The Regent Seven Seas Splendor was built for food lovers.
Peering at a shelf packed with an assortment of culinary books, I make a surprising find that in my mind speaks instantly to the food cred of the book’s owner. There, sandwiched between East, Meera Sodha’s vibrant ode to vegetables, and Vignette, an excellent guide to the 100 wines you should be drinking, by sommelier Jane Lopes, is a copy of Aussie “fish butcher” Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook. Niland is one of the world’s most innovative and creative seafood chefs, one who crafts seafood into charcuterie and dry-ages fish. It’s a cookbook for serious chefs, food nerds, and seafood cooks (and for very biased people who are both Australian and a food nerd, like me). But I’m not at a chef’s home, in a kitchen, or at a restaurant: I’m in a library on a ship — on Regent Seven Seas Splendor, to be precise.
The library — spacious, well stocked, tastefully decorated — is on deck 11, right next to the ship’s glam cooking school, the Culinary Arts Kitchen. The teaching kitchen has 18 gleaming cooking stations and huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast blue ocean. “This cooking school was built with luxury in mind,” says Regent’s executive chef and director of culinary enrichment, Kathryn Kelly. Kelly is on board before we set sail on a seven-day Taste of the Caribbean cruise, making sure everything is in place for the reopening of the school’s Chef Masterclasses following a COVID- induced hiatus. (Hands-on cooking classes resumed this past summer.)
In her 60s, Kelly came to culinary instruction later in life and has an assured presence and a wickedly dry sense of humor. “I was an epidemiologist for the first part of my career; no one knew what that was until two years ago,” she says wryly. Kelly is responsible for the culinary programming on board, which includes “real-deal” two-hour cooking classes that fall into three categories: a technique-driven class (that might focus on seven ways to cook fish, say), a regional class based on where the ship is sailing, and a “most-requested recipe” class, based on popular dishes served in the ship’s many restaurants. Kelly and her team of instructors pride themselves on the caliber of education and recipes that are offered on board. “We don’t decorate cupcakes here,” she says. “We honor culinary technique and the region we’re traveling to.”
As I learn firsthand during a New World Mediterranean Masterclass hosted by chef-instructor Kellie Evans, that doesn’t mean a super-serious, strict learning experience. Instead, the tone of the classes is casual and communal. On a sunny day at sea, Evans, a former food editor in the magazine world, holds her own against the distracting sparkle of the ocean behind us. She leads the class through the migration of ingredients like tomatoes, corn, cacao, and beans from the New World to the Old World, whipping up a bright, smoky gazpacho and a rich molten chocolate cake along the way. Her easygoing banter is peppered with fun facts and neat cooking hacks, like a cheat’s tip to put a frozen chocolate truffle inside the individual cake before popping it in the oven. “This is not in your class booklet,” she declares. “This is my secret tip for you!”
If there were a booklet for how to get the most out of a culinary cruise on Splendor, it would certainly include taking a class with Evans and joining her or one of the other instructors onshore for a Gourmet Explorer Tour. It would also include the excellent meals to be had on board — specifically, the steak tartare with caviar at the ship’s French fine-dining concept, Chartreuse. I’d also make time for the fancy steakhouse, Prime 7, where I had a perfectly cooked rib eye one night and an equally good monster veal chop another, grilled pink just like I asked. You should visit pan-Asian concept Pacific Rim more than once for its fragrant seafood laksa alone, the broth rich with curry heat and coconut, studded with chunks of lobster, scallop, and squid.
And my secret tip for you? When you find yourself wanting a little quiet time, head back to that spacious library, pick out a book from the selection of New York Times best-sellers, and then abscond to the Meridian Lounge on deck five. Order the tasty old-fashioned with bourbon, maple, and black cherry bitters, and settle into one of the very comfy armchairs with your riveting page-turner. You’re welcome.
Seven-day round-trip Caribbean cruise from Miami on Splendor from $4,699, rssc.com