Archive for October, 2014

Which Cruise Line Offers the Best Food?

October 20th, 2014

Which cruise line offers the best food?

Which cruise line offers the best food? This question is no longer an oxymoron! Not just the Buffet Table now. Since Norwegian Cruise Lines first started providing specialty restaurant choices at sea this concept really has taken off. Many lines now offer this. Perhaps the most well known one is Oceania with their Executive Culinary Director the renown Chef Jacques Pepin orchestrating top French Cuisine on the Marina. There are lots of others to choose from including Silversea (Relais & Chateau Le Champagne), Celebrity on Silhouette and improved Disney. Even Carnival “Fun Ships” & Royal Caribbean are battling it out for the best burger at sea. Smaller ships like Seabourn and Windstar offer outstanding culinary standards with wonderful service.

All this was brought to mind yesterday when I was invited on a Crystal Cruises preview 3 hour cruise in Vancouver with good friend talented Chef Darren Brown He has an impressive resume of Executive Chef positions including Fairmont Pacific Rim and was the personal chef for Merv Griffin on a mega-yacht. He is leading a 12 day Mediterranean Tour on the refurbished Crystal Serenity October 25, 2015 roundtrip from Monte Carlo through Italy and Barcelona with daily market shopping and cooking on board. Should be an interesting amazing culinary adventure I highly recommend. Crystal also are proud of their specialty Silk Road “Nobu” Matsuhisa & Prego Piero Selvaggio Valentino restaurants on board.

What has been your most memorable food experience on a ship? Which Cruise Line would you recommend for high culinary standards?

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Ask Sid: The best way to cool wine quickly?

October 15th, 2014

Cooling wine in a hurry

Question: What’s the best way to cool wine quickly?

Answer: Always seems to be a continuing interest in this topic. I ponder why aren’t you following the Scout Motto of “Be Prepared” using some cold bottles already in your frig.  However I understand there are occasions where you need to act quickly. I explored related temperature issues in two posted IWFS blogs last year on July 22 “Best wine serving temperatures” & on September 2  “Tricks to improve wine temperature service”. I usually wrap the bottle in an ice pack and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes. Don’t forget you put it there! Better and even faster is filling a bucket with ice and just adding cold water – even colder and more efficient if you add some salt. If you have already poured the wine into a glass you might use CoolBlues Reusable Ice Cubes, Whiskey Stones, Wine Pearls or the like to bring down the temperature without diluting the wine. Not a bad idea to keep some frozen red and white grapes in your freezer and pop one or two of them in the glass to cool the wine as well as being a fun conversation stimulant.

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Kevin Judd: Wine influential New Zealander

October 13th, 2014

Kevin Judd wine photography
Photo credit: @greywacker

Most of us have tried the vibrant herbaceous sauvignon blanc from Marlborough called Cloudy Bay. What many of us don’t know is that their founding winemaker was Kevin Judd who directed that company’s first 25 vintages. Since 2009 he is producing his own wine called Greywacke  – named after New Zealand’s prominent bedrock layers. I have been fortunate to taste with Kevin on several occasions and I am impressed with his passion to produce low yield quality wines that express their specific regions. His main varieties are sauvignon blanc and pinot noir but also has some super pinot gris, riesling, and chardonnay. His regular Sauvignon has that typical Marlborough zip but with more subtle balance of flavours. The more luscious textured Wild Sauvignon uses 100% wild yeast, mostly old French oak with lees stirring and went 2/3 through malo. Pinot noir 2011 utilizes mainly Dijon clones 115, 777 & 667 with 100% wild ferment in 40% new French oak to capture the pure red perfumed fruits, supple tannins and textbook cool climate lift. Wine Spectator scored it 93 points and ranked #48 in their Top 100 most exciting wines of 2013. Kevin is contributing so much to the dynamic New Zealand wine scene. Along with his winemaking Kevin is a well known acclaimed wine photographer with The Colour of Wine on the vineyards of Marlborough and his newer The Landscape of New Zealand Wine (published by  on all their wine regions with an introduction by Bob Campbell MW. I admire how Kevin brings such focused intensity of high purpose to both his winemaking and his photography. His wines and his books are both highly recommended.

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The best and worst in Soviet hospitality: a look at the food and drink of the Yalta Conference

October 10th, 2014

A look at the food, vodka and wine from the Yalta Conference
By Joseph Temple

As dawn approached on February 3, 1945, a gravely ill President Franklin Roosevelt boarded his aircraft, the Sacred Cow for a grueling fourteen hundred mile flight to the Soviet Union.  Departing from the island of Malta, sub-zero temperatures were waiting for FDR when his plane landed at the Saki Airfield near the coastal town of Yalta.  His meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Marshal Joseph Stalin would be the most important conference of the Second World War as Allied forces inched closer to victory in Europe.  And during their stay, Roosevelt, Churchill and their respective staffs would witness the very best – and the very worst – in Soviet hospitality.

Traveling to the Black Sea in a fleet of Lend-Lease Packards, both western leaders had no idea what lay in store for them.  For almost eight hours, they drove past a plethora of bombed out buildings, rotting animal carcasses, destroyed tanks and torn up railroad tracks.  With a swig of Brandy, Churchill remarked about the location for the conference: “We could have not have found a worse place if we spent ten years on research.”

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin meeting at Yalta  Exterior of Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference

Top left: Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and their respective staffs posing for the cameras at the Yalta Conference. (photo courtesy: UK National Archives) Top right: Exterior of Livadia Palace. (photo courtesy: FDR Library) (click to enlarge both)

Utilizing the vast resources of the entire Soviet Union, chefs and hotel workers had been sent from Moscow, bringing as many plates and cutlery that they could carry with them to create the illusion of prosperity in the previously looted Livadia Palace.  A bakery and fishing operation was created onsite to supplement the food brought in from around the USSR. Romanian prisoners of war were ordered to replant the gardens on the property while furnishings were brought in to replace the one’s that were stolen.  Over a thousand men and women had worked tirelessly in the weeks leading up to FDR and Churchill’s arrival.  And when they finally came, the very best in Russian cuisine was waiting for them.

On the first night, Russian chefs had prepared a bountiful dinner that included sliced fish, shashlyk, potatoes and game.  The president’s daughter, Anna Roosevelt enjoyed the food but noted, “each time anything was refused the maître d’hotel looked either like a thunder cloud or mortally wounded.”

What did become a favorite amongst Yalta attendees was lavish caviar, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It was ironic considering that had the Soviet Union not entered the Second World War, the sturgeon that bred those salty black eggs would have been on the brink of extinction.  Dating back to the early 1930s, the original plan was to dam the mighty Volga River for hydroelectricity, which would have prevented the fish from traveling upriver from the Caspian Sea to lay their eggs.  But with Operation Barbarossa, this massive construction project came to a grinding halt, giving sturgeon a vital reprieve.

To compliment the various dishes, bottles from the world-famous Massandra Winery had been shipped back to Yalta.  Originally constructed in the late 19th century for the sole purpose of supplying Russia’s Tsar, the winery’s vast and rare collection of vintages had been evacuated as the Wehrmacht moved closer to Moscow in late 1941.  But with the Crimea firmly in Soviet control more than three years later, the wines were now safe to send back, giving those attendees a chance to taste some of Ukraine’s best.

Another Russian staple placed in each bedroom of the palace was a decanter filled with vodka.  At Yalta, this drink in addition to the numerous gallons of wine and champagne resulted in many inebriated Brits and Americans having to be carried back to their rooms.  The drunkenness during this conference became so infamous that one Republican in congress cited it as a reason to cut off the State Department’s budget for wine, declaring that alcohol had contributed to the “sellout at Yalta.”

Sturgeon and caviar

Top: Fishermen pose behind a 1,000+ pound Sturgeon. (photo courtesy: Library and Archives Canada) Bottom:  Wine bottles aging in a cellar at the Massandra Winery. (click to enlarge all)

Massandra wine
By Vyacheslav Stepanyuchenko [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

While an enormous amount of effort had gone in to making everything hospitable, Stalin also made sure that he would have the upper hand on his home turf.  During the many toasts between the three powers, the Georgian dictator ordered his staff to refill his glass with water instead of vodka when nobody was watching, staying relatively sober while the others got tipsy. And as Churchill and others complained about bed bugs in their rooms, another type of bug had been listening in on their conversations.  Prior to their arrival, dozens of electronic devices had been secretly planted in all the rooms occupied by the British and Americans during the conference, with any vital information being immediately sent to Stalin himself.

But as these cloak and dagger operations were being carried out behind the scenes, a successful charm offensive had been launched simultaneously by the Soviet Union to please their guests by any means necessary.  In Churchill’s memoirs, he recalls one moment when a guest casually remarked that there were no lemons to go with his cocktail.  “The next day,” the PM wrote, “a lemon tree loaded with fruit was growing in the hall.”  Likewise when Sir Charles Portal noticed that there were no fish in a rather large tank, an aquarium full of goldfish appeared the next morning, flown in by air.  No stone was left unturned in keeping their guests happy and hopefully unsuspecting as they listened in on their conversations.

What took place during the entire conference is well documented.  The dominant western narrative for nearly seventy years has been that in order to get Soviet forces to commit themselves to the pacific theater of operations, Roosevelt sold out eastern Europe to the communists – a narrative that has been argued back and forth by historians for decades.  But what role did the many bottles of wine have on the British and American delegations is a question that is rarely asked?  And did the constant supply of vodka in their rooms result in any loose lips spilling diplomatic secrets while Soviet espionage carefully listened in?  With the Russian archives still closely guarded, we may never know but the role alcohol played at Yalta is something that cannot be dismissed.

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Ask Sid: Pairing wine with chocolate?

October 8th, 2014

How to pair wine with chocolate?

Question: Believe this week you are judging the Canadian chocolate entries for The International Chocolate Awards. What wine do you have with chocolate Sid?

Answer: Yes we presently are assessing many different types of chocolate from dark, milk, white, flavoured etc. I love chocolate. I love wine. Not really a big fan of enjoying them together. We don’t have wine with chocolate during the competition but refresh our palates with a soupy polenta. Know some of you like to pair chocolate with a big robust Cab, spicy Syrah/Shiraz, jammy Zinfandel, port, or sweet dessert wine. If I have just one choice for all chocolates I would go for Banyuls (French Grenache-dominant fortified) though more specifically a sweet Sherry, Madeira, or Ruby Port can enhance milk chocolate and a Barolo Chinato has just the right herbal bitter medicinal tones to complement 70%+ dark chocolate. Enjoy.

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