Emerald Waterways Takes To The Rhône With A Top Chef On Board

The Australian company Scenic is no stranger to the river cruise business, and its founder, Glen Moroney, is no stranger to travel. It all began in 1987 when Moroney started his tour business with bus jaunts out of Melbourne. His company earned praise for quality and service and soon offered a dazzling array of tour packages to hundreds of destinations. So it was hardly a surprise when Moroney went into river cruising, launching a total of 14 "Star-Ships" since 2008. Scenic now operates deluxe river trips from the Douro in Portugal to the Irrawaddy in Myanmar and the Mekong River in Vietnam.

Emerald Waterways is Scenic's entrée into a new demographic: a more budget-conscious traveler who appreciates a fully inclusive cruise experience at a value price. Judging by its wins in both 2015 and 2016 as Cruise Critic Editor's Pick for Best Value for Money, Emerald has more than succeeded. Emphasizing port calls and excursions, Emerald gives its guests a look at the culture, history, and local life of the places it visits. Then, returning to the ship, passengers are treated to first class hospitality on sparkling new ships. The latest of these, Emerald Liberté, has added a new itinerary to Emerald's offerings. Plying the Rhône and Saone Rivers from Lyon to Arles or vice versa, the ship tours one of the world's great wine-growing regions, and the towns associated with it.


Emerald Liberté carries just 138 passengers, but it includes bells and whistles like an infinity swimming pool at the stern that turns into a movie theater at night. Guests are treated to staterooms that are masterpieces of spatial design, feeling far more spacious than they really are. Created by Glen Moroney's wife Karen, a brilliant interior designer, these 170-square-foot staterooms feature a new balcony concept in which the room's floor-to-ceiling window descends about half way down, opening the room to the river breezes. Meanwhile, in the ship's galley, executive chef Teo Petre, who hails from Bucharest, Romania, presides over breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. These feature familiar comfort food appreciated by her large complement of British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander passengers. Americans will feel right at home too when served favorites like chateaubriand, John Dory, and even surf and turf. Chef Petrie puts great style on every plate.

Complimentary beer and wines served at lunch and dinner reflect this voyage's route. From Châteauneuf-du-Pape to Beaujolais to Provençal rosé, the ship's cellar consistently provided excellent vintages at every meal. And to go along with these wines, Emerald launched a relationship that is truly unique in Rhône River cruising: They invited Fabien Morreale, fourth runner up on France's version of the television show Top Chef, to prepare a meal expressly for passengers.

Morreale is swoon-worthy. At age 34, the chef hails from Martigues, a Mediterranean coastal town west of Marseilles. He comes from a family with roots in Spain (his grandmother) and Venice (his father). In fact, he credits his grandmother, who, to this day, prepares the meals for all 15 members of the Morreale family, with his passion for food. He went a familiar route, working 15 hours a day from the time he was 16. At age 22, he went to Australia on a 'working holiday' visa. Working at Mu Shu, a Thai restaurant in Bondi Beach, his first exposure to Asian ingredients and flavors colors his cooking to this day. Returning home, he opened his first restaurant at age 24. He now has two — Le Garage and Le Gusto Caffé — in Martigues, where he also owns a bakery. Like all great French chefs, he is most enamored of local foods, fresh from farm fields, the sea and the land around Martigues. He has a contract with a local farmer to grow what he wants to cook. He is a passionate lover of vegetables like butternut squash, asparagus, and haricots verts. And on the farm, he has commissioned the growing of some 50 herbs — 10 varieties of mint alone along with 15 kinds of thyme as well as Asian herbs that take on a Provençal flavor in the chef's hands.

As to his Top Chef France career, Morreale has nothing but praise for the series. He was one of 1500 candidates, and to have been selected for the final 12 was remarkable. The chef claims that his name recognition from the show alone accelerated his career by a good ten years.


The other bonus was working with his fellow contestants, an invaluable education. The pace of the show was a challenge, the thinking on your feet aspect was exhilarating, and the fourth place finish was commendable for someone not yet 30 years of age. His career nearly came to a grinding halt when he was injured in a horrific motorcycle accident where he lost use of two of his fingers and spent two years recuperating. Even this experience didn't end Morreale's trajectory. It was during these two years that he came to rely on a network of family and friends who kept both restaurants going. He couldn't do anything for himself, so he worked more closely than ever with his team and his suppliers, and he changed the way he worked. It opened new paths including the writing of a cookbook, Le Gout de Cabinot (The Taste of the Sea Shack), which sold out instantly.

Morreale is one of the wave of French chefs who are devoted to strengthening the link between the farmer and the ultimate consumer whether that is a chef or a homemaker. He believes that the future belongs to the most local of supply chains, that partnerships and cooperatives are essential to bringing the best to French tables.

For his dinner aboard Emerald Liberté, Morreale's menu consisted of three completely Provençal dishes. His appetizer course of crunchy local green vegetables, goat cheese, and locally produced olive oil with house crackers was not only sublimely beautiful to look at, its fresh flavors leapt off the plate. This was followed by a main course consisting of Sisteron lamb and served with chickpeas and candied vegetables. The lamb was prepared using a traditional Provençal recipe that takes eight hours of cooking. It was tender enough to eat with a spoon. Finally, Morreale's sister, a former pharmacist and now his pastry chef, may have had a hand in the strawberry tart de Provence. This luscious dessert featuring the first spring strawberries was accompanied by a biscuit and artfully arranged hazelnut noisettes. The dinner was accompanied by two specially selected wines: Petit Bourgeois 2016, a medium-bodied dry white from the Loire Valley, was paired with the vegetable course. The red wine on offer with the lamb was more local: Fleurie 2015, a Beaujolais from Domaine des Fonds, an intense yet silky red.

Morreale jumped ship after dinner, to return to Martigues. But the memories of his menu floated up the river as the Emerald Liberté continued her voyage into the picturesque heart of France's beautiful wine country.


For complete information on Emerald Waterways offerings, visit www.emeraldwaterways.com.


Emerald Waterways ships aren't the only ones with amazing food. On the Viking Ocean Cruises you can learn to cook like the chef while on board.