Spotlight on river cruising: We talk to chef Michael Baptiste
Executive chef Michael Baptiste is responsible for the teams, kitchens and dining on 12 different river cruises. Not only does he know how to cook phenomenal dishes, but he's also an organising and planning guru, having to train chefs who can deliver speciality cuisines, as well as source local produce along the way.
Chef Michael plans the menus, orders the produce, hires the staff. He quality controls the food and manages all aspects of the dining on board the river cruises. His motto – it’s the quality that matters. And by his own admission, he’s a stickler for plating, presentation and exceptional taste.
Even though he's a very busy man – you might be lucky enough to meet him on board our river cruise ships the MS Serenade I or MS River Discovery II. And we've been fortunate enough to grab a few minutes with Michael out of his busy schedule so he can tell us about his culinary background and why he believes the that the food and drink on board is a huge part of what makes a river cruise holiday so wonderful.
Why do you think food and drink is such an important part of a river cruise ?
When you sail on a river cruise, you go through so many different countries on one trip. So this alone makes it really special. And then you get to experience what each destination has to offer and all of them have something special. And when you taste the food and drink, you get an authentic experience. We go to wineries where you learn about production, you drink the local beer. And the whole culinary experience is a huge factor on a river cruise. That’s why so many travellers love river cruising. And we look for chefs who can deliver this experience and specialise in all these different regional dishes. The planning behind all of this is quite huge.
Is it difficult to work in a river cruise kitchen?
Well, I don’t think so. It looks small, but once the kitchen is organised, you have the same equipment that you would have in a larger kitchen, or a restaurant kitchen. The only difference is that the space is compact, although in this case I believe size really doesn’t matter! Cooking in a kitchen there is always an element of stress, but I am hugely organised, and once we’ve done this, it really isn’t that difficult.
Do you plan the menus in advance?
Absolutely, 100%. On a seven-day river cruise, we plan the menu in advance. Because, for example, if we’re sailing from Cologne to Budapest, we have to take into consideration the ports that we will be sailing to, so that we will always have some local flavour. We always think of the regions, where we’re going to be, and use the local produce if we can. So, that's why our customers will always be treated to a mix of specialities. For instance, if you’re in Bern in Switzerland, we’ll make a hearty beef goulash or a traditional Leberkäse - a German sausage loaf that is delicious. This variety is what makes the culinary experience so fantastic on Titan’s river cruises.
What are your favourite dishes?
Well, there are a lot! And I think it would be unfair to choose just one. It depends on what particular destination I'm in. This might sounds like an answer that I am supposed to give, but it’s not. If you’re in Romania and sailing the Black Sea, when you eat the local cuisine, it makes you appreciate the destination so much more. I love eating sarmales – stuffed cabbage rolls that are so tasty - but would I eat these in Budapest? No, as it doesn’t make sense. You have more of infinity with the area if you eat the local food. You get a flavour of where you are. And that to me is so important.
What do your the customers like to eat?
Again, that depends. I want to try and be diplomatic. For some, it depends on where they are. In Romania, they love Telemea – a salty, soft cheese that you eat with polenta. And even though it’s a simple dish it really is unbelievable. And people are surprised because they never knew about it.
What do you like to cook best?
My roots are from the Caribbean and I like nothing better than making chicken wings on a grill. I just love plain and simple chicken wings with BBQ sauce. I could eat this three times a week! And having trained in French cuisine, I love cooking French food, particularly braised veal. The flavours are talking to me in this dish. I have a connection with it.
Why do you love being a chef?
I have cooked since I was a young boy. My grandmother was not a chef but a fantastic home cook and I learned a lot from her. She really enjoyed food so her passion definitely passed on to me.
What parts of Europe do you enjoy sailing in?
Over the last couple of years, I love sailing down to the Black Sea. Perhaps it’s because I am getting older, but I really do enjoy the peace and quiet - and being lost in nature. And when you pass the stunning city of Budapest, you feel so free. I really enjoy it. And highly recommend it.
Do you love chatting to the customers on board?
I like meeting and talking to the guests and chatting to them about food. Especially when they appreciate the dishes that have been cooked for them. It’s also fantastic to meet so many people from different parts of the world. And learn about how they make certain cuisine from where they come from. The customers love to ask questions, too and it's great to get feedback. It's a enjoyable part of my job for sure.
If you'd like to try the wonderful cuisine that chef Michael and his team produce on our river cruises, why not talk to one of our expert advisors today?
Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.
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