What's the first image that enters your mind when you think of a cruise? Food, right? Endless buffets, poolside snacks and stately dinners are all part of the cruise experience.
A recent cruise did more than fill my belly, it fed my culinary curiosity and left me heading home with a treasured souvenir: the recipe for the ship's signature chocolate souffle.
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My daughters and I headed on a 12-day cruise out of Barcelona on the Disney Magic. Sure there was plenty of activities for kids on a Disney cruise, but adults aren't left out of the fun. I attended cooking classes, watched the ship's version of "Iron Chef" and enjoyed a spontaneous private souffle-making lesson with the ship's three top chefs (it's amazing what can happen when you just ask).
The Art of Entertaining cooking class series featured recipes from the ships nightly dinner menus. We learned how to make dishes like Oregano and Parmesan Encrusted Rack of Lamb with Sangiovese Roasted Shallots, Olive Oil and Sea Bass Wrapped in Parchment Paper with Vegetables and Salmoriglio Sauce. Samples were shared and wine pairings offered, complete with wine education from one of the ship's experts.
As good as the food was, my favorite part of each class was informal question-and-answers with the chefs. This is how I discovered their trick for preparing scalloped potatoes the day before serving (chill, cut into portions and sear on both sides to create a crispy outside and tender inside). And if you want warm lava cake at your dinner party, prebake it, chill completely and reheat right before serving. The cake reheats from the inside out, giving a better chance for the center, or lava, to be soft and creamy and not over baked. Helpful advice, especially for us home cooks who don't have a pastry chef on hand creating desserts while we dine with our guests.
My dinner in the ship's adult-only restaurant, Palo, introduced me to the signature dessert -- the dessert ordered by 85 percent of diners on any given night -- a chocolate soufflé. Somehow this classic French dessert had eluded me all these years.
My individual soufflé arrived at the table piping hot with sides of warm vanilla and chocolate sauces and vanilla ice cream. The server used my spoon to "crack" the center of the crunchy soufflé top and add some of the vanilla sauce, encouraging me to follow suit with the other toppings.
The decadent dessert was not overly sweet, but rich with chocolate flavor and complimented perfectly by the sides. Chocolate heaven on a plate! I had to know how to recreate this dessert at home.
Two days later, I found my daughters and me sitting in that same restaurant with three of the Magic's chefs: Executive Chef Marcus, Palo Chef de Cuisine Stephane, and Palo Pastry Chef Carmine sharing stories of their 60-plus combined years of experience in the kitchen. They spoke of the ship's unique cooking environment and how they overcome challenges, like using small balls of foil to balance pans when the ship leans a certain direction. All agree they enjoy cooking because "You put your heart in it," -- something we have in common -- and the importance of using the best ingredients you can afford, such as Dutch processed cocoa.
Chef Camine led us into the kitchen and proceeded to demonstrate how to make the chocolate soufflé, offering tips while he warmed milk and added a beurre manie of sorts made from butter, cocoa and flour to create a creamy warm chocolate mixture with a paste-like consistency. He whisked egg whites and sugar until glossy peaks formed and gently folded them into the cooled chocolate mixture.
Don't open the oven door, he stressed, because yes the rumor is true, the soufflé may fall.
"Be patient and practice, practice, practice," chef Carmine said, adding that it took him a while to perfect the soufflé, so don't be discouraged if your first attempt is not perfect.
My culinary adventure aboard the Disney Magic was more than I could have ever imagined, thanks to their friendly and talented chefs. My experience confirmed my belief that we should do what we love, and love what we do, and not be afraid to ask questions.
I have already used some of the tricks and tips I learned from the ships experts and will be making this chocolate soufflé as soon as my pre-cruise weight returns. If may take me a few tries, but I have a feeling even the failures will be tasty!