Gourmet Gratification: The Purposeful Pleasure of S.A.L.T.
By nature, travel engages our innate curiosity, taking us on journeys that can simultaneously elevate our understanding of a particular destination as well as its culture. But the very best travel experiences do more – they propel us to dive deep within our own personal landscape in search of connections to our shared humanity. Naturally, food is most often the doorway into a culture that also provides a view into its very soul. James Beard was certainly correct when he said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
I truly love to eat and I also love small ship luxury cruising. So I was thrilled to be aboard the Silver Moon earlier this month during its inaugural season for a 10-day voyage in the Greek Isles and Cyprus. Amid the festive celebrations for the Moon’s official naming, the season also marked the launch of Silversea’s awaited S.A.L.T., the onboard culinary program providing experiences that for many food and culture loving cruisers will be the highlight of their travels.
The brainchild of Silversea’s dynamic Chief Commercial Officer, Barbara Muckermann, the S.A.L.T. Program’s development was in response to travelers expressing interest in more immersive, encompassing experiences. As she stated, “Food is the most powerful expression of any culture. And we know that avid travelers collect experiences, not trinkets.”
Cooking up an onboard culinary program
To bring the S.A.L.T. concept to fruition, Muckermann connected with Adam Sachs, Saveur Magazine’s former editor-in-chief. Though Sachs had never cruised before, Muckermann literally brought him onboard convinced that Sachs’ in-depth culinary savior faire and worldwide food connections made him the perfect person to direct the S.A.L.T. Program and shepherd it from conception to creation. She was, of course, correct.
The S.A.L.T. Program can be appreciated by true foodies or simply those who are curious. Appreciating travel, “though the lens of food and drink is compelling if you’re an avid cook or not,” says Sachs. Foodies can have “a culinary-focused itinerary,” scheduling “multiple S.A.L.T. Lab classes, specialty shore excursions and repeat visits to S.A.L.T. Kitchen,” where the menu changes daily to reflect local destinations. However, its equally inspiring for those who enjoy “good meals and learning about the destinations” says Sachs.
One unusual but brilliant puzzle piece for the S.A.L.T. Program was Muckermann’s hiring of a food anthropologist, the only cruise line to do so. Muckermann noted, “We learned for instance that true Feta cheese while closely mimicked throughout the region with differing names, comes only from certain parts of Greece. The food anthropologist assures the dots are correctly connected between locale, food and its cultural common threads.”
The many flavors of S.A.L.T.
While enjoying great food and wines for me is nearly a religious experience, admittedly I am not a cook and only enjoy strolling and tasting items at farmers’ or foreign markets. On this voyage aboard Silver Moon, however, a culinary switch was flipped for me. This was the result of attending S.A.L.T. lectures about the connections of foods, wines and culture of the various Greek Isles and Cyprus, directly connecting those with corresponding shore excursions, dining in S.A.L.T. Kitchen and yes, even signing up for S.A.L.T. Lab experiences.
Given my cooking challenged status, it was with a bit of trepidation I went to the S.A.L.T. Lab on Greek mezze. In a gleaming, state-of-the-art circular dedicated kitchen space where all participants have a workstation and bird’s eye view of the expert du jour, and a large, flat screen for overhead perspective, I donned an apron and was transformed from an unapologetic though very appreciative eater to a debutante culinary creator. Make no mistake, this is not a traditional culinary school. It’s more of a floating island where learning about food, its impact and influence on a destination and its history reigns supreme. The something delicious was simultaneously created was the proverbial icing on the cake.
Following the second S.A.L.T. Lab on Cretan dishes, I realized that my cultural competence, comfort, and fluency would be greatly enhanced by continuing to delve into the process of cooking. Another repeat Silversea passenger, American contemporary artist Janet Davis, who also experienced S.A.L.T. Labs commented that, “The dishes were easy to prepare, beautiful to look at, and over-the-top delicious.” Ease was clearly key for me. That my husband would also be the beneficiary of these newly acquired culinary skills once I returned home, was for him, a collateral gustatory jackpot.
Bringing S.A.L.T. to shore
The S.A.L.T. Kitchen’s ‘Terrain’ menu changes daily inspired by seasonal specialties of the port. Its ‘Voyage’ menu is dedicated to honoring culinary traditions of the general region. Instrumental in putting a S.A.L.T. menu together says Sachs, “is a fascinating conversation between the Silversea’s culinary team, our talented onboard chefs and the regional experts we’ve engaged to ensure we have authentic flavors and dishes in each port we visit.”
Adding to this, the specially curated S.A.L.T. shore excursions provided yet another complementing layer to this cultural culinary travel experience. On the island of Paros for example – the largest and greenest of the Cyclades – S.A.L.T.’s shore excursion brought a dozen passengers to Thalassamou, a secluded beachfront restaurant with ethereal turquoise vistas. Here owners Anna Kouda and Marios Salmatanis displayed palpable passion as they demonstrated creating their mouthwatering Greek Mediterranean creations while allowing guests to try their hand at preparing some of these specialties. We then shared warm-from-the-oven Spanakopita, fresh fish, calamari, and an array of salads with reckless abandon while mesmerized by azure waters. This was naturally followed by several of us jumping into those pristine waters. It was hard to imagine a more perfect day.
Without doubt the S.A.L.T. Program will evolve with the addition of Silversea’s newest ship, Silver Dawn, debuting at year end. Sachs notes, “We’ll be exploring more of the world with more opportunities to expose our guests to new tastes, techniques and traditions, as well as building our roster of visiting guest chefs and lecturers.” The goal of S.A.L.T. says Sachs, “is to offer programs to satisfy true enthusiasts while giving everyone multiple ways to enrich their trip through food stories, local tastes and traditions.” That I can tell you, the S.A.L.T. Program does in spades while providing a more in-depth perspective to explore, taste and revel in what unites us rather than divides us. The incredibly successful launch of the S.A.L.T. Program is a marvelous crescendo of a perfect culinary, cultural cruising concerto. Bravo e ancora!