Jacques Pepin, one of the world’s most famous chefs and one of the few who has not previously attached his name to a restaurant, announced yesterday that he will open a signature French bistro aboard the new 1,258-passenger Oceania Cruises’ Marina when it launches late next year. The bistro, to be called Jacques, will seat approximately 80 guests and will serve Pepin’s signature dishes like pumpkin soup a l'Anglaise served in a pumpkin shell and free-range chicken cooked on a rotisserie. The hallmarks of Pepin’s cuisine are simplicity and high-quality ingredients.
The announcement was made on the rooftop terrace of Lou Hammond Associates public relations company today by Pepin himself along with Oceania Cruises’ president Bob Binder and founder Frank Del Rio. (Oceania Cruises recently ranked third in the large cruise line category in Travel + Leisure’s 2009 World’s Best Awards.)
I had the good fortune to sit with Pepin over lunch along with his wife Gloria, herself a chef and former restaurant owner. “I’ve been associated with Oceania for many years now, since the start, really, and I work with their executive chefs,” said Pepin, who was once the personal chef to Charles De Gaulle but who is known better today for his many bestselling cookbooks and TV appearances. “I will sometimes take maybe 20 passengers to the markets when we stop in port, and we’ll go shopping for fish, vegetables, whatever is good and fresh and available.”
In the new relationship with Oceania, Pepin will design the new restaurant’s menu, approve the choice of china and antique flatware, and even contribute some of his own artwork to hang on the walls. The new restaurant will be one of 10 on the Marina, six of which, including Jacques, are gourmet dining spaces.
The owners like to say the new ship is aimed at food lovers. Beyond the restaurants themselves, activities will feature a state-of-the-art “culinary studio” for cooking classes with guest chefs. Class levels will range from beginner to master chef.
Cruises on the Marina will average about 14 days long, so to give all the passengers on any given cruise an opportunity to dine at Jacques, reservations will be taken at the time of booking. There is no additional charge to dine at the specialty restaurants.
Dining in Jacques could hardly be more interesting than dining with Jacques, especially on a sunny afternoon on a rooftop terrace in Midtown Manhattan. The 73-year-old Frenchman is remarkably hardy and fit. Despite his fame he is reserved yet friendly, even to complete strangers. His pronounced Lyonnais accent is thick enough to butter a croissant, his affability and charm warm enough to heat une petite maison. And man, can he tuck into a plate of roast chicken and tournedos de saumon à la moutarde.
So when the Marina launches in late in 2010, you'll find a little corner of France in a bistro called Jacques. Just remember to make reservations when you book your cruise.
Mark Orwoll (pictured above with Jacques Pepin and his wife, Glora) is Travel + Leisure's international editor.