"You get to see all the flavors and textures changing as you head deeper into the Mediterranean."
Our Storyteller: Graeme Cockburn
Corporate Executive Chef
Graeme Cockburn’s illustrious career includes turns at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel, the Royal Scotsman train, and Pompadour Restaurant in Edinburgh, which was named Scotland’s top restaurant during his tenure. Graeme trained under the Michelin-starred tutelage of Michel Guerard and Michel Roux, although his greatest inspiration was watching his grandmother cook while growing up in Perthshire. “During (World War II) she needed to be very thrifty, so making the most of basic local ingredients was key,” he says. Graeme uses that same philosophy while planning menus for Windstar’s fleet, giving his chefs license to create new dishes from whatever fresh produce they pick up in port. He also has been instrumental in the cruise line’s collaboration with the James Beard Foundation. When he’s not traveling the globe overseeing operations onboard the ships, you likely will find Graeme back in Scotland, whipping up something new from whatever he can find his kitchen.
Bordeaux has some of the best markets in Europe, claims Graeme Cockburn, and depending on the day of the week, there’s one right along the quay where your yacht docks. “I can spend two, three hours just walking those few hundred yards, tasting the local delicacies,” says Windstar’s Executive Chef, who also spends time searching out what he calls the city’s “backstreet restaurants” that only serve a dozen or so people per meal. “These boutique places are really cooking off the cuff,” he elaborates, “creating menus from whatever comes in fresh that day, bringing in different flavors. They expose you to the French thought process about food.” So, how do the French view food? Graeme sums it up in a word: “Life. Their life is all about good food, a nice glass of wine, family and friends … It’s just a completely different culture.”
That cultural shift is experienced each day of this culinary-focused voyage, from tasting crisp ciders in Honfleur and freshly shucked oysters on Belle Ile, to pintxos (Basque tapas) hopping around Bilboa’s Old Town and enjoying a smoky, decades-old port or spicy chouriço sausage in Porto. “You get to see all the flavors and textures changing as you head deeper into the Mediterranean,” says the chef. Back on board, Windstar guests enjoy what the ship’s chef bought in port that day, creating a sense of continuity that lasts long after the cruise ends. “It’s all in the memory,” says Graeme. “Those culinary experiences are captured in the brain. You’ll always come back to those memories.”
Visit Frank Gehry’s curvaceous Guggenheim Museum or join a pintxos cooking class in Bilbao — “The city’s Plaza Nueva area is a great spot for Basque tapas hopping, and oenophiles should make a pilgrimage to Haro, capital of the Rioja wine-growing region, home to more than 500 bodegas (wineries)”
Take advantage of an overnight in Bordeaux to visit Saint-Émilion’s sprawling chateaux and experience the local nightlife — Graeme recommends grabbing a table outside, ordering a great French beer or wine, and “enjoying the ambiance, all the different nationalities together having a good time … The food just brings it all together”
Taste fresh Breton oysters in Le Palais — “Brittany’s flat oysters are some of the best in the world! Enjoy a plate with a nice, dry Muscadet”
Spend an extra night in Lisbon to sample the popular bacalhau (salted cod) and perhaps visit the scenic mountain village of Sintra — “Stop by the Piriquita café for their melt-in-your-mouth travesseiros (puff pastries)”