The Intense, Intriguing Birth of Silversea’s S.A.L.T. Program
“Oh, you must definitely try the revithada of the Cyclades, chickpeas cooked in a clay pot over a wood fire from Saturday until Sunday afternoon!”
This wasn’t one of the many chefs or notable culinary experts on Greece. The authority suggesting, or rather demanding, I seek out the archipelago’s famously slow-stewed chickpeas was Noni, my driver, who picked me up from the airport in Athens. Sometime between hustling my bags into the van and dropping me at the port in Piraeus to board Silver Moon for its voyage around the Greek islands, we’d stopped for a coffee and the talk had naturally turned to what to eat where.
I took this as a good omen. Here was a country where all conversations lead to the table. Where everyone seemed both proud and full of passion for the food, knowledgeable and opinionated and eager to share their stories. What better place to test our new S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste), our deep-dive culinary program that’s all about discovering a country through the lens of food culture?
We had spent many hours on the phone each week working through all aspects of what a launch season in Greece would look and taste like: What local and regional dishes could we explore on the daily changing menus at S.A.L.T Kitchen? What were the key indigenous grapes and regions we should source for the wine list? Which semi-obscure Greek craft beers and Macedonian anise-scented tsipouro could we manage to get onboard for the list at S.A.L.T Bar? And where could we go to discover the culinary story of the region and who would be best to tell it?
There were many gray, wintry days when conjuring these sunny adventures through the Greek isles and its gastronomy seemed like a kind of fantasy. Collaborating over long Zoom sessions (me in Brooklyn, the culinary team spread across the U.K. and South Africa and later onboard Silver Moon ) we would weigh the merits of the wild-greens stuffed with Cretan hortopita and the pumpkin-filled kolokythopita phyllo pie of Paros. We’d reach out to a biodynamic farm in northern Crete where they cultivate wild herbs and honey and make olive oil from their own trees and cook lamb and bulgur-filled dolmades under embers for hours in a large outdoor stone hearth. If you closed your eyes you could almost smell the fresh wine and fragrant fields and wood fire. We were eager to finally taste and experience all the things we’d been talking about and planning. It all seemed like a beautiful dream.
And then, finally, the day arrived and the ship was loaded with all manner of Greek ingredients and provisions, the bar stocked with local brandies and Assyrtiko wines from Crete and oaked Agiorgitiko from the Peleponese and IPAs from Santorini and Bohemian-style pilsner from the island of Tinos. In S.A.L.T Lab, our sleek test kitchen at sea, our host and kitchen crew were preparing cooking and culture classes for guests on subjects ranging from kleftiko, the “stolen” lamb, to the treasures of pan-Mediterranean street food stalls and the life-improving art of “How to Mezze.”
When we arrived at Peskesi, the biodynamic farm in Crete, it looked and smelled even better than we’d dreamed it might. The views over the rolling hills were beautiful, the food that Panos, the owner, pulled from the wood-fired hearth — slow-cooked pork with bulgur and vegetables from the farm, lamb roasted in front of the fire antikristo style, fresh breads, dolmades and stuffed zucchini flower — was astoundingly good and served family style just for our small group of guests as we sat around a large wooden table in the shade.
Cyril Mougin, one of our S.A.L.T Kitchen chef-de-cuisines, was along for this shore experience to taste firsthand and be inspired by the food of the region. He said the food coming out of this simple-looking rustic kitchen was some of the best he’d had anywhere in a long time, and we wouldn’t argue with him. Here was precisely the kind of place and hosts — caretakers of the land, engaging storytellers and honest ambassadors of their cuisine — that embody the ethos and experience we were after. And here were guests and our chefs, soaking it all up, foraging for vegetables, rolling up their sleeves for a cooking class and sitting down to eat together. A dream come true.
In the time since our Greek launch, we’ve had similar adventures of discovery wherever we go: drinking wine and making soutzioukios grape must-try sweets in Cyprus, making pizzas with the master pizzaiolo Franco Pepe in Naples; learning the art of cheese making from soulful, passionate sheep-herding multi-generational cheesemakers in Mykonos; baking bread and making phyllo pies by the sea in Paros in the Cyclades; learning local customs and cuisine at the original settlement of the Garifuna people on the island of Roatán in Honduras. The list goes on wherever we go.
Because, as I’m fond of reminding others and myself, S.A.L.T. isn’t a series of one-off food-themed cruises but an integral function of the ship and available to all on Silver Moon and Silver Dawn wherever they sail In 2023, Silver Nova also will feature the S.A.L.T program.
What’s exciting about S.A.L.T to me — and, I hope, for you too — is that it’s never the same. It’s always evolving, shaped by new itineraries and ports, informed by the chefs and producers we meet along the way as well as the experts we bring onboard for guidance.
Nothing beats learning firsthand about the food of the region from authors such as Yasmin Khan, who joined us in Cyprus timed to the release of her book “Ripe Figs,” or Nicholas Gill, the co-author of “The Latin America Cookbook” who devised classes, helped with menus and joined us for sailings in the Caribbean and Central America. We will continue to bring the world’s leading culinary voices into our trusted circle of expert guides.
And what about those revithada? We found them all over the Cyclades, and they were as amazing as promised. The single best pot of these slow-cooked wonders came from a wood oven close to the sea, at a lovely little beachside restaurant at the southern tip of the island of Paros. Thalassamou is run by husband and wife team of Marios and Anna.
Marios makes bread and giant wild-green filled phyllo pies every day in the oven. Anna tends to the tables at the water’s edge under the shade of the tamarisk trees. Like the chickpeas, the cured fish and little shrimp from Syros and pureed faves are as perfect as the laid-back welcome and the view. I scouted the place before our tour, then was eager to return with guests. When I stayed on in Paros for a short holiday break with my family, we came back twice to eat our way through the menu and swim between courses. Each time, we ordered the chickpeas, and my kids agreed they were the best we’d found anywhere on the island.
This to me is the ideal S.A.L.T. location and experience: the kind of place you’d come back to again and again, the food and stories you want to share with family and friends. These are the places and people we’re always on the lookout for and whose stories and tables we will share with you.