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Cruise Diary: Continuing to Learn

Award-winning author and writer Jeanette Hurt is cruising the Baltic on Prinsendam with her entire family to watch her parents renew their vows. Enjoy her words and her husband (and professional photographer) Kyle Edwards’ photos. You can also follow her on Twitter @JHurtAuthor or www.jeanettehurt.com.

Every time I talk with a chef, sommelier or bartender, I learn something. Every time I take a cooking, wine or mixology class, I learn something. And though I’ve written eight culinary and wine books, the more I learn about cooking, wine and mixology, the more I realize there still is to learn.

Fortunately, on my cruise, my education continues. How can you tell the difference between an all-right chef and a chef who’s going places? Passion, and real passion is proved. “If you have passion, you have to prove it,” says Colin Jacob, culinary operations director for the Prinsendam. But even with all the passion in the world, sometimes, you also need the right encouragement at the right time.

Jeanette with Colin Jacob.

Jeanette with Colin Jacob.

Jacob likes to tell the story about Silvious, a chef he once worked with at a hotel.

Silvious was just an entry level chef for the hotel’s café – he came in at night to do the prep work for the morning’s breakfast. Every night, Silvious diced the vegetables so precisely – and so quickly – he was finished ahead of time. But he kind of kept to himself, and he didn’t interact a lot with his coworkers “One night, I sat next to Silvious, and I asked him ‘Why are you always so quiet? You do a good job, and you’re always done ahead of time,’” Jacob recalls. Silvious sort of just shrugged, saying it was his job, but no one ever thanked him for his hard work.

“Well, how would you like a chance to do clay oven cooking?” Jacob asked him, and Silvious’ whole face just lit up. Within six months, Silvious had proved himself, and he moved up to clay oven cooking. Today, he has been promoted many times over, and he’s in charge of a hotel kitchen.

My education continued in a more formal way at the Culinary Education Center with Chef Daniel. The impromptu class – scheduled shortly after we learned we couldn’t land in Sweden because of such high waves – focused on the art of creating cold soups. Just as hot soups should be served hot, not lukewarm, cold soups should be served cold, not tepid.

Chef Daniel.

Chef Daniel.

Other tips: if you’re frying something in oil, instead of dropping a few drops of water in the oil, which is a recipe for splattering and possibly burns, stick the end of a wooden chopstick into the oil. If little bubbles form at the tip, then the oil is ready to fry.

If you need to peel ginger, just use a spoon to scrape off the skin – it comes right off, and it’s much easier to use than a peeler.

And, do try a recipe, even if you don’t have all of the listed ingredients on hand. It’s perfectly okay to make substitutions. In fact, the recipe for sour cherry soup that Chef Daniel taught us called for black current vinegar. “I’ve never used it. Instead, use balsamic vinegar,” Chef Daniel says. “Don’t be afraid to make substitutions. Cooking should be fun.”

At a mixology class with bartender Rafael Barbaza, I learned the art of muddling. If you’re making a drink like a mojito – or in our case, a cosmo cubano, “a love child between a cosmopolitan and a mojito,” Jillian, our culinary hostess aptly explained – press the limes gently with the muddler. “You don’t want the bitterness from the lime’s skin to affect the drink,” Rafael told us.

Then, when you press the muddler into the mint leaves, continue being gentle. The leaves will continue their muddling when you shake the ice.

As with cooking, don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients. If you don’t have strawberry syrup, mash up some fresh berries or puree some frozen ones. “Not all bartenders make the drink in the same way,” Barbaza says.

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