Last updated: 12:21 PM ET, Thu July 02 2015

Dispatch: Food Shopping Done Right Before Boarding Star Breeze

Features & Advice | Windstar Cruises | Theresa Norton | May 08, 2015

Dispatch: Food Shopping Done Right Before Boarding Star Breeze

Photos by Theresa Norton Masek


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When sailing to the world’s greatest ports, travelers not only want to see what’s there, they want to taste it. And one of the ways Windstar Cruises offers a taste of a destination is to invite passengers to go shopping with the onboard chef.

I’m sailing this week on the inaugural voyage of Windstar’s new Star Breeze, the second of three 212-guest “power yachts” to join the fleet. After a hotel night and before boarding the ship in Nice, France, a group of about 40 joined Corporate Executive Chef Michael Sabourin on his shopping trip to the famed produce market.

“This is something that all the chefs do,” he said. “As soon as we get into a port, if there is a market, we’re going to it. The chefs will go out either to the fish market, vegetable market, cheese. Whatever we can find we’ll create that evening or use in the Veranda for lunch. This is not something we necessarily do just because you guys are here. We actually do this on a regular basis.”

It’s announced as an organized excursion once per cruise, he said, but the chefs go shopping wherever there is a market. Guests can join the chef when he goes shopping in any port by inquiring at the front desk.

“He’ll be more than happy to take you there and get you to carry his bags back,” Sabourin joked.

On our shopping trip, Sabourin passed by the booths selling fresh flowers until he reached the produce market. “Stop,” he said to the group. “Can you smell them? The strawberries are in season now. You can smell them. In a supermarket, you can’t smell the strawberries.”

The vendor happily greeted one of her best customers — Sabourin is from Montreal, so he speaks French and English. He then shared samples of the fresh berries with his followers before negotiating a purchase.

He made his way to the asparagus booth, where thick white stalks were for sale along with the more common green. He said the white asparagus, treasured in Europe, is sweeter than the green and takes about five more minutes to cook. He also said he prefers the thicker stalks to those that are pencil-thin. White asparagus now is on the next day’s lunch menu.

Then it was the olive booth, where Sabourin offered samples of the “excellent” local Niçoise olives and a spoonful of oil made from the same olives. Then it was down a bit further to a vendor who displayed tomatoes in a rainbow of color, shape and size — tomatoes with real flavor, not bred to withstand transportation to a supermarket shelf.

“I just love this market,” he said.

Sabourin joined Windstar about a year and a half ago after serving as chef onboard the world’s two largest cruise ships, Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas. On those ships, dinner service meant 6,200 dishes each evening. The much smaller size of the Windstar ships, which carry 150 to 300 passengers max, lets him focus more on the quality and careful preparation.

For example, he said, he can marinate lamb chops overnight in yogurt flavored with a dozen spices, something that just can’t be done on a megaship. Plus, each night’s selections are tasted by the waitstaff before dinner just as they are in fine restaurants, so the servers learn about each dish and can share that information with the guests.

“We change the menu every single night,” Sabourin said.

And upon reaching the end of the produce market, he stopped at the spice booth to pick up some Madagascar vanilla beans, which he passed around so his followers could sniff the aroma.

Sometimes, when chefs complete their shopping excursion in Nice, they stop at the American Bar & Restaurant at the end for a cold beer. We didn’t have time for that as embarkation was imminent.

Next time, though … 

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