Culinary Cruising: Power Struggle

Marisol, the author of The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan, a sensual, romantic novel that comes complete with recipes, has left landlocked Denver for a stint as a celebrity chef. She's sending daily missives from her temporary home: a cruise ship.

Day Four: Civitavecchia-Rome, Italy

Ship entertainers are on when the ship is at sea. Of course! No one would come to see you when you’re competing with Rome! So as we sail toward Civitavecchia (45 miles from Rome and the maritime engine of the Lazio region), I’m hosting my first culinary demonstration: Pollo alla Diavola (Deviled Chicken), a Tuscan tradition.

There is (and will be again and again and a third time) a little problem that no one had mentioned when I said, “Yes, I’ll be the celebrity chef on board.” Ladies and gentlemen, the kitchen doesn’t work when the ship’s at sea. The power in the invection burners goes off. At random. Invection cooking is a complicated matter. Translation: no gas, no electricity. You’d do much better cooking under a match!

It also means no cast-iron, which is what is required for my Pollo alla Diavola recipe. But this is for healthy/safety reasons, unrelated to the heat-conduction problem. No wooden spoons, either! I’m thinking of throwing a celebrity tantrum, one of those eccentric things you read about in People magazine. But I tell myself, “You’re a professional. You’re not Britney Spears, so chill!”

The culinary center seats a few hundred people. From behind the blue velvet curtain, I can see that every seat is taken. Ayyyyyy. The kitchen doesn’t work!!! The ship’s chef is used to this -- but he doesn’t like it. He isn’t any happier than I am.

I put my microphone on mute and whisper to him, “Fix it, while I entertain them!” And I do my best to take the audience back to Roman times, to the Medici, to the Renaissance, to life in Tuscany…to following a chicken around a beautiful farm under the Tuscan sun… to shopping in Rome (when we get there) to…my family in Venezuela…. “Is the burner on yet?” The chef shakes his head. What to do? Think. Think!

I grab one of the knives and start casually chopping some peppers that were for something else, and as I chop I ask the 200 people in the audience if anyone has heard of Chicken Tartare. Confused looks and whispers. A lady in the front row says, “I thought raw chicken was bad for you…”

“Not in Japan!” I say. The Wajang Culinary Center on the MS Rotterdam is awash in laughter.

Eventually, the burner comes on -- but only long enough for me to cook to the top of the chicken. The bottom is raw but you can’t see that on the giant TV screen. It looks crispy, as it should! God bless plasma!

In my mind, I thank my history teacher and my lucky stars that this is only a demo (not a class), and that no one will have to eat the Pollo Tartare. And I thought that baking in Denver at high altitude was as bad as things could get for a chef!

That night, I stay up wondering what I’ll do the next day when I DO have to teach a class and we WILL have to eat the food. Sushi, I keep thinking. Change the menu to Sushi! -- Marisol

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun