Friday, July 10, 2015

Cruise Line "Food & Wine" Cruises: Do They Offer True "Culinary Cruise" Experiences

I'm not going to lie.  I'm a bit disturbed.

For many years Goldring Travel has held a "Food & Wine" cruise on Seabourn (I have also held one on an AmaWaterways river cruise).  Last year Seabourn decided it would operate a couple of "Food & Wine" cruises.  It told me in advance and assured me it was not copying my formula and that my events are much different and offer opportunities that  Seabourn (or any other cruise line) just couldn't.  So while I wasn't thrilled with the "competition" I carried on...and even booked some of my clients on the Seabourn's Food & Wine cruises.

Last month, in advance of my annual cruise I advised Seabourn I was changing the name to the Goldring Travel "Culinary & Cultural Cruise" to differentiate as what I offer as truly so much more than what Seabourn does (and other cruise lines do) on its "Food & Wine" cruises...and so my articles each referenced the "Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise".  I even mentioned that that I might trademark it. (The 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise sails on August 4, 2016 on the Seabourn Quest through the British Isles and Ireland.)


A  Incredible Georg Breuer Riesling Tasting in Rudesheim, Germany 
So I wrote my articles (and you know the folks at Seabourn have read all of them).  Then I received email from Seabourn.  I was shocked (and miffed) to see Seabourn was now referring to its 2016 food and wine cruise as a "Culinary Cruise".

Coincidence?  Me thinks not...and in this case imitation is not the finest form of flattery.  (I mean Seabourn didn't change its Seabourn Conversations program to "Seabourn Cultural" did it?)

And from this I decided I need to explain the difference between what is now being a very overused and offered term "Food & Wine Cruise" and a true "Culinary & Cultural Cruise".

A Goldring Travel Small Group Wine Tasting
of Venetian area wines...in Venice, Italy
Why does it matter? Because discerning and foodie clients want to know what the experience is they are going to receive as opposed to what they perceive from the marketing.

As an example, two days ago (ironically the day I received that email) I had a long conversation with a regular Seabourn guest about Seabourn's January 3, 2016 "Food & Wine Cruise" sailing for 14 days on the Seabourn Sojourn from Hong Kong to Singapore. They were all excited about the marketed culinary adventure the pitch implied they would be having.  But I knew these guests were real "foodies" and needed to moderate their expectations because - as we all know - there can be a big difference between the puffery of marketing and the reality of what is provided.  (By the way, they did book the cruise but with appropriate expectations.)

As another regular Seabourn guest and I joust about, there is a difference between "cruising" and "travel".  So too is there a difference between "Food & Wine" cruise and a true "Culinary" cruise experience.

Before I walk you through the latest Seabourn offering, as an example, one must remember that some people simply want "a Taste" or "The Show" or are not terribly interested in, or appreciative of, a more in depth experience.  For those guests a cruise line Food & Wine cruise may be perfect.  But if you are a true "foodie" it may spell disappointment.

What is The Difference?

I preface this by saying that I am friends with a number of the present and past Seabourn chefs.  and those chefs have done some pretty incredible things while onboard the Seabourn ships, both for my small Culinary groups and also for the ship as a whole.  What I am about to write is not a criticism of them, but an explanation of what they have to consider as well as two simple facts:  most Western chefs are not well trained in preparing the extremely wide variety of Asian cuisines; and, the chefs are not supplied with the some of the equipment and ingredients they would need (like open flames and seasoned woks) or ambiance or layers of complimentary and contrasting dishes to create truly "authentic" culinary experiences.

Toning Down Flavors, Textures

Seabourn needs to offer food that its guests will actually eat!  Most guests are not going to be truly familiar with, in this instance, actual local Asian cuisine, but rather Western interpretations of it. Since much of this regional cuisine includes foods that are totally foreign to the Western palate, use spices that are considered curious and exotic, ingredients that have unfamiliar textures (gooey, chewy or cartilagey) and/or chilies cause you to break out in a serious sweat before it can be called "the real thing". the chefs are faced with an obvious dilemma.

Complicating this "toning down", Seabourn, and all of the cruise lines, also have to balance what is offered so that the palates of many different nationalities and regions within those nations are happy. For example the palate of someone from New York will probably be significantly different from those from South Carolina, Norway and Australia.  As such, whatever is offered necessarily will be modified as far as ingredients, spices and heat goes.

Getting your culinary juices flowing or grossing you out (I'm the former!)
a truly authentic Chinese Market Lunch is an experience
you will never forget!
For example, Seabourn talks about its Chinese Market Lunch.  What I experienced in actual Chinese Markets during my recent visit to Taiwan is a far cry from what one will experience during Seabourn's.  I am pretty sure stinky tofu, soup dumplings, duck heads, spicy beef noodle soup, Gua Boa, etc. etc. won't be served or will be toned down.  And then there are going to be the expectations by some guests for "American" Chinese offerings.  (Goldring Travel will be doing an Asian Culinary & Cultural Cruise, possibly in 2017, and you can be assured your senses and palate will be challenged...but you will come away with a far better understanding of the Culture and the how and why the local people eat what they do.)

Seabourn is also going to have Vietnamese Pho Bar at the Patio Grill.  Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, and it is more than just a soup.  While having it available at the Patio Grill that most certainly limits the number that can experience one of my favorite dishes, pho requires a specific noodle and is usually served with offal, lots of fresh herbs and a spicy sauce added.  Without all of the ingredients and "driving instructions" as to not only put it together but how to eat it (slurping and sweating is required!) and some of that stuff is not going to be allowed on the ship due to US health codes (not Seabourn's fault).

Vietnamese Pho - Hanoi, Vietnam
It may not look like it but if you peer in closely
you will see over 20 ingredients in this authentic pho
With Goldring Travel's small groups and careful planning, those flavors being very strong, the ingredients being foreign to your senses or palate, and (at least to me) most importantly the cultural aspects and the stories while enjoying the culinary adventures mean so much more.

The Missing Cultural Element That Helps Make Things Taste Better.

Speaking of the Cultural part of the culinary experience, soup is soup (three types of Asian soups are shown right here), but they have no real reason to be burned into your memory without a story behind them.

Sure, at some point, Seabourn will bring on some local "folkloric" shows and, to be sure, they will probably be quite entertaining, but what they cannot do is put you and 400 other guests into that little shop where English was not spoken, only one thing was sold and where a young girl that spoke just enough English to help me figure out what I was eating and how to eat it...and learn her name, Zinnia, was a flower

This just looks like soup...until you read the story behind it...
or that other shop walking distance away where a smiling, but tough, woman told me to sit down, prepared this amazing soup that was so full of flavor and heat that had me sweating so much, but I couldn't stop eating it....so she put a fan on over my head...laughing at me..I loved it!

and this beef soup too; which could be the best soup I've ever eaten.
Did you know there are two distinct styles of beef noodle soup in Taiwan
and that it is a very important dish?
Hualien, Taiwan
Goldring Travel offers many unique experiences that simply cannot be duplicated by cruise lines because true enriching culinary events cannot be created for 450 or more guests. It simply is impossible.  Just last month, by way of example, I held two private events for my guests in Flam and Svolvaer, Norway providing both true local culinary experiences tied in with the culture from which these foods and flavors arose.

Small, Personal and Unique Culinary locations.
This is the Aegir Brewery in Flam, Norway.  
Reindeer with local blueberry mouse, Wild Boar, Wild Salmon,
Mussels, Prawns and more
Paired with Five Different Local Beers... Plus Two Aquavits
in a unique Norwegian setting with a fabulous local "guide"



Stockfish, Arctic Char, Wild Salmon, local Lamb, local Cloudberries and more
pared with Bollinger champagne and a Chassagne Montrachet
in a ancient restaurant that is part of the old fishing village
in Svolvaer, Norrway
where we were also guided through an art gallery
filled with local historical paintings 
Table for Eight?  Why of course!
Other Goldring Travel Culinary and Cultural events include such things as Wine Tastings of Chateau Margaux wines...at Chateau Margaux






Tokay wine tastings, including the rarest of the Tokay wines...near Tokay in Budapest, Hungary 

A Goldring Travel Small Group Wine Tasting
of some of the world's finest Tokay wines 

Sustainable Seafood Tastings at the New England Aquarium, in a room filled with jellyfish tanks after having behind-the-scenes tours, hosted by a marine biologist explaining what sustainable seafood really is

A Hands On Experience - Learning how to shuck 
and, of course, actually harvesting sturgeon eggs and  making caviar with the supplier of Seabourn's caviar...while having caviar served eight ways followed by a wine-paired lunch in Montevideo, Uruguay.
A special experience, even for a Seabourn chef:
Harvesting sturgeon eggs to make caviar
in Montevideo, Uruguay
Seabourn talks of having a "regional teatime ritual".  My guess is that it will not be like this green tea tasting:


with a tea master (who will not let his picture be taken, for publicity is not what he wants) explaining in detail each step and why it is taken using authentic implements.  Seabourn's will, of course, be an interesting "food & wine" event, but probably not an authentic "Culinary" or "Cultural" one.

There is no question that Seabourn creates many memorable experiences and its food is top notch, but truly memorable "Culinary" experiences like these, which provide that authentic local experience, for 450 guests is more than a challenge...it is impossible.  (And, as you know, the Seabourn chefs have done some pretty incredible culinary events for Goldring Travel's elite group, but those cannot be duplicated - even by Seabourn - for a "Food & Wine" cruise.)

 A Private Intimate Culinary Experience created by the Seabourn Chefs
for a Goldring Travel group on a Spa Penthouse balcony
overlooking the fjords of Olden, Norway
An Elegant Private Food & Wine Tasting
created by the Seabourn Chefs and Sommelier
for a Goldring Travel group.


An incredible Scandinavian cheese tasting created by the Seabourn Chefs
for a Goldring Travel group.
Local, Celebrity and Seabourn Chefs 

I understand the concept of bringing the local flavors onto the ships, but while Seabourn boasts "Local chefs will feature authentic dining experiences in the Colonnade throughout the cruise" and that Celebrity Chefs will have noted menu items, I'm fairly confident those local and celebrity chefs aren't actually preparing meals for hundreds of guests and, as noted above, the concept of their presence validating "authentic dining experiences" just isn't going to happen. I also believe that, somehow, the Seabourn chefs are going actually be creating much of the offerings (and they are that talented).

Will the menu be creative and unique from the standard Seabourn offerings?  Of course.  But as noted above, many of the dishes will be modified and, to be sure, dining in the Colonnade will provide you with anything but the marketed "authentic dining experience".  It may be enough for you, and if it is, enjoy!

To be sure Celebrity chefs doing cooking demonstrations (with a taste most certainly being served) is fun...and it is a "food & wine" event rather than a true "culinary" experience.  To be sure, there is nothing wrong with a bit of star-struck fun!

However, Goldring Travel once brought a James Beard Award winning chef along on one of its Culinary cruises and he actually cooked for the group while the Seabourn Spirit sailed the Mediterranean. On another occasion, I brought the Goldring Travel small group to a Turkish chef in a little town outside of Kusadasi where she prepared a number of traditional dishes as we stood in her kitchen and then enjoyed all of them sitting in the garden just outside.

And Shopping with the Seabourn Chef is fun.  But there is a big difference when there are 20+ of you (and how many times are you going to be able do it during a cruise) versus wandering with or without the chef as a small group tasting lots of things in different markets and being able to really interact with the chef rather than just listen to him from third row.  Remember my comments about the Chinese Market?!

Should You Enjoy the 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise
or 
the Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise
or Both?

The answer to which cruise you should take really depends on what your desires are and what you expect from the cruise.

The 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise sails on the Seabourn Quest on August 4, 2016 through the British Isles and Ireland and the 2016 Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise sails on the Seabourn Sojourn (an identical ship) through Southeast Asia on January 3, 2016.

Do you want to sail in the summer or winter?
Do you want to explore Southeast Asia or the British Isles and Ireland?
Do you want to have a true "Culinary & Cultural" immersive experience or a cruise line "Food & Wine" one?
Do you want to fly to Asia or England?
Does the cost of the cruise combined with the cost of airfare fit within your travel budget?

The reality of it is, you can't go wrong.  It is, of course:  Seabourn!

Interested in a Seabourn "Culinary & Cultural" or "Food & Wine" Cruise? Call me:

United States:      (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:            (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585


Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com