French chef and television personality Pepin, who has hosted award-winning cooking shows -- such as "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" with Julia Child and currently "Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food My Way" -- and written more than 20 cookbooks, has served as the executive culinary director for the deluxe line since its inception in 2003. But while Pepin's culinary influence can already be found in the restaurants aboard the fleet's trio of existing ships -- Regatta, Insignia and Nautica -- Jacques will be the first eatery of his very own.
In fact, Jacques is the first restaurant -- anywhere -- to bear the renowned chef's moniker. "I've never actually had a restaurant under my own name," Pepin, dressed in chef's whites and happily posing for photographs, told the assembled crowd of about 100 travel agents and 25 members of the press. "It's kind of very exciting!"
As attendees supped on nibbles including butter-drenched mini lobster rolls and toasts topped with a trio of mushrooms in a decadent shallot-cream sauce, Pepin and Oceania execs on hand -- including President Bob Binder and Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio -- discussed the ambience and menu in the works for Jacques.
The reservations-required, fee-free restaurant will mimic the casual French brasseries Pepin grew up in. Pepin says the atmosphere and cuisine will be "unpretentious and honest," though the actual design is still in its infancy and the cruise line has no renderings or artwork to share thus far. As for what's on the menu, guests will sup on items such as pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell, mussels mariniere, free-range chicken and other specialty cuts of meat. There will also be daily specialites de le maison (house specials), prepared with ingredients sourced from local markets while Marina is in port.
The announcement comes on the heels of two other major Marina reveals. In June, Oceania announced that a culinary center is coming to the ship, with an emphasis on hands-on learning in a state-of-the-art cooking studio. Earlier this month, the line signed a partnership with Canyon Ranch to operate the onboard spa facilities -- and offer spa cuisine onboard Marina as well as the rest of the fleet. (We can't help but point out the contrast between the introduction of healthy eats and tonight's discussion of croissants made with 84-percent-butterfat butter and French Valrhona chocolate!)
So what's next? Execs promise more Marina reveals, including details about accommodations, in the coming months. Spokesman Tim Rubacky also told us the line will soon be announcing an innovation that's a first in the industry, but our pleas for hints fell flat -- like a bad soufflé, if you'll pardon the pun.
Oceania won the Best Dining award in Cruise Critic's 2008 Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards. The 65,000-ton, 1,258-passenger Marina is currently under construction at Fincantieri's Sestri shipyard in Genoa. It is scheduled to debut in September 2010.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor
Photo of Jacques Pepin, host of the public television series "Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food My Way," appears courtesy of KQED, copyright 2008 Greg Habiby.