Food Traveler Magazine Winter 2016 - Page 80

Cuba EXPERIENCE Aboard The Adonia EMIL VEGA & THE OCEAN GRILL When award-winning chef Emil Vega was hired as a consultant by Fathom Travel to design menus featuring Dominican cuisine for the Ocean Grill, the specialty restaurant aboard the Adonia, he was thrilled to share the flavors of his homeland with American diners, but he wondered, would they go for stewed goat and spiced oxtail? Yes, they would, as it turns out. Vega was pleased at the adventurousness of the American palate, but every day presented a new challenge as he launched the menu that he describes as “fresh, seasonal and delicious.” He was assigned a talented and productive kitchen staff, but they were not accustomed to cooking Dominican food or serving Americans, so there was a lot of training. 78 FoodTraveler l Winter 2016 Before the Adonia became the flagship for Fathom Travel, it was operated by Britain’s P&O cruises, which catered to an elderly British passenger whose idea of culinary excitement was adding a dash of pepper to their bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes). Suddenly, the kitchen was expected to turn out exotic cuisine heavy on sweet cubanelle peppers, plantains, cilantro and oregano. Service was another issue. “Americans are way more demanding when it comes to service,” Vega said. I’m not saying this in a bad way. Americans set the standard, really.” Those bumps in the road have been smoothed out, and the restaurant has been booked with passengers eager to try this unique island cuisine that is an eclectic mix of Span- ish, Taino Indian and African influences. Pescado con coco, fish in coconut sauce, is a favorite. Vega’s version of this dish starts with the traditional filet of red snapper, but he adds another flavor dimension with briny clams and plump prawns – more of a seafood extravaganza than a humble fish dish. It took a lot of trial and error to adapt his recipes to cruise ship dining, and the process could be frustrating at times. Vega was accustomed to specific cooking utensils and ingredients that weren’t always available on the ship, but it all came together in the end, and he said the experience was rewarding. “It’s an honor to have people try Dominican gastronomy, and I’m so pleased to have this opportunity,” Vega said.