Oceania Cruises, whose trio of mid-sized ships already ranks among the best for dining, continues to stretch its culinary focus with new features that will debut on its brand-new Marina next year.
One of our favorites is a culinary arts center -- with a focus on workshops and audience participation -- which will be unlike any facility on any other cruise ship. It consists of 22 state-of-the-art cooking stations, complete with induction cook-tops, utensils, sinks and every other conceivable cooking implement. On all itineraries, Marina will host hands-on workshops with Bon Appetit magazine, the Conde Nast food and spirits publication that's a partner in the effort.
"The dining experience is what we are passionate about," Oceania President Bob Binder told an assembled throng last week as he unveiled the news in Bon Appetit's test kitchen at Conde Nast's New York headquarters. "What's unique about the Culinary Center is that it's not a 'look, but don't touch' experience. You're going to be up there creating dishes with the chef."
While other cruise lines -- notable is Holland America, which has placed a Food Network-like demo kitchen on each ship -- offer increasingly varied and comprehensive onboard programs, Marina's workstation setup emphasizes hands-on activity and represents a new level of focus.
Binder revealed some of the details of the program at the Oceania event (which, appropriately, included a cooking demo from one of Bon Appetit's in-house chefs):
Bon Appetit and Oceania will work together to bring chefs onboard on every itinerary. Some workshops will focus on specialties, from chocolate to spa cuisine, from sausage-cooking to basic techniques, and from barbecue to "cooking creatively with leftovers."
World renowned French chef Jacques Pepin, who's long served as Oceania's executive culinary director, will host master classes for the seriously advanced cooks among us on select Marina voyages.
Itineraries will be designed with local ingredients in mind. For instance, all-Italy Mediterranean cruises will call at Le Spezia (gateway to Cinque Terre) for basil, Amalfi for sea bass and Taormina for swordfish and blood orange.
While Oceania already offers some culinary-themed shore excursions on Nautica, Regatta and Insignia, the cruise line will "tie the onboard experience into the destination by touring local farmer's markets with our guest chefs," Binder noted. The ingredients will then be cooked up by passengers in the culinary arts lab.
Beyond the new food program, Binder announced that Marina will feature an Asian-fusion restaurant, a first for the cruise line. Red Ginger will blend Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and other cuisines to produce already-tried-and-tested dishes, such as Kobe beef stir-fry, duck watermelon salad, miso Chilean sea bass and lobster pad Thai. It will be one of 10 eateries onboard. Others include traditional Oceania favorites like The Grand (its main venue), a lido buffet, the Waves grill, the Italian Tosca, the Polo Grill steakhouse and Tapas on the Terrace.
Marina is currently under construction at Fincantieri's Sestri shipyard in Genoa. It's slated for debut in September 2010.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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Marina's Cookin': Oceania to Offer Culinary Center on New Ship
June 23, 2009