THE FOLLOWING IS A SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION BY NOTED TRAVEL WRITER SI LIBERMAN:
We almost missed the boat. Really. The limousine broke down en route to the New York City pier. For an anxious hour my wife and I were stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike inside the 2007 Lincoln Towncar with the limo driver, waiting for a replacement vehicle as cars and trucks whizzed by.
There was little time to spare when we finally reached the pier. Boarding the ritzy 540 passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit took less than five minutes -- a piece of cake compared with the long lines and wait times experienced previously getting on larger cruise ships
And speaking of cake, dining on the four-month-old Silversea vessel clearly was the highlight of the 14-day transatlantic cruise in May that included visits to Boston, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ireland, Wales and England. Each lunch and dinner had an artistic Michelin multi-star quality with small portions of such exotic offerings as ostrich, eel, frogs legs, wild boar, pigeon, caviar and venison in addition to the usual steak, fish, seafood, fowl and pasta entrees.
Usually we go light on lunches while on vacation, sticking to a salad or soup. But who could resist such tantalizing, artistically presented platters like fresh tuna avocado tamales, duck pancakes, caviar and condiments, or gratinated mussels, among others? And with each meal complimentary red and white wine -- all part of the all-inclusive $4,900 price per person.
If there’s a gourmand’s heaven, this had to be it. We opted for a table of six or eight each evening, allowing us to meet guests with varied backgrounds from places like South Africa, Canada, Italy, England and Portugal. So interesting and satisfying were the dinners, service and camaraderie in the regular dining room we felt no need to try the ship’s Asian-inspired Seishin and Le Champagne $30 per person specialty restaurants.
Credit the Silver Spirit’s 45-year-old French executive chef, Jerome Foussier, who directs a galley staff of 63 crew members from 15 nations. Schooled at Bordeaux’s Hotellerie University, he gained experience working in the pressure cooker kitchen of Taillevent, the famed Michelin 3-star Paris restaurant. He was also a private chef for the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaini, and was employed by the Ritz Carlton hotel chain to set up kitchens in three of its new five-star hotels in Dubai, Qatar and Jamaica.
Forbes Magazine recently listed the Qatar leader as one of the world’s 500 richest individuals with an estimated wealth of $2 billion. He headed a group last spring that purchased London’s landmark Harrod’s Department store for a reported for $2¼ billion.
“He wasn’t a fussy eater,” Foussier explained in his accented English. “He likes almost everything except alcohol which isn‘t available in Qatar, anyway. He‘s very open-minded. One time he came in the kitchen while I was preparing duck, and wanted a taste. He took a piece, then another, and he ate the whole duck before dinner.
“The sheik is over 6 feet tall, weighs 300 pounds, has three wives and 22 children. He was especially close to one of the wives and usually traveled with her. The other two were cousins, I believe.”
In his two years with the Emir, Foussier cooked for a number of VIP visitors to Qatar, the small Middle East kingdom with 1.4 million residents. Among them, the first President Bush, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, Prince of Wales Andrew, Madeline Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Mr. Cheney’s staff members were quite emphatic,” Foussier recalled. “They seemed nervous, wanted everything to be just right and suggested an elaborate dinner for their boss. We did our best.
“But when Cheney arrived, he asked for a hamburger cooked medium. That’s all. It caught us off guard, but the vice president got his wish.
“I remember making lamb loin for Mrs. Albright. She wanted fresh bread, and we made some special for her. She‘s a very down to earth and pleasant person.
“You expect the unexpected in this job,” the chef continued. “We’ll do whatever we can to accommodate a passenger’s dietary wish. . . . even order special items for them before a cruise if given enough notice. Once I received call 11 o’clock at night from a guest who wanted fresh almond butter for dinner the next day. Impossible, I had to tell her, because almonds were out of season.”
The work day begins at 6 a.m. for Foussier and often doesn’t end until midnight. Because he‘s constantly sampling menu items, he rarely has lunch or dinner, he said. In the afternoon, he takes a two-hour break. “That’s it,” he added, “seven days a week.”
Luckily, we didn’t miss the boat. Neither did we miss one of Foussier’s extraordinary lunches or dinners during two weeks at sea. Nearly two months have elapsed since then, and we’ve yet to weigh ourselves.