There is nowhere to hide at a cooking school at sea, writes Louise Goldsbury.
Chef is on the verge of a Gordon Ramsay moment. A missing ingredient threatens to turn her Turkish dish into a turkey.
"Where's the cumin?" she questions her assistants.
"Coming, chef," one replies.
"Where are my tongs?" she hollers across the kitchen.
"Behind you, chef."
Three 21-year-olds in white hats scoot around skittishly, delivering her spices and utensils while setting up the workstations.
Twenty women and four men are huddled around the steaming stove top, studying the demonstration. In a few minutes, working in pairs, we will have to replicate these kofte kebabs. My friend Craig confesses he's not much of a cook, which is something we have in common.
First, we try to chop the parsley in that fast, nifty way you see on television. Fail. Then we try to roll the mince into oval balls, but they fall apart on the grill. Chef will not be happy. She comes around to each station, complimenting all the teacher's pets, until she reaches the class clowns. "You probably need to chop up the bread chunks more finely," she suggests kindly. We hadn't chopped them at all.
Our attempt to create a thin piece of pita ends up looking like stretched chewing gum. The zucchini fritters are in tatters, the pastry dome is doomed, and the chicken pilaf filling is a failure. We do, however, nail the fava bean salad, which requires no cooking.
If this was My Kitchen Rules, we would have been sent home at the first commercial break. But there's nowhere to hide as we're on Oceania Marina, at sea between Hobart and Melbourne. Luckily, it has some of the best restaurants of any cruise ship I've sailed on, so we won't go hungry for long.
Oceania Cruises is one of the few lines that runs a hands-on cooking school at sea. No matter what your level of expertise, it's a fun way to participate in the gourmet experience. Marina's culinary studio is set up with 12 induction cooktops, with two passengers per station, and the atmosphere is lively. Classes consistently sell out several weeks before departure.
The less adept may prefer to dine in the ship's award-winning restaurants, such as Jacques, created by celebrity chef Jacques Pepin. Signature dishes include pumpkin soup served from a carved-out pumpkin shell, rotisserie chicken and traditional French entrees of snails, frogs legs, foie gras and souffle.
The ship's other excellent venues include the Polo Grill steakhouse, the funky pan-Asian Red Ginger, and Toscana, where each detail is meticulously covered. Surcharges are incurred for the multiple-course wine-pairing dinners at La Reserve and the private Chef's Table.
The writer was a guest of Oceania Cruises.
Oceania Cruises operates the only cooking school at sea with hands-on instruction. Classes are taught by master chefs in the ship's Bon Appetit Culinary Centre. This year's themes include Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Latin, Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, Portuguese, brunch, burgers, crepes and desserts. The cost is $US69 ($76) a person.
The 1258-passenger Marina and 684-passenger Insignia cruise around the world including Australia and the South Pacific. Departing May 16, 2015, Insignia sails from Sydney to Papeete (Tahiti) via New Zealand, Tonga, Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Fares from $4890 a person twin-share.