.

This voyage will also feature many wine tasting events during which guests can taste different wines and discuss their attributes with Armando Fumanelli, the Fumanelli ambassador and Marina’s sommeliers. Meanwhile, guests can also enjoy the music of Italian guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli.

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Enjoy an overnight in St. Petersburg on the Baltic Odyssey voyage

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Armando Fumanelli

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Vincenzo Martinelli

 

 

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THE SECRETS BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

For the past eight months, Fleet
Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and the rest of the Oceania Cruises culinary
team have been designing and testing new menus for the fleet’s flagship
restaurant, the Grand Dining Room. The menus in the Grand Dining Room change
daily, and in total, Garanger has created 85 new recipes for 14 different
menus.

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One of Garanger’s latest creations: Zucchini-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Parmesan Cheese and Angel Hair Pasta al Limone

“If you just copied other recipes or
used a cookbook, you could do this rollout in two months,” Garanger says. “But
we try to be unique in every single recipe we create, and that is a lengthy
process requiring the dedicated efforts of the entire team.”

6a0120a92e343a970b017d40c9e939970c-200wiSo what is Garanger’s creative process
for conceiving all of these unique recipes? “I start to think about the recipe
and then I start to make notes. Then I prepare it once. If I’m lucky, I only
have to prepare the dish three or four times before it’s finalized. But often I
have to try it eight or ten times before it’s perfect. And sometimes I give
up!” Garanger chuckles. “Sometimes I say, okay, this one is never going to work
– and then maybe it works a few years later. It happens sometimes.”

Garanger’s conception of the recipes is
only the first step in a launch of this scale. Once the recipes are designed, a
great deal of product research must be done to secure all of the new
ingredients. This is one of the challenges facing restaurants operating onboard
a ship versus restaurants ashore.

“Fresh products are purchased in every
port, and the availability changes depending on whether you’re in South America
or Europe or Asia, so the executive chefs have to plan ahead and make
adjustments,” Garanger explains. “Meanwhile, dry goods and frozen items are
delivered via shipping containers, which can take a long time to reach the
ship. If a container is traveling from Miami to Europe, it may take three
weeks. To ensure we have all the necessary ingredients for these new recipes,
we had to begin scheduling these shipments months in advance.”

Onboard restaurants are open seven days
a week, 365 days a year, another aspect of shipboard operations requiring
ingenuity in management. Galleys operate around the clock, and shifts must be
staffed accordingly. Training and oversight must be constant and diligent.

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As an example of the team’s commitment
to the ingredients, design and process of recipes from start to finish,
consider the dinner baguette in the Grand Dining Room. Only the finest (and most
expensive) French flour is used – Viron flour harvested in the Beauce region –
because it has a lower gluten content and thus more flavor. The flour is
shipped direct from France, and each batch of dough goes through a two-stage
proofing process to release the full aromas of the flour. The dough is
refrigerated to proof overnight and then worked, formed into baguettes and
proofed again before baking. And this is just to create the dinner baguette,
one of thousands of items prepared onboard each day.

Here Garanger and Senior Executive
Chef Alexis Quaretti discuss the finer points of the baguette wafer that will
accompany the new Grand Dining Room dish: Cauliflower Panna Cotta with
Artichoke Salpicon, Tomato Coulis and Poblano Chili Aioli
.

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Considering the complex methods required
to make an exceptional baguette, you can imagine how involved the process is
when launching entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. The rollout will
take nearly four months to complete across the entire fleet, with each ship
requiring a full cruise for initial implementation and another full cruise for
follow-up training.

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The new dishes are a feast for the
senses. The flavor profiles are rich and diverse, and the presentation is
spectacular.

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Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shallots, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette

 

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Baby Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail with Marie-Louise Sauce

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Warm Duck Pâté in Puff Pastry with Port Wine Sauce

 

The new
menus also include an assortment of Canyon Ranch® Healthy Living
Choices that meet the Canyon Ranch standards for balanced nutrition from a wide
variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean
proteins. The calories, fat grams and fiber grams for each Canyon Ranch
selection are included on the menu. If healthy living means eating dishes like
this, then I’m becoming a health nut!

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Canyon Ranch Vegetable Caponata on Roasted Red Pepper Dressing with Crispy Sardinian Bread

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Canyon Ranch Wild Salmon Tartare with Sushi Rice and Avocado

 

Having created so many exquisite dishes,
does Garanger have a personal favorite?

“My signature dish is my mashed
potatoes,” Garanger says. With the new rollout, Franck’s Mashed Potatoes will
always be available as a side in the Grand Dining Room, and you really must try
them. Absolute heaven!

“The pâté en croute on the new menu is
also very close to my heart,” Garanger continues. “This is a recipe from my
childhood for the classic dish that the French enjoy around the family table.” Here Franck prepares his Childhood Paté en Croute: French Family-Style Encrusted Paté with Smoked Ham
and Pheasant
.

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Until
you’ve visited the Grand Dining Room, you can only imagine the amazing
selection of delectable new dishes to be tasted. And the Grand Dining Room is
only one of four gourmet restaurants on Regatta
and Nautica and six restaurants on Marina and Riviera! When you reserve your next voyage with Oceania Cruises, I
suggest you make it a lengthy one, so you have plenty of time to sample all of
the spectacular cuisine!

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BEHIND THE SCENES WITH OCEANIA CRUISES’ FLEET CORPORATE CHEF FRANCK GARANGER

6a0120a92e343a970b017ee83922f1970d-300wiAny fan of Oceania Cruises knows that
esteemed master chef Jacques Pépin is our executive culinary director and the
inspiration behind our extraordinary cuisine. But even Chef Pépin knows that it
takes more than one person to create a culinary program for a cruise line that
can successfully rival the cuisine of even the best restaurants ashore. As
Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the privilege of interviewing
one of the other culinary team members responsible for creating the finest
cuisine at sea
.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
might modestly resist the label of “creative genius.” But after tasting the
exquisite dishes he has conceived for Oceania Cruises’ ships, I can’t think of
a more appropriate moniker.

While many cruise lines employ a single
corporate chef, Oceania Cruises has an entire team of culinary directors and
executive chefs committed to realizing its culinary vision. Thus Garanger is
free to focus his creative genius – there, I said it – on designing recipes
that uphold Oceania Cruises’ reputation for the finest cuisine at sea.

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An example of the finest cuisine at sea: Tamarind-Braised Black Cod with Sweet Ginger Sauce and Vegetable Ragout

While Garanger was born in the Normandy
region of France, his family moved to Angers in the Loire Valley when he was
two years old. His father owned a bakery, and after being exposed to the
culinary world at a very young age, Garanger began working with his father and
learning the pastry trade at age 16. One year later he began studies in
hospitality and hotel management. French universities are very specialized, and
the training involved one week of classes alternating with two weeks of
hands-on restaurant experience, at which time Garanger worked with a French
master chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Angers.

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Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger

After passing his first exams, Garanger
worked at one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco,
followed by the equally renowned Hotel de Cap Eden Roc, a palace on the French
Riviera in Antibes. He then returned to school for two years to complete his
degrees and after exams, at the age of 24, began officially working as a chef.

His first position on a cruise ship was
with Silversea Cruises in 1995. When he was asked to join Oceania Cruises in
2003, he did not hesitate to accept. “I liked the vision they had for the line,”
Garanger says. “And I really liked the passion of all the people involved. They
were so into food that, in everything we were creating, they were not only
behind me but also tasting the food with me. When you have the CEO and the
president coming onboard just to taste the food to see if we can put it on the
menu, it applies a little pressure, but it is also very rewarding because you
can really see how important the food is to the company.”

Much like the passionate commitment of
the executives, many aspects of Garanger’s tenure with Oceania Cruises have
been both challenging and rewarding. “Regatta
was a challenge because we had to start from scratch, and we were working with
a ship we didn’t build, so we had to make adjustments. We built Marina ourselves, but it was also
challenging because we opened eight different restaurants – each a completely
different concept – and had 160 cooks onboard to manage. In both cases, there were
very high expectations, and we had to deliver in a short period of time. Both
debuts were a huge success, and so of course, we’re very happy.”

So what is the secret to continuing to
deliver the finest cuisine at sea? For one thing, most members of the culinary
team, such as Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin, Senior Vice President
of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Culinary Director Eric Barale and
Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur, have been with Oceania Cruises
since its very beginnings. And the line’s commitment to cuisine has ensured
that the team is provided every tool they need to succeed.

“I’ve always been asked what I needed,
and whatever I asked for, I got,” Garanger says. “Of course, then you have to
make sure you deliver, and so far, I’ve succeeded. That’s why I’m still here!”

Each restaurant onboard provides its own
unique challenges. Jacques is perhaps the most challenging because of the
technical precision required to execute true, authentic French recipes using
traditional, time-honored methods on a daily basis. Toscana is also technically
challenging because of the à la minute preparation of all the fresh pasta and
risotto.

Red Ginger is one of Garanger’s favorite
concepts because it is truly “his baby.” Garanger traveled in Asia for two
years and then spent time in both London and San Francisco researching ideas
before developing the restaurant concept and recipes.

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One of Red Ginger’s signature dishes: Miso-Glazed Sea Bass in Hoba Leaf

While Jacques and Red Ginger are
featured on Oceania Cruises’ newest ships, Marina
and Riviera, guests will be excited
to know that they can soon get a taste of these restaurants onboard Regatta and Nautica as well. These ships will soon feature an entrée from both
Jacques and Red Ginger each night in the Grand Dining Room. The new features
are just one small part of Garanger’s latest large scale project, the rollout
of new menus for the Grand Dining Rooms on the entire fleet.

In my next blog post, I’ll share Garanger’s
insights into the creative process, training and implementation involved in
this extensive menu rollout. Check the blog again soon for more
behind-the-scenes stories.

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MEET THE TEAM BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

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Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin

While most cruise lines employ a single corporate
chef that oversees the creation, organization and implementation of menus,
Oceania Cruises has an entire team at the helm of its culinary program. Of
course, renowned master chef Jacques Pépin has been the
inspiration for the program since he became executive culinary director when
the line was founded 10 years ago. But consistently delivering the finest
cuisine at sea requires a large group of dedicated chefs committed to this
vision.

“No one person can be in charge of all the food
and beverage for a cruise line and do it well,” says Senior Vice President of
Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro. “It’s  creativity, it’s administration,
it’s logistics and human resources; it’s sourcing and tracking and training and
quality control. And then there’s bread and pastry. From a culinary point of
view, that’s like another planet! How could one person do all that?”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve
enjoyed the privilege of meeting several members of the culinary team, including
Semeraro, who led the team in one of its most ambitious projects to date: the
launch of entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. Semeraro has been a key
player in the creation of Oceania Cruises’ renowned cuisine since the line’s
founding in 2003. In fact, most of the culinary team has been onboard since the
company began with a handful of employees a decade ago, which accounts for the
family atmosphere amongst the entire team and translates to a warm camaraderie amidst
the crew and guests onboard the ships. It truly is a family affair, as several
of the original recipes served in the Italian restaurants have come from Semeraro
and his wife, Packy, and their mothers.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has certainly
found his niche within the team. His sole responsibility is creating innovative
new menus that keep Oceania Cruises at the forefront of culinary excellence.
Meanwhile, Culinary Director Eric Barale handles the logistics of implementing
Garanger’s creations, from purchasing fresh ingredients and acquiring new
equipment to assembling the necessary staff and designing menus. Interestingly,
Barale used to be Garanger’s teacher at culinary school, and when Garanger was
invited to come onboard with Oceania Cruises when the line was founded in 2003,
Barale was the first person he called to join him.

“Eric does all the work I don’t like to do,” Garanger
says, chuckling. “I am the right brain and he is the left, so it makes a great
partnership. When you don’t have to take care of all the logistics and you’re
free to just create the recipes, it’s fantastic. It allows me to keep a clear
head and to simply create. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the
day.”

Of course, the right brain and left brain wouldn’t
function without a lot of neurons flashing in synchronicity. Several other team
members help execute this culinary vision, not to mention the hundreds of chefs
and sous chefs working onboard the ships. Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur
and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti were both heavily involved in the new menu rollout in the Grand Dining Room.
Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin oversaw implementation on Riviera,
while Senior Executive Chef Laurent Trias will oversee Marina, and
Executive Chef Renald Macouin will oversee Regatta and Nautica.

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Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin, Blogger-at-Large Lisa Pancake Fossland and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger

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Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti

 

If you saw yesterday’s blog, your mouth is
probably still watering over the photos I shared that revealed the fruits of
the team’s labors. There are so many delicious dishes on the new Grand Dining
Room menus that I wanted to share a few more with you today.


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Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Creamy Pesto and Crispy Focaccia Bread

 

 

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish Fillet with Saffron Mussel Sauce


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Herb-Crusted Cornish Hen alla Diavolo with Bacon and Shoestring Potatoes

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Dorado and Tuna Ceviche with Cilantro and Heirloom Tomatoes

In my next blog post, read
my behind-the-scenes interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and
learn where he gets his inspiration to create the finest cuisine at sea.