Photo by Megan Leppert
Food and culinary experiences are always a main component of any cruising experience, and Holland America Line is taking it one step further by introducing America’s Test Kitchen to their fleet of ships. Currently, America’s Test Kitchen can only be found on the Westerdam, however Holland America plans on rolling out the culinary program fleet wide by January 2017. In San Diego last month, we had an opportunity to go onboard the Westerdam and see an America’s Test Kitchen demonstration.
Before I continue on with talking about the demonstration, let me preface that I am a culinary educator here in San Diego for the community college, so I tend to view demonstrations like this with a stricter eye. I think that it’s great that cruise ships offer various culinary demonstrations for their passengers, and it’s wonderful that so many people now take an interest in our industry because it hasn’t always been that way.
The dish that we had the opportunity to sample was the Pork Shu Mai with an accompanying chili sauce, but only the Shu Mai was demonstrated, which was a little disappointing because it would have been nice to see the sauce made. For those who don’t know what Shu Mai is, it is a steamed dumpling that is a common Dim Sum dish. Dim Sum means “touching the heart” and is a Chinese tradition of a variety of small portion foods, such as shu mai, dumplings, rice balls, daikon cakes, bao (steamed buns), etc. I believe that when people come to culinary demonstrations, they not only like to learn how to create a dish to take home to their friends and family, but they also like to learn some history about the dish and where it comes from. It may have been because there was a limited amount of time, but I would have liked to have the culinary demonstrators explain a bit of the history of the dish and what dim sum is because it’s not something that everyone will know.
One thing that has always stood out about America’s Test Kitchen is that they explain the science behind the food, which is such an integral part in a recipe’s success. During the demonstration, the culinary demonstrators explained how they were using gelatin in the recipe to retain moisture in the dumplings. It’s great that they explained this. However, I think it would have been nice to discuss how gelatin mainly works as a binding agent as well as it retaining moisture. That way, guests can understand how a product like this can be used in other dishes and adds some more educational facts.
Lastly, it is important for anyone who is cooking in a kitchen to understand how harmful cross contamination is and how it happens. During the demonstration, the one culinary demonstrator put raw pork into the food processor and then continued to touch other surfaces and equipment without washing her hands. It is our job as culinary professionals to make sure that we are mindful of this because we don’t want the people we are teaching to contaminate and possibly spread foodborne illness when recreating the dishes they learned from us at home.
There are a few items that I would tweak to the program, but the foundation of the program is good. I also think that this will be an experience that many guests will enjoy, and it will be a great asset to all the ship’s onboard offerings. All in all, I think there are great possibilities for this partnership between Holland America Line and America’s Test Kitchen.