Celebrity chef Luke Nguyen will open a restaurant on a cruise ship sailing Russia's Volga River.
French-Vietnamese dishes – with the emphasis on French – will be served at the 50-seat Indochine by Luke Nyugen aboard Anastasia, a 100-cabin ship to begin operations in May 2015.
Australian travel company APT announced the new ship - under reconstruction in Russia - and restaurant in Europe with Nguyen present.
Anastasia will ply the Volga River between Moscow and St Petersburg. Each journey will be 13 nights with three nights moored in each city at either end.
"The food will be more French than Vietnamese," says Nguyen who operates Red Lantern restaurants in Sydney and whose latest TV show, Luke Nguyen's France, begins on SBS later this month.
"You don't want to go to Europe and eat Vietnamese food but there will be influences," says the chef who likes to tell the story of how he was "pretty much born on a refugee boat out of Thailand," after his family fled Vietnam.
He is consulting on designs for the new Indochine restaurant, and kitchen, saying it, and the whole ship, will be "very boutique, very design driven. Top of the line." He will soon begin research in the Russian cities, saying: "I know there's very good produce there." The ship's other dining options will include a caviar and champagne bar.
Nguyen – who will accompany one Russian cruise annually - began working with the privately-owned APT group about three years ago. His involvement with tourism was by accident.
In the early days, he would close Red Lantern in Surry Hills for a month each year to visit Vietnam for his own food research and recreation. Regular diners would ask to accompany or meet him there. These casual arrangements became organised tours then APT asked if he would work with them on its Asia cruise program, doing onboard cooking classes and accompanying groups to markets and special destinations twice yearly in Vietnam.
And Russia? "There are long, historic links between Vietnam and Russian," says Nyugen.
Russia was one of Vietnam's strongest allies before, during and after the Vietnam War. "My family were French speakers but many Vietnamese were educated in Russia and speak fluent Russian to this day," he says.
River cruising is tourism's great boom area. APT – which has transformed from a coach firm to a company offering cruise and combined cruise-coach-train journeys – will soon operate 30 river ships with four more vessels coming into service in the next two years.
Its latest, AmaReina, christened last week and built at a cost of 25 million euros ($36 million), will ply the River Danube on 15 day cruises between Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Budapest, Hungary.
"Russia has been a fantastic success so far," says APT chief executive Chris Hall. "But this (Anastasia) will be the first luxury (river) experience in Russia. Until now, it has been very difficult for all operators." The ship is currently being stripped to its hull and rebuilt.
The newly built ship will also enable the company to organise seven departures in 2015 to coincide with the Golden Eagle trans-Siberian express train.
The writer was a guest of APT Cruising.