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Silversea's immersive new culinary program is Bourdain — not Michelin

S.A.L.T on location in Bali
S.A.L.T. on location in Bali. From upper left, clockwise, cocktails with a local twist, S.A.L.T. program co-designer Adam Sachs with Silversea CMO Barbara Muckermann, breakfast at Nusantara in Ubud, Locavore chef PHOTOS: Anne Kalosh
Think Bourdain — not Michelin.

In fact, Silversea talked with the late culinary globetrotter Anthony Bourdain, among many other experts, the past couple years in conceiving S.A.L.T. Award-winning journalist Adam Sachs, former editor-in-chief of 'Saveur,' is guiding the program for its launch with the new Silver Moon in 2020.

Celebrity chefs passé?

'This is not a project based around celebrity chefs. Our mission is to allow our guests to discover the destination. This might mean learning about tripe from a local expert in Rome, not necessarily a $200 dinner,' Silversea chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann said.

'We're not just going to visit celebrity chefs to collect stars. That was luxury in 2000,' Muckermann added. 'I think luxury today is going to Bali to discover the world of fermentation.'

Shaking things up with S.A.L.T.

And so, this week aboard Silver Muse in Southeast Asia, food writers are getting a preview of how S.A.L.T. will work.

Imagine a visit to Bali where you drive high into the terraced mountains, stroll through rice paddies and the rain forest, tasting palm sap from a banana leaf, honey fresh from the comb and passion fruit straight from the tree.

You watch a farmer in his kamben (sarong) climb a palm tree to harvest the sap, and see his machete whack open a bamboo stalk housing the honeycomb before dipping your finger into the fragrant, sticky treat. Coffee plants, orange trees and many other fruits and herbs used for spices in Balinese cooking are sprouting all around.

Picnic in a rice paddy

Turning a corner at a rice paddy where wild ducks swim, you come across a food truck with a pig just pulled from the embers in the ground where it was roasted. It's time for a picnic, with a bucket of iced local beers and drinks flavored with fresh ingredients like lemongrass and decorated with hibiscus flowers.

In Ubud, you visit the Nusantara restaurant by Locavore, with its upstairs laboratory like a mad scientist's lair for chefs, where every kind of fermented seasoning is concocted. These provide foods with intense flavors. Jars of tamarind kombucha, coffee bean vinegar, salted limes, fermented bitter melon and 'finger licking miso' line the shelves.

Back on the ship, you take part in a workshop, blending spices like galangal, ginger, turmeric, chillies and candlenuts to make a paste for seasoning eggs, guided by Balinese cooking expert Maya Kerthyasa, a member of the Ubud royal family. It's not just an interactive cooking class but a deep-dive into Balinese culture and the importance of food in daily religious practices.

'In Bali, everything we do is to bring harmony,' she explains, continuing: 'The way we prepare our food as an offering' is the biggest differentiator of Balinese cuisine in the world.

Each cruise will have a S.A.L.T. host like Kerthyasa, an expert who's a teacher/guide.

Currently, the main restaurant menu of Silversea ships feature several local dishes. But once S.A.L.T. is running, an entire dedicated restaurant will serve local fare that changes according to the destination. Depending on where the cruise goes, the food-related tour may be in Rome, to discover tripe with a local specialist, or in Manila, where to learn about Filipino cuisine. In Spain, the S.A.L.T. experience may delve into tapas and in South America, grilled meats.

Ingredients, techniques, people

Everything, Muckermann said, revolves around the destination and three elements: ingredients, techniques and people.

The experience will be layered. Perhaps only a couple dozen people on each cruise will be die-hard foodies who hang out in the S.A.L.T. Lab. Others may wish attend the lectures or take the specially crafted excursions, and many may try the local specialties in the S.A.L.T. restaurant. People can graze through S.A.L.T. as they wish.

Structural change

This is a structural change for Silversea. It's not about 10 culinary cruises a year, but something that part of every cruise, no matter the destination. The experience must be seamless, ship to shore.

'I'm super-excited,' VP hotel operations Tom Brady told Seatrade Cruise News. 'It'll definitely differentiate our product.' He joined from Celebrity Cruises, where Celebrity Edge was the bellwether. For Silversea, he said, the bellwether will be S.A.L.T.

'The shipboard team is extremely excited about this and being able to present it to the guests,' Brady added. Silver Moon will introduce the concept but 2021's Silver Dawn will have the full program.

'It's something innovative,' Silver Muse hotel director Paolo Percivale said. 'This makes our job more interesting, and I'm sure it's going to be great for the guests.'

Disney Cruise Line veteran Arnaldo Zanonato, as director, regional experiences development, is deeply involved. His role will be figuring out how Silversea can 'make the destination the centerpiece of the overall experience.'

Silver Moon adaptation

On Silver Moon, coming in 2020, the new S.A.L.T. restaurant, serving regional cuisine that changes by the destination, will occupy the space that's currently Indochine on Silver Muse. The S.A.L.T. Lab, a combination hangout/school/test kitchen, will replace the Indochine-adjacent Relais & Châteaux restaurant Le Dame, which is moving into the Arts Café location. The Arts Café will switch to the next-door space, currently Connoisseur's Corner (cigar bar), and the cigar bar will replace what's now the children's area on an upper deck.

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