Learn To Cook Like Viking Ocean Cruises' Chef While On Board

Cruise ships have jumped on the culinary bandwagon in a major way. There's virtually not one major cruise line that doesn't offer cooking demonstrations, wine and chocolate tastings, even celebrity chef appearances. But for those of us who want to get our hands dirty, the selection becomes far more limited. The "Big Three" — Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean — confine their culinary arts offerings to shore excursions only. Then there are the ships where you can look, but not touch, at demonstration kitchens where cooking "classes" consist solely of watching the pros and, with any luck, sampling their dishes.

On Holland America, Food and Wine Magazine partnered with the cruise line in its Culinary Arts Center. Celebrity cruises paired up with Bravo TV to present "Top Chef at Sea" events on many sailings. Disney, Princess, Seabourn, and Crystal all offer cooking demonstrations among their enrichment activities. Princess, for example, offers "Chef's Table" at sea as part of the ScholarShip@Sea program. Passengers are invited into the ship's galley where chefs reveal their favorite recipes. But what none of these lines offer are hands-on opportunities to touch, feel, and work with the ingredients — to actually cook something.  

There are exceptions. Oceana has audience participation classes on two of its five ships. Luxury carrier Silversea has a Relais & Chateaux L'Ecole des Chefs cooking school at sea and entire itineraries dedicated to a curriculum of culinary events on its "Cooking School Voyages." And Regent Seven Seas recently launched its first at-sea "Culinary Arts Kitchen" on board what is being billed as the most luxurious ship ever to set sail, Seven Seas Explorer. Passengers can fire up their induction cooktops at one of 18 individual cooking stations, all with ocean views. But for mere mortals, the program offered by Viking Ocean Cruises is a winner, combining the full attention of one of the chefs responsible for giving Viking the highest passenger rating for food in the industry, according to Cruise Critic, the No. 1 web site for cruisers.

Offered on sea days, classes are limited to 12 eager gourmets. Held in "The Kitchen Table," a kitchen equipped with giant TV monitors so that no one in the place misses a beat of the whisk, this glorious space is ideal for both preparing and serving the meal. On a recent trip where Viking Star was being repositioned from New York to San Juan, we attended an all-morning class conducted by chef Romain Boulud.

Boulud is responsible for the output in the stellar "Chef's Table" one of two specialty restaurants on board. The chef's peripatetic career started in his home in Lans En Vercors in the French Alps where he owned a restaurant called Brasserie de Marais. From there he ventured to Leister in England, to Monaco's Hotel Metropole, and the Michelin-starred Chevre d'Or in Èze. In between, the chef took to the sea to cook aboard prestige ships like Paul Gauguin and both Seven Seas Voyager and Mariner. Under his supervision, we prepped ingredients for a three-course meal using recipes that would be featured on Viking's Caribbean itineraries this winter.  

First up was the appetizer, a panko-crusted lobster cake. Golden brown and filled with both lobster and crab meat, the cake sat upon a rich lobster broth garnished with cress. Next up, our main course featured seared mahi mahi, the recipe for which we've published here. Finally, we came to dessert. Here we created a simply beautiful coconut profiterole dish. Mercifully, the choux pastry used was pre-prepared so it fell on the cooking school class to make the filling, cut the profiteroles in two and pipe in the coconut cream. A lesson in plating followed as we brushed the plate with chocolate sauce, added kiwis, oranges and strawberries, raspberry sauce, and a sprinkle of roasted coconut. At the end of the class, the sommelier appeared with wines to accompany every course and we sat down to lunch with a sense of accomplishment on every plate. 

Here are the recipes:

Recipe for Panko-Crusted Lobster Cakes, click here.

Recipe for Coconut Profiteroles, click here