Back in Corfu and finally got on the list to go shopping with the exec chef of the ship. So many people want to go and so few can that they put out the announcement in the daily newsletter the night before and it’s a scramble as otherwise dignified people rush to sign up. Last week I was watching for the announcement with an eagle eye and they tricked me — posting it early somewhere I wasn’t looking so that when the regular announcement came out it was already booked up.
You can imagine how I handled that. Let’s just say that we were at the top of the list for this week’s trip.
There were actually two chefs to shop with this go round: Kurt from Belgium, the current chef about to go on vacation and David from Glasgow, the incoming chef.
The thing I like about shopping with chefs is watching them eye the ingredients and think on their feet. Of course they have a plan but they are also swayed by something unexpected.
I have shopped a number of times with a good chef friend and I have come to know what he looks for and how he thinks about food. But shopping with “stranger chefs” gives you a new perspective.
Seeing tiny calamari Kurt starts to imagine sautéing them in olive oil with garlic. Fresh samphire will be picked over and served with fish. Beautiful organic courgette blossoms are promising but the grower has only a small amount and Kurt has 600 passenger mouths to feed and 400 crew. Of course everyone will not choose to eat the same thing but in general, if there isn’t tons of whatever it is, he can’t use it.
But there is fresh dorade royale, and 4 big sacks of black mussels, a whole mess of fresh sardines, and of course the calamari. Snapper, asks the fishmonger? Kurt and David simultaneously shake their heads. There is plenty of it but the skin isn’t shiny and the eyes are dull. Not caught today, they say.
They haggle over prices. Both chefs are wearing Seabourn chef jackets and Kurt says it’s okay in Corfu market where they know him, but in markets where he hasn’t been the temptation is to see the jacket and raise their prices. They get good, below list prices on everything they buy here but they are buying in BULK.
I can’t imagine the organizational skills involved. Kurt is keeping track of everything in his head. What he is buying will help feed the ship for a couple of days. He wants as much fresh as possible, but of course for even a small ship like ours it’s impossible to buy in the quantity he needs.
And of course, everything for the Keller restaurant is flown in from Keller’s sources. Keller is now actually a partner with Seabourn, not just licensing his name, and he is a meticulous micromanager.
We buy fruit, some honey comb that he will put out on the breakfast buffet with Greek yogurt, an arm full of Greek olive oil for the salad bar, bags and bags of gorgeous olives, which we all sample, and then we head for the cheese shop. A German cruise ship has already been in and cleaned them out of the feta Kurt wants, so the chefs will taxi back in to town to get it after they’ve had a chance to restock.
We (by which I mean they) go back through the market, paying for what they have bought and having it loaded on to a cart, which quickly becomes too small. Several dollies are pressed into service and there are sacks to carry. The bus picks us up and we head for the ship.
On the menu that night on the Patio is grilled dorade royale served with roasted potatoes and braised fennel and artichoke hearts. It’s one of the best meals I’ve had this trip.