I took a break from Fashion Week for an invitation I just couldn’t refuse. I was honored to be included in a gathering of chefs, travel agents, writers, and other interested parties onboard the beautiful Holland America Line’s glamorous cruise ship, the Noordam. Just about a year ago, I was onboard for the introductory overnight event of this stunning cruise ship (see “Nighttime on the Noordam) in my blog archives: http://www.advicesisters.net/advicesisters.net/2006_02_01_advicesistersblogarchive.html
The Noordam has a beautiful library, state-of-the-art computer center, an awesome, Waterford Crystal chandelier that can be raised and lowered, like the ones at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York, staterooms with spacious balconies, and lots of other great features. By far the most unique feature on Holland America Line ships are the Culinary Arts Centers, in partnership with “Food and Wine” magazine.
Holland America launched this innovative program back in 2005, and now there is a Culinary Arts Center onboard each of 13 Holland America line ships. Guests get printed recipes of the items being prepared, and they get to taste them, too! Several times each cruise, passengers enjoy “food network” style programming, featuring cooking demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes. While passengers sit in this space, outfitted with comfy love seats, mini-couches, and cafe tables, celebrity chefs share their recipes and techniques. The program win raves from the passengers (passengers sign up on a first-come-first served basis when they board the ship).
In the front of the lounge, there is a fully-stocked kitchen area with large plasma video screens on either side, so everyone can see the “close up” preparations, regardless of where they are sitting. Obviously, these programs are extremely popular, so I like the fact that the cooking demonstrations are also part of the in-stateroom programming. If you can’t or didn’t make it to the show, but want to see it, that’s still an option. In addition to the cooking demos, there are at least two 90-minute, hands-on cooking classes offered on every cruise (the cost is just $29 per session!). These special sessions have a limited enrollment of just 12 people. As cooking classes go, this is a true bargain, especially when you factor in the skill of the chef you’re learning from!
Our special luncheon and cooking demonstration was designed to bring attention to this innovative program. After getting past the various security checkpoints and onto the ship, we enjoyed a brief tour, and then a cocktail reception (champagne, wine, soda) in the spacious Queens Lounge, that houses the Noordam’s Culinary Arts Center.
Richard D. Meadows, the Executive Vice-President of Holland America Line, and Gail Simmons of Food & Wine Magazine made some remarks, and then the fun, really began: Julie Reiner, Director/Owner of the Flatiron Lounge to a very delicious, grapefruit juice and gin-based cocktail (on top of the champagne, it gave us all quite a warm buzz). It was announced that Julie was going to be cruising on the Noordam with her mother! Then we were treated to an appetizer featuring scallops and one with a “sambal” in it (there are lots of Indonesian crew members on HAL ships. I distinctly remember from a cruise I took on the Maasdam to Greece some years ago, that this spicy, condiment was very popular with them, so it’s no surprise that this would be available, onboard).
I really like this up-close-and-personal venue. Every cruise ship has “something” that makes it special. The Noordam has many, including an attention to detail and an elegance that is sadly lacking on my cruise lines, today. But the Culinary Arts Center program is tremendous fun, and an opportunity to take back a “souvenir” that won’t fade like a tan, or be put in the back of a closet. It’s just another reason Holland America appeals to upscale, educated adults who have “been there, done that” when it comes to traditional cruise activities and want something more in tune with their interests than pool games and bingo.
Eating is a sensory treat on the Noordam whether it’s a special luncheon, or a casual dinner in the Lido. In fact, the regular dining room is quite beautiful, rivalling the elegance of many other ships in it’s class, with gold-rimmed dishes and lots of gleaming crystal. In this main dining room passengers are assigned one of four formal seating times. I prefer open seating for it’s flexibility, but at least having four meal seatings instead of two means that everyone gets a chance to eat at a time that is reasonably suitable for them.
Our lunch, however, was held in the Pinnacle Grill, the ship’s alternative restaurant. It is very large for this type of room. Still, it manages to feel intimate, with tables set at different angles and along with balcony leading to the lounge, with seating for as few as two people, to large, oval conference room-style tables that seat 8-10. The opulent china is by Bulgari, the linens, perfectly starched. I could imagine myself staring dreamily out to sea, while sipping a good wine, and enjoying a gourmet meal….!
The luncheon planned for us included an lamb Entree by Michael Symon, Executive Chef/Owner of Parea, and a chocolate sorbet dessert by Pichet Ong, Executive Pastry Chef/Owner of P*ong. More than 52 celebrated chefs, wine experts, and even some cookbook authors, from some of the most exciting restaurants around the country, have graced Holland America’s ships. The food was lovely, definitely not your standard “cruise ship fare” in either presentation, quality, or taste. One of my table mates had the vegetarian entree instead of the lamb, and she said her salmon was “quite nice.”
During the cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center, we were told about the new, Holland America Cookbook which showcases Holland America Line’s Fine dining. I didn’t get a chance to look at it, but I’m intrigued. What a wonderful memento of a cruise this makes far nicer than a boring T-shirt (standard gift fare for the folks back home)!
In the golden age of ocean liner travel, a good meal in a formal setting was the highlight of the day’s activities. Holland America brings the feeling back on it’s elegant ships…and allows it’s guests to take a bit of that elegance back home, through the Culinary Arts Center.