The marketing tagline “Savour the Journey” says much about Holland America Line’s culinary credentials, before you even begin to explore further. With three words, it can be safely assumed food is a large part of the Holland America Line experience, and the line’s extensive Culinary Arts Program is just one part of this.

Supported by American gastronomic powerhouse masthead Food & Wine Magazine, the program which is a holistic approach to learning, creating and enjoying food and beverages onboard. At the core of this is the dedicated Culinary Arts Centre, the setting for the only program of this calibre at sea.

Hosted by a dedicated chef and host, the state-of-the-art facility invites passengers to bask in the preparation of the line’s signature recipes and watch each one come to life in a fully equipped setting resembling a home kitchen.

Available across the lines fleet of 14 ships, the Culinary Arts Program features a number of complimentary components including tutorials and discussion groups in a theatre style atmosphere. For an additional charge, guests can partake in hands-on cooking classes with some of the world’s top chefs as they make guest appearances onboard.

During a recent experience with HAL, we began our day of culinary enlightenment by heading into our first lecture – “Sweet Flavours of Norway” – which promised an exciting glimpse into the sweet side of life in Norway. Our Culinary Arts host and the onboard Pastry Chef transported us to the streets of Oslo as they prepared Norwegian Veiled Country Lass and Norwegian Pancakes with local speciality Cloudberries.

Local delicacy Norwegian Cloudberries were the backbone of today's dish.
Local delicacy Norwegian Cloudberries were the backbone of today’s dish.

The Pastry Chef was a treasure in sharing with us the key elements for making light fluffy pancakes, however the dish being prepared today is typically served more as a crepe as opposed to a pancake. General knowledge of Norway’s food traditions was also shared, with fun facts and other trivia complementing the casual nature of the occasion. Just as the audience’s stomachs collectively began to rumble, a waiter appears to the side armed with pre-prepared bite size samples of the dish being created in front of our eyes.

Work on the next dish begins instantly, with our next treat being the Lass (essentially a Norwegian trifle of breadcrumbs, cinnamon and apple sauce) all the while carefully explaining the historical influence of each ingredient in Norway’s national dishes while constructing the dish with expert precision.

Opportunities to discuss the dish and ask questions of both the culinary arts host and chef are given throughout the session. If you don’t get a chance to ask your questions then, HAL cruises often feature a more comprehensive Q&A session later in the cruise where you can have any questions on not only the culinary arts program but also the wider food and beverage operation across the ship answered in detail.

Norwegian Lass is a popular Norwegian take on trifle.
Norwegian Lass is a popular Norwegian take on trifle.

Generally there are two to three sessions of the Culinary Arts Program on each sea day, with an “On Location” session taking place each port afternoon. On Location sessions generally feature fresh local delicacies often obtained that day from local markets in the port of call, with demonstrations generally calling upon location specific recipes.

Up next on our agenda was an insightful tutorial on the dishes featured in the ship’s speciality dining venues.

This was a great course to attend as it allowed us to preview some of the dishes available to order at each restaurant and hear insightful recommendations on what to enjoy at each one. It was also an interesting culinary history lesson, with insight into the famed “Le Cirque” restaurant from New York City which operates as a pop-up restaurant one night each voyage in the Pinnacle Grill.

Le Cirque's famed lobster salad was one of the dishes in our second class of the day.
Le Cirque’s famed lobster salad was one of the dishes in our second class of the day.

If you haven’t booked any of the alternative dining options, checking out this session can prove inspirational, especially if you are limiting yourself only to one experience.

We finished off our day in the Culinary Arts Program at the daily “Sip & Savour” – a wine and canapé pairing focusing on the tastes of the destination, curated by the Culinary Arts Host and the Chief Sommelier. Generally held in each ship’s piano bar and timed to coincide with Happy Hour, the event is a great gathering of like minded travellers and proves extremely popular on many sailings. There are opportunities to take advantage of reduced drink prices and sample paired wines for $4 per glass.

If you’re cruising close to home with Holland America Line this coming season, you can indulge in the Culinary Arts Program on both local ships – MS Maasdam and MS Noordam, which will be sailing this summer from Sydney and Auckland.