Chef Jacques Pépin -A Story of A Family On Oceania Cruises
By Claudine Pépin, Godmother of Sirena in Oceania Cruises
When I was first asked to share some of my favorite memories as part of Oceania Cruises’ 20th Anniversary, I was honored. What better way to express what makes this company so remarkable than by recounting scrapbook travel moments from the past? But then I realized that I couldn’t quite follow Oceania Cruises’ directions. As my father, Jacques Pépin, will readily tell you, that’s no surprise. I’ve never been much of one to do what I was told.
Over the past two decades, I’ve accumulated far more than tales of food, wine and travel. They’re stories of shared experiences with people I’ve come to know and love. My memories of Oceania Cruises are stories of family.
A House of Chefs
Cooking set the stage for my opportunity to become part of the Oceania Cruises family. I grew up in a house of chefs. I was a pro at being a good host but didn’t know a lot about cooking. In fact, when I started cooking with my father during one of his TV shows, what you see in that first season is me truly learning. It’s very real and honest. My father would actually tell me not to ask cooking questions off camera because he wanted all of those interactions to be captured on the show. It was how I learned to cook.
That honesty is how Oceania Cruises approaches cooking. In 2003, Oceania Cruises Co-Founder Bob Binder asked my father to become their Executive Culinary Director. He was honored that a new cruise line wanted to build its cuisine around his life’s passion. My father’s relationship with Bob has meant the world to both of us. He has become like family.
In 2009, I started joining my father for cooking demonstrations and other special events with Oceania Cruises. I love this unique connection that we share and it has become a wonderful tradition for both of us.
That same year, Bob called to see if my father would be interested in opening restaurants on their first-ever newly built ships. Seeing my father’s excitement at the debut of his Parisian bistro-styled Jacques on Marina gave my mother, Gloria, and me such happiness. Bob even asked my father to decorate the space with his own artwork.
An Interesting Evening
Of all my Oceania Cruises memories, the night I was asked to become Sirena’s godmother is the most unforgettable. Bob took my father outside on the terrace to let him know he was going to ask me to be godmother, but the conversation seemed so serious that my mother and I thought my father was being fired! We thought, what an interesting and awkward evening this is going to be if they fired him.
They both came inside and Bob asked me if I knew what a long list of famous people had in common. He explained they were all ship godmothers and asked if I would like to join them. To be honest, it’s still all a bit of a blur. It was an emotional moment for all of us because of what Oceania Cruises means to our family. I tried to maintain my composure but I’m a bit of a mush so, of course, I teared up.
After the 2016 naming ceremony in Barcelona, I sailed on Sirena with my father, my mother, my chef husband, Rollie, and our daughter, Shorey. We cooked, ate, laughed and had more than a few glasses of wine together. It was joyful.
I know we’re not supposed to have a favorite ship. But I don’t think that rule applies when you’re a godmother. I feel most at home on Sirena and always fall into a wonderful routine. Not surprisingly, it involves food. In the morning, I head to Baristas for the perfect cup of coffee, a baguette and butter that tastes fresh from the farm. For lunch you’ll almost always find me in Terrace Cafe. The back veranda is heaven. When it comes time for dinner, look for me with a veal chop at Tuscan Steak, Chilean sea bass at Red Ginger or Dover sole in The Grand Dining Room. The entire staff always knows me by name.
It has always seemed like the crew, guests and employees are an extension of my own family. I’m so proud of what Oceania Cruises stands for and how it is continually striving for culinary excellence. Every day I’m grateful that I get to be a part of the Oceania Cruises family because of the good work that they do and how they take care of their staff and employees. My father is as well.
A String of Pearls
One of Oceania Cruises’ brochures referred to ports of call as a string of pearls. Each is beautiful but unique. Experiencing them with my family and my shipboard friends makes each visit a bit different because I can see it through their eyes.
I love Portofino with its yacht harbor, shops and trattorias. As a chef, Rollie adores Bordeaux and its rich red wine sauce that finds its way onto the thick, delicious steaks. Sailing into Valletta with its panorama of medieval walls, castles and fortifications is like traveling back in time. My father enjoys the amphitheater-style harbor of Monte Carlo where the ship takes center stage. In Kotor, a stroll along the pink-paved streets that ended up at a restaurant in a 15th-century warehouse is one of our favorite family memories.
I haven’t yet been to Japan but it’s absolutely on my bucket list. We can’t wait to have an omakase dinner in a really fine Japanese restaurant. There’s something so liberating about letting the chef choose each course for you – I would love to do that.
My father has always said not to take myself too seriously. It’s his mantra. We’re so lucky to do what we do. We make people happy with the food we cook and we get to do it as a family – that’s the fun and beauty in it. That’s what it feels like when I travel with my Oceania Cruises family.
Oceania Cruises and I have grown up together. Other than a small soup bistro that he opened in 1970, my father’s first restaurants are aboard Marina and Riviera. I became the godmother of Sirena. I have seen the world from the decks of Oceania Cruises’ ships and met some of the most wonderful people I could imagine. The first 20 years have been a grand adventure. With Vista soon to debut and a sister ship to follow, I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.
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