Burt Wolf's Menu: On the Royal Viking Sun - #118

They are the ultimate marriage of luxury, comfort and technology -- the great cruise ships of the sea.  And the Royal Viking Sun is a perfect example of the class.  It’s the place to look at the history of these magnificent vessels... to find out what great ocean passages are really all about... and to get the recipes that have made the Royal Viking chefs famous.  So join me on the Royal Viking Sun for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

The great oceanliner is the largest moving object on our planet. The old Queen Mary was almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall. They are an amazing display of artistic and technological skills.  The first ship that could really be called an oceanliner was named The City of New York and it was launched in 1893. The hull was made of steel instead of wood and complex steam engines provided the power instead of sails.  These turn-of-the-century ships had many of the comforts that we now associate with modern oceanliners... large public rooms for entertaining... electric power... elevators... and excellent food.  In 1907 the Mauritania came on line and set a new standard of luxury. The objective of the companies that built these ships was to create an environment of great opulence. To make the passenger feel that he or she was in the most elegant surroundings. They also did everything possible to keep their guests from remembering that they were on a ship.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the most important technological breakthroughs in the history of the ocean liner was the introduction of the oil-powered turbo engine. Before then, ships used coal.  And as they burned up coal on their voyage, they got lighter and lighter. By the time they reached their destination, they’d be bobbing around like a cork. Not too comfortable for the passengers.  With the oil burners, they were able to replace the burned oil with ocean water.  That kept the ship heavy and gave the passengers a much nicer ride.  When one of these ships did their job properly, the passengers felt that they had just spent a week or two at the home of an extremely wealthy nobleman.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR:  Its grand foyer and main dining hall rival the decorative splendor of a palace.  One thousand feet long, weighing eigthy thousand gross tons, the ship posted artistic murals created by France’s greatest painters.

By the early twenties, exercise had become an important part of the ships’ services. There was a Promenade Deck for long walks. A swimming pool. A fully equipped gym. Some ships had squash courts, steam baths and saunas. One vessel actually had a tennis court, and the game of miniature golf?  It was invented for oceanliners.  During the 1930's the Italian Line introduced the Lido Deck, an outdoor sports area with a swimming pool. The Italian ships used the southern route to cross the Atlantic and could take advantage of the warmer weather.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  But of all of the comforts associated with the great oceanliners, the most important were those that dealt with eating and drinking. Food has always had the ability to be more than just physical nourishment for the body. Food can be a symbol of wealth. It can be a source of emotional comfort. It can be a distraction or an entertainment.  And there’s a considerable amount of scientific evidence that indicates that just eating can reduce fear. And the great oceanliners?  They used food and wine for all of the above.

The first liners had dining rooms with long tables and swivel chairs that were bolted to the floor. By the early 20's there were sumptuous dining salons with free-standing chairs and extraordinary staircases that gave guests the opportunity to make a grand entrance. ... The Hamburg-American Line even went so far as to reproduce London's chic Ritz-Carlton Hotel restaurant right on board their ships. Cunard introduced the Verandah Cafe, designed to look like the front porch of a great hotel.  It was located at the rear of the ship and had potted palms and wicker furniture. And almost anything that a guest might want to eat or drink was stocked onboard.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  However, by the 1950's, the airlines had pretty much taken over the passenger traffic and it looked like the oceanliner was about to become extinct... kind of a man-made dinosaur of the sea.  Ahhh, not so fast, sports-fans.  Once again, love conquers all. Only this time love came in the form of a television show, a television show called The Love Boat.  The Love Boat gave millions of people all over the world an opportunity to see how much fun they could have on a cruise.  There was also a change in the way people wanted to spend their leisure time. Lots of people had more time and more money, and wanted to take a few weeks in a more leisurely way. And so the oceanliner became transformed into the cruise ship.

These days, just about the most perfect example of what a cruise ship can really be is the Royal Viking Sun. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Royal Viking Line was formed in 1970 by three well-known Norwegian shipping companies. From the very beginning, it was conceived of as a cruise line, designed to bring people around the world in an state of extraordinary luxury. And to tell you the truth, they must be doing something very, very well, because on any Viking cruise, over half the passengers are repeat customers.

The ship that I am on today is the Royal Viking Sun. It's 673 feet long, 95 feet wide, and it was launched in 1988. It's interesting to see how the oceanliner standards for luxury have remained in place.  The ship has four elevators. Only these days they have glass walls so you can have a panormaic view during the ride.  There’s a casino...

BURT WOLF:   Wealth beyond my wildest dreams!

The spa has a lap pool, an exercise area, a massage room, and a beauty salon.

STYLIST:  ...and above the ears?

BURT WOLF:   It could be above the ears, below the ears; the beard is below the ears, I like that, that’s good hair, too...

STYLIST:  That’s good too.

There are two wind-sheltered pools with heated salt water, a pool with a swim-up bar, and a whirlpool.  Of course, there is a shuffleboard court, but there is also a croquet court and a spot for trapshooting.  The miniature golf course has given way to a practice area and a computerized golf simulator. And you can also play quoits and table tennis.  They even have a classic smoking room with a wood-burning fireplace, and a television camera so the captain can make sure the fire is burning properly.  In spite of the fact that the Coast Guard approved the fireplace in the plans, they later changed their mind, and these days the only thing that burns in here is a good cigar.  Every stateroom has a television set, a radio and a video cassette player. The captain has honored me during my visit by playing some of my old shows on the central system. Good man.  There are always seminars and lectures for the passengers to enjoy.  This one’s on wine tasting.

WINE EXPERT:  Is it sweet, is it not sweet?  When you see the color, very pale color, and when you see there is no viscosity by swirling the glass gently.  On the glass it has to be dry.  You know just by sight this is a white dry wine.  It’s a young vintage, yeah, it’s ‘89, I would have said ‘89 or ‘90.  It’s still a little bit oaky.  You don’t have to be very clever; you have to know a little bit about wine, but as I told you the other day, to have a good memory -- taste and taste and taste and remember.

When it comes to places to eat, the choice is awesome. The Royal Viking Dining Room can accommodate all 750 passengers at one seating. But I doubt whether that happens very often, because you can also dine at the Royal Grill.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Royal Grill has a program where they invite world-famous chefs to come onboard and prepare their signature dishes.  They also like to do recipes associated with the areas in which they’re sailing. When they are off the coast of Italy they do Italian food, when they’re off the coast of China, they do Chinese food. When they’re off the coast of California, near President Reagan’s house, ketchup becomes the vegetable of the day. Just joking.

There's a Garden Cafe for a luncheon buffet, which always includes a freshly baked pizza. Interesting... pizza has become a universal food... thanks to traveling Americans.

BURT WOLF:  Thousand Island Dressing.  I’m working on a new recipe for that; it only has five hundred islands and half the calories. 

There’s a Wine Bar that serves top wines by the glass.  The ship has more good places to eat than most cities... quite amazing. Each day, the chefs on the Royal Viking Sun whip up dinner for just over a thousand people. They also whip up the same number of breakfasts and lunches. Plus a midnight snack. For their annual 103-day around the world cruise they do some rather heavy shopping... 130,000 eggs... 15,000 pounds of beef... 3,300 pounds of shrimp... 600 tons of fruits and vegetables and get this... 900 pounds of chocolate. And since they must do their shopping every week in different cities all over the planet, they end up with some complex logistical problems. Everything that is dry is fairly easy. But fresh products are much more difficult to handle. They use a very sophisticated computer system to estimate their needs and plan the purchasing months ahead. And they try to take advantage of what is going to be in season when they eventually get to a particular port. Johannes Lindthaler was particularly impressive. He’s a Food and Beverage Manager, but his skills with a computer is right out of Star Wars. He and his associates have designed programs that bring in fresh fish from vendors, all over the world, just when the ship needs it.  They even control the flight of lobsters from Maine... and I thought they only swam.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   So next time I make dinner for my three sons and their girlfriends... no complaints.

The Royal Viking Sun, following the tradition of the great oceanliners, places considerable importance on the quality of its food. But they have also set up a program to take advantage of the fact that their kitchen travels around the world. When the ship gets to a port where there is a talented chef with a well-respected restaurant, that chef is invited on board to teach. An example of the program is this Chicken Cacciatore, prepared by the ship’s executive chef, Manfred Jaud.  A little oil and a little butter go into a saute pan.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There are lots of recipes that start off with the chef putting oil into the saute pan and then adding butter.  The reason for that is, the chef wants the flavor of the butter, but butter burns at a very low temperature.  So he adds the oil to raise the cooking temperature, and also the oil keeps things from sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

Two boneless, skinless, chicken breasts that have been cut up into half-inch wide strips go in, and saute for about three minutes.  At which point they are removed from the pan and strained of the cooking fat.  A little butter goes into the pan... some chopped onion... mushrooms... sliced stuffed olives, both green and black... a tomato... a few pickled onions... red wine and pre- prepared gravy.  Everything cooks down for about 5 minutes to thicken up... then the chicken goes back into the sauce, and it's ready to be plated. Strips of potato that have been cooked into a pancake go on first... then the chicken and finally a few vegetables.

The coastline of Portugal -- with a monument that celebrates this country’s historic relationship to the sea. For hundreds of years, the Portuguese have been some of the world’s greatest navigators and mapmakers.  They sailed around the globe and charted the oceans.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Even though Columbus set sail on Spanish ships with Spanish sponsorship, he got most of his navigational information in maps from the Portuguese. It also appears that the Portuguese knew about the New World long before Columbus. For decades, their boats had been crossing the Atlantic and fishing off the coast of Canada. They just never told anybody because they didn't want any competition in the business.  Basically they had a choice between  big reputation and big bucks.  And they went for the bucks.  In those days, navigation at sea was basically a hit or miss affair.  You usually missed what you were heading to and hit something you couldn't see.

These days, however, a oceanliner like this has state-of-the-art technology that tells the crew exactly where they are, literally minute to minute.

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  The navigation system on this ship works on satellite navigation which is so accurate and it gives such a good position that if you could move the antenna up on the top a foot, it shows up on the screen.

BURT WOLF:   GPS are satellites that are up there and our computer talks to their computer?

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  Yes, yes.  There is a communication between the ship and the satellite and they, and they give us the position.

BURT WOLF:   That’s the Global Positioning System?

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM: That’s the Global Positioning System, and you know, you can buy these small hand-held sets today and you can move around...

BURT WOLF:   (over)  Oh, that’s right!  And you know where you are.  I’m in the bedroom, I’m in the living room, I’m on my way to the shower now... it’s important to know these things.  If you get old, you get lost...

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  We’re right here. 

BURT WOLF:   Right...

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  And the screen on this radar is like a map; you have north, east, south and west.  And we’re heading almost due north.  These are ships.  As you can see, they have a line, and this line is made by the computer.  And the line tells me that these two ships are heading approximately in the same direction as we are, while these two ships up here are heading south.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, you really can see it visually very quickly.

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  You can see the speed, the course, where they’re heading. 

BURT WOLF:   And these little lines over here?

CAPTAIN OLA HERSHEIM:  These are rainclouds, and these small targets here in the center, they’re swells from the ocean.

BURT WOLF:   What a swell piece of equipment!

In 1991, the Royal Viking Line started an interesting program. They formed an association with Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and began to bring professors on board to speak to the passengers about the places that their ships were visiting.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  All of the Royal Viking Line cruises are now accompanied by one or two faculty members that have been appointed by Georgetown University. They are experts in various subjects that relate to the lands that the ship is heading to.  And in the days before the ship reaches port, they educate the passengers as to those subjects.  So when they head to land, they know what’s going on.

Today’s lecture is on geography... and the on-board expert for the subject is Professor Charles Sargent.

CHARLES SARGENT:  Geographers study today what they’ve always studied, but in a different way.  They study the relationship of man to land, of people to their, their landscape.  Today geography is a lot more involved than that.  We have geographers who study the physical environment itself, climate change, heat islands, environmental pollution; things of this nature are all parts of what the physical geographer deals with.  The other half of geography, the, sort of the man/land relationship, the “man” side of that relationship, looks at people themselves:  their institutions, their inventions, their customs.  The urban scene is a very major core of geography today.  So there are many geographers looking at various elements of, of the city around the world.

BURT WOLF:   You’ve also looked at geography in terms of food.

CHARLES SARGENT:  Yes, I used to teach a class, “The Geography of Food and Drink,” and it’s a marvelous way to teach students about simple principles of diffusion, movement and so on.  Fascinating story.

BURT WOLF:   As I look at the history of the way people eat, I see this trend toward isolation.  We get further and further away from each other and from our food.  We used to sit on long benches together.  Now we each sit on individual chairs.  It used to be that a big pot came to the table and we all reached in with our hands and ate it.  Now we each get our individual plates.  We don’t even have it come to the table in a big plate and serve it to our plates; we bring our individual plates from the kitchen.  We used to touch our food.  Now we have knives and forks and spoons between us and the food.  A real movement away, a kind of isolation from each other and from our food.

CHARLES SARGENT:  On the other hand, the food keeps coming to us from everywhere.  And so you can go to a place, any major metropolitan area and you have food from Place A, B, C country, from China, from, from Vietnam, from Italy.  The tomato, after all -- a New World domesticate.  It had to sort of make its way over to Italy before there could be pizza.  And then pizza had to make its way back here, and I think essentially since World War II when G.I.s brought it back.  So I guess my view would be, is that, while we may eat at separate tables, in fact, of course, the world of food is coming to us, and it’s much more a heaped table with a tremendous variety of things.  And that theme of food gets us into the whole basic story in human geography of plant and animal domestication.  And so that is an absolutely fantastic story that geographers deal with, too.

BURT WOLF:   We seem to be narrowing the number of foods we eat in terms of the variety within a particular type -- the number of potatoes, or the number of apples that are available.

CHARLES SARGENT:  But you know, if we go back, if we think back in time, in the Middle Ages, people living in a medieval village, the fields were one element of their food chain, the waters were another.  And those waters had frogs and snakes and eels and fish, and it was a tremendously broad bounty.  And I think you’re absolutely right -- we’re restricting ourselves very much, down from this breadth down to a very narrow range of foods.

BURT WOLF:   I think that’s going to change with young chefs.  They’re demanding greater and greater variety within any type of food.

CHARLES SARGENT:  Because they’re very tasty and very remarkable foods. ... This is a pretty nice campus.  You can’t walk very far across it, it’s a long, narrow campus, but a very nice one, this ship.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  These days we are sailing off the coast of Portugal, and it is Portugal that spread peanut cultivation around the world.

The peanut probably got its start in South America. Peanut seeds have been found in the ancient tribal tombs of Peru, and the Incas cultivated the plant as part of their regular diet.  The early European explorers first saw them in Haiti and Mexico, and Cortez and Columbus brought them back to Spain and Portugal. The peanuts that go to make things like peanut butter are actually not nuts like almonds or walnuts; they’re legumes like lentils and peas -- which is why we call it a “pea” nut.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  They’re very high in protein, they also contain thiamine, niacin, iron, magnesium and folic acid.  And they’re a great source of dietary fiber.

Almost every home in America has a jar of peanut butter, and the average American eats 3.3 pounds of peanut butter each year.  Today the pastry chef on board the Royal Viking Sun is making a batch of peanut butter cookies that are going to be served at afternoon tea.  That service, of course, is dependent on my camera crew leaving some for the passengers.  The batter is made by softening sixteen ounces of butter in a mixing bowl and then whisking in one and a half cups of sugar, one and a half cups of peanut butter (creamy or chunky, your call), and finally, three cups of flour.  When that is fully combined, the chef scoops out golfball-sized portions and puts them onto a parchment-covered baking sheet.  Then a sheet of parchment paper is placed on top, and the cookies are flattened out.  Into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for fifteen minutes, and when they come out, they’re allowed to cool -- at which point they are ready to eat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the great joys of sailing around the world like this is you get to stop in cities all over the planet and shop.  But shopping may be more complicated than you expect.  So to make sure you get the most for your money, Royal Viking has a shopping expert who will teach you how to do this properly.  What do I need to know?

CAROLE KLEIN:  There are definite techniques for negotiating, when a price is not fixed.  And for a lot of us, the expression on our face gives ourselves away that you love something and can’t live without it.  So you have to use your best acting ability to conceal your true desire if there’s something that spots your eye right off the bat.  And for good negotiating, you should not have your eye draw attention to that item, but instead, look at something else.  Ask the price of that, then maybe of another item; then maybe the third item you ask the price of will be the one true thing you can’t live without.  And if you act like you don’t really want it, generally the price will come down in the negotiating process.  So there’s a whole psychology to, to bargain shopping here.

The Russian city of St. Petersbourg: a major port. Paintings from the 1700's show docks and trading houses along the waterfront. An interesting stop for the Royal Viking Sun during its round the world cruise. And an ideal spot for its chef, Manfred Jaud, to brush up on his Russian recipes... like Beef Stroganoff.  A little oil goes into a saute pan... a little butter... and a pound of tenderloin of beef cut into strips about a half inch thick. The beef cooks for about 5 minutes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  What the chef is doing is called sautéing.  It means to cook something in an open pan with a little bit of butter or oil.  It’s a French word, and it means “to jump.”  And when you’re sauteing a food properly, it’s jumpin’ in the pan. 

The cooked meat is removed from the pan and drained of the cooking oil.  A little butter goes into the pan... some chopped onion... a few sliced mushrooms... paprika... cognac... prepared gravy... a little mustard and some sour cream.  The beef is returned to the pan.  Everything heats up and it's ready to plate.  Noodles... a few steamed vegetables... the beef... and a little garnish.  A favorite of Chef Jaud, and of the passengers too, is this dish of baked fish with a tomato crust.  A little vegetable oil is heated in a frying pan.  Then in goes a fillet of fish.  That cooks on one side for two minutes, then flips over and cooks on the other side for two minutes more.  A mixture goes on top that is made by cooking together chopped tomato, onion, mushrooms and parsley.  A topping for the tomato layer is made by combining a few tablespoons of butter, an equal amount of bread crumbs, a little Gruyere cheese, thyme and chives.  That’s piped on top.  The crusted fish goes into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for fifteen minutes.  While the fish is cooking, a sauce is made.  Vegetable oil is heated in a frying pan, chopped onions are added, chopped tomato, a little of the tomato juices, salt, pepper, some fresh basil, and some fresh parsley.  That cooks for a few minutes and goes onto the serving plate.  The fish goes on top of the sauce, and then a garnish of grilled vegetables.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well, that’s the Royal Viking Sun.  Please join us next time as we wander around the world looking for good things to eat.  I’m Burt Wolf.