Oceania Cruises

Why Foodies Should Consider a Culinary Cruise with Master Chef Jacques Pépin

An Interview with Oceania Cruises’ Executive Culinary Director

SPONSORED BY OCEANIA CRUISES

Finding the right cruise to fit your travel personality can be a daunting task, but if you’re a foodie with an adventurous palate, you might want to consider a Jacques Pépin Cruise with Oceania Cruises. Unlike other cruise lines, food is the focal point and it’s just as important as the destinations visited during your journey at sea. Guests are treated to specifically designed signature menus, engaging lectures, culinary demonstrations and much more! And what better way to really get the scoop on this experiential voyage than to chat with Master Chef Jacques Pépin, the Executive Culinary Director for Oceania Cruises? As the inspiration behind the cruise award-winning culinary program, he's worked with Oceania Cruises since its inception.

Where were you born?

I was born in the town of Bourg-en-Bresse, France. It is an historic city that is about 43 miles from Lyons.

My parents owned a restaurant and I have always been comfortable cooking. Technically, I've worked as a chef since I was 13.

At what age did you know working in the kitchen and preparing exquisite meals would be your career path? Was there one particular experience in your life that sparked your desire to become a chef?

I guess you could say I knew it almost my entire life. I was only 13 when I began my first formal apprenticeship at the Grand Hôtel de L’Europe in Bourg-en-Bresse, but what I think really sparked my interest in food began during the war in France. I was about 6 years old and spent the first summer of the war on a farm and that really changed me. My parents owned a restaurant and I have always been comfortable cooking. Technically, I’ve worked as a chef since I was 13.

Where did you study to become the Master Chef you are today? 

After my apprenticeship at the Grand Hôtel, I went to Paris to train at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée under the legendary chef Lucien Diat. It was after that, when performing my service in the military, that I became the personal chef to Charles de Gaulle.

How many years have your worked with Oceania Cruises? 

Since 2002, I’ve been part of the Oceania Cruises team and the Oceania Cruises family. I was involved before there was a cruise line. We Oceania Cruises' founders Bob Binder & Frank Del Rio as well as myself shared the same vision of creating a cruise line where the culinary experience was the cornerstone, if not the entire foundation.

Chef Jacques Pepin tastes food prepared by kitchen staff.
Master Chef Jacques Pépin: "We always try to present regional specialties. That's one of the great treasures of traveling, eating and learning about the local cuisine."

When did the first Jacques Pépin Cruise set sail? How much input do you have with these special theme cruises? 

We did our first one in 2003, the line’s first season, and we’ve done them every year. It’s a collaboration between myself, Claudine and Neli Arias, Oceania Club Senior Manager, who runs them from the Oceania Cruises side. We trade ideas and come up with schedules and recipes – but its ultimately the team onboard that really makes it all so special.

On the Jacques Pépin Cruises, can you explain what types of lectures and cooking demonstrations you offer guests?  

I usually do one cooking demo where we prepare three or four dishes, plus two book signings and one Q&A. These are a lot of fun because people ask a lot of great questions, we joke, and there’s usually wine involved!

Are there other fun activities on these cruises that you’d like to highlight? If so, what are they?

I’m very competitive so you can always find me at the ping pong tables, on the bocce court or on the tennis court on the Sports Deck. As an artist, I also love the Artist Loft. 

Chef Jacques Pepin at a market
Oceania Cruises: Pépin has worked with Oceania Cruises since 2002, helping to create a unique culinary experience that has become the cornerstone, if not the main foundation, for the cruise line.

What would you say is the best part about sailing on an Oceania Cruises voyage? 

It’s the people… definitely the people. I work very closely with the culinary team. We are a big band of brothers – we just happen to cook. We share ideas…we share recipes…it really is a fun and passionate team.

Do you prepare special dishes based on the different ports of calls visited during the cruise?

Yes, we always try to present regional specialties, not in every port, but regionally. That is one of the great treasures of traveling, eating and learning about the local cuisine – what they eat, why they eat it. Food is one of the best storytellers you can find. 

What are some of your favorite signature dishes to make?

It depends on my mood, the season, where I am. But in general, I love to prepare dishes that are simple, but flavorful and interesting. I love cooking with eggs – omelets, soufflés, quiche. I also like preparing all types of fowl and meats. I’d have to say that chicken jardinière (chicken and vegetable stew), miso-glazed salmon, and potato and leek soup are at the top of the list.

I love the Med and the western "wine country" from Portugal up through the Normandy and Brittany coasts - and both regions for the same reasons.

What wines would you pair each dish with? Why?

I’d pair it with whatever you like to drink! Wine needs to first and foremost be drinkable – nothing too heavy, too dry, or too sweet or fruity. If you have a Beaujolais or pinot noir and a white Bordeaux or Chablis – you have all the bases covered.

Is there any particular destination that you always enjoy seeing or visiting? Why? 

I love the Med and the western “wine country” from Portugal up through the Normandy and Brittany coasts – and both regions for the same reasons. The diversity and similarities of the cultures, which blend and evolve as do the regional cuisines. Places like France, Italy, Spain, Greece – which are overflowing with good food and good wine, are happy places because of that. Asia is another favorite of mine – and for all the same reasons!

How did you get the wonderful opportunity to open your restaurant Jacques on Oceania Cruises? When did it open?

Bob Binder and I started discussing this back in 2007 or 2008, right after the ships were ordered. It was a multi-year process to nail down the concept, design the menus and the restaurant itself. It opened in 2011 onboard the MS Marina and then a year later on the MS Riviera.

Female chef helping chef Jacques Pepin in a cooking demonstration.
Jacques Pépin Cruise: Chef Pépin participates in at least one cooking demo, where at least three or four dishes are prepared. And he enjoys the Q&As because people ask a lot of great questions.

Are you involved with the day-to-day operation of the restaurant?

I am not involved in the day to day, but I don’t need to be. I visit the ships once or twice per year – and so does my daughter Claudine – and I keep up with Corporate Executive Chef Franck Garanger and Culinary Director Eric Barale and the rest of the chefs on a regular basis. 

If I’m a traveler looking to go on a cruise for the first time, why would you recommend booking a voyage with Oceania Cruises? What makes the experience different from other cruise lines? 

The people – you are so well looked after and they CARE – it’s a genuine caring that is more and more rare. The food...because it’s truly spectacular – and it's diverse. Vacations are a great place to get out of your comfort zone and try new things – whether that be food or experiences. 

Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan an unforgettable vacation on an Oceania Cruises voyage? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent to customize an itinerary you’re going to love.

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