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In Focus: F&B

Inside an Atlas Ocean Voyages 'Epicurean Expedition'

PHOTO: ANNE KALOSH CRUISE_Rudi_Jennifer_Scholdis.jpg
Gastronomic guests Rudi and Jennifer Scholdis preparing wild jumbo shrimp flambéd with Hennessy cognac in World Traveller's main restaurant
For a new twist on expedition cruising in the non-polar regions, Atlas Ocean Voyages' 'Epicurean Expeditions' highlight the culinary culture of European ports.

On the line's destination-rich itineraries, these journeys complement the nature/wildlife/adventure-oriented expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Epicurean Expeditions carry a 'gastronomic guest,' such as a noted chef or local culinary expert, who provides enrichment, demonstrations and insights. A 'visiting vintner' may also come aboard to give a lecture and tasting of local wines. In addition to regular shore excursions, specially curated cultural immersion tours delve into regional specialties.

Gastronomic guests

On last week's Mediterranean cruise aboard the 198-passenger World Traveller from Barcelona to Nice, chef Rudi Scholdis and caviar master Jennifer Meriño Scholdis were the personable gastronomic guests and integral to the experience.

The Belgian-born Scholdis, who's cooked at Michelin-star venues in Europe, was head chef at The Dorchester, a London landmark, and was with Silversea Cruises for 16 years, 10 as culinary director. Now he owns two of Chile’s top gourmet restaurants: Amandine Bistro et Vins in Santiago, which has received the country’s highest culinary award, and Casa de Amalia, which opened last year in the Maule wine-producing region.

He and the Chilean-born Meriño are also co-owners of Chile's Kenoz, the world's southernmost caviar producer. It sells the three most prized caviar varieties — beluga, ossetra and sevruga.

Throughout World Traveller's Epicurean Expedition, the gastronomic guests offered cooking and caviar demonstrations, participated in a cook-off with a passenger, created special menu items and accompanied the cultural immersion tours.

Market to table dishes

In Sète, France, the big covered market Les Halles is a 'can't miss' authentic experience, where families crowd around small tables eating big plates of oysters and shoppers can buy everything from Zézettes de Sète (biscuits made with flour, sugar, oil and white wine) to octopus pie.

At a produce stall, cradling a big, meaty capestay in his hand, Scholdis said: 'These tomatoes are very special.' Bantering in French with the merchants, he selected tomatoes and fish hauled from the sea that morning to put on plates that night. He pointed out the live snails and, in the butchers' section, explained how the stalls specialize in different kinds of meat.

It made for a very special and memorable experience, a highlight of the cruise for some. 

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Rudi Scholdis shops for heirloom tomatoes while showing World Traveller passengers around Séte's Les Halles, left. That night, he presented tomato 'carpaccio' as an appetizer in the ship's 7Aft Josper grill restaurant

In the evening, the heirloom tomatoes appeared on a colorful platter of tomato 'carpaccio' Scholdis presented to diners in World Traveller's alfresco 7Aft Grill. There, a fancy Josper charcoal oven is used to grill 35-ounce Tomahawk steaks, T-bones, Iberico pork loin and a surf and turf of grass-fed US tenderloin paired with lobster.

For a featured local market dish another night, Scholdis cooked at a station in the main restaurant, dousing wild jumbo shrimp with Hennessy cognac to flambé them. The shrimp, so big that just one made a meal, were served with a rich sauce of butter, shallots, garlic and white wine, with chili flakes for a little kick.

The same menu also starred a Scholdis dessert: dark chocolate ganache tart with Valrhona Guanaja 70%, red rose blossom and coffee ice cream.

Yachtsman's Cookoff

During each Epicurean Expedition, the gastronomic guest participates in the Yachtsman's Cookoff, the line's version of a culinary 'Ironman' competition. Typically the guest chef squares off with the ship's executive or sous chef.

On this cruise, Scholdis purchased 30 pounds of mussels at a market and invited a passenger — selected because it was his birthday — to compete with him in the cookoff. For the passenger, an avid cruiser from Texas, it was a highlight of the trip, and he was presented with a souvenir chef's apron autographed by Scholdis.

Caviar tasting

One of the most popular events on the cruise was Scholdis and Meriño's caviar presentation and tasting. Kenoz farms 157,000 sturgeon to produce fresh, additive-free caviar, prepared according to the Malossol technique. It has a range of characteristic flavors including dried nuts, butter and ocean notes. 

One passenger's reaction to a scoop of the precious eggs: 'Oh my god! It's like an orgasm!' 


Getting the scoop on Kenoz caviar from Jennifer Meriño Scholdis

Kenoz employs the 'nose-to-tail' method, aimed at using 100% of the sturgeon, and has developed products for aperitifs and assorted dishes, all derived from sturgeon.

According to Scholdis, cruise lines represent 15% of the world market for caviar, purchasing 2.5 to 3.5 tons per year.

Cultural immersion excursions

Many of the excursions have epicurean themes — on last week's cruise, these included a gastronomic walking tour of Sète including Les Halles, a vermouth tasting at the Noilly Prat Cellars, several Provençal vineyard visits and tastings and, from Saint-Raphael, a tour of the Cocoa & Chocolate Museum with a sampling of the local specialty, nougats wrapped in chocolate.

Scholdis accompanied the 'Bandol & Honey Tasting' excursion from Cassis that visited a family-run miellerie where passengers learned how honey is harvested and tasted honey products. The tour also spent time at the seaside resort of Bandol, where Scholdis purchased rosé wine to go with dinner that night aboard ship.

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Rudi Scholdis shopping for rosé during a cultural immersion excursion in Bandol and the wine presented aboard World Traveller. Below, Scholdis hosts passengers for dinner with the Bandol wine, and an asparagus dish he prepared for another meal

At Saint-Tropez the cultural immersion tour paired a walk through the hilltop fortified village of Gassin with a nearby wine estate for a tasting. Participants learned about the transition from traditional to modern wine-making techniques and got to try five wines accompanied by generous charcuterie boards.

Epicurean Expeditions are taking place on World Traveller and sister ship World Navigator in the April to October period.

See more in the June issue of Seatrade Cruise Review