My mom and I were the last to arrive to the James Beard Luncheon, unintentionally. Between traffic and the construction redirecting the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance, we were nervous that we’d miss out on so much. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to snatch a few hors d’ oeuvres, like this beautiful shrimp cocktail, with that perfect snap. Each one had been perched up and garnished with herbs.

shrimp cocktail

I was busy trying to snap pictures but the waiters seemed to be rushing off with the trays. My mom grabbed a toothpick stack of roasted vegetables, fresh and juicy.

roasted veggies

Before everyone was led to the dining room, Chef Jean Marie Zimmermann was presented where he said, “it is every chefs dream to cook for The James Beard Foundation…” That brought back memories of the time I assisted Pastry Chef Jehangir Mehta at The James Beard House, back when I was a culinary student. It was such an experience just to be a helper there, laying out rows of plates, feeling a part of the culinary scene. Fast forward past various hops around the industry to roughly one year ago, I had said to Lon, one day I hope I get invited to a James Beard Foundation event as a writer…and here I was, standing there, having been invited, standing with Chefs and all these people from The James Beard Foundation. (Picture below provided by Golin Harris.)

Susan Unger and Chef Zimmermann

Susan Unger and Chef Zimmermann

My first event (from the press side) was everything I could have imagined. This was a historic event, the first ever for The James Beard Foundation on a cruise liner and this was Cunard‘s Queen Mary 2, a beautiful ship with seven kitchens, big kitchens!

I got to speak with Chef Zimmermann twice and he was so interesting. I asked him about the major differences between being a chef on a cruise ship vs. a chef at a restaurant. I was assuming he’d tell me about operational differences, but he brought up great points I didn’t think of:

  • Unlike a restaurant, the cruise ship and the dining rooms are always full. They don’t have to worry about whether they will have diners each evening.
  • Because the staff all live on the cruise ship, he doesn’t have to worry about staff not showing up (which happens a lot at restaurants) and people are seldom late. Beyond that, they have very low turn-over. He says the kitchen staff are generally happy with their jobs and many have been there for several years.
  • One challenge is that cruise work is 7 days per week. You won’t get a full day off for months.
  • Cruises attract an international crowd and people often want the food that they are used to. It’s hard to please everyone but that’s what they have to do, so they employ chefs from all over the world.


When it was time to get seated in the dining room, I was honored to be seated with Susan Unger and Mitchell Davis (president and vice president of The James Beard Foundation), Nate (Mitchell’s partner), Gabriella Gershenson (Eat Out Editor of TIme Out New York), Lizz Kuehl (photographer for Time Out New York), and Jamie and Nigem (publicists from Golin Haris). In my eyes, these people are bigger stars than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but after I calmed down a bit, I had such great conversations about food with them. They were all such wonderful people that I wanted to learn so much from. I wished the meal would never end. (Hint: some interviews will be coming soon!)

And finally, the meal.

Two pieces of toast, one whole wheat, one with cheese, was waiting for us.

cheese toast

We started right off with a Lobster and Caviar Cocktail. Just the sight of this dish makes you feel rich, seriously, I imagined myself with pearls and a white suit on. (I’m not sure that would actually look good on me…) I’m not a fan of the lobster meat from the thinner, pincher part of the claw (is there a term for those?) but there was some perfectly cooked chunks on the bottom beneath two creamy mousses. One was a light avocado, the other I actually don’t remember, but my focus was drawn to the generous amount of caviar. This was paired with Perrier-Jouet Champagne.

Lobster and Caviar Cocktail

A basket of fresh bread was brought by. I chose two out of the four, a whole wheat sesame and a cheese bun.

wheat bread and cheese bread

Our next course, Jerusalem Artichoke & White Truffle Veloute was rich and flavorful, but it was luke warm, which didn’t sit right with me. It might have been intentional so that the egg yolk did not over cook and that was really the star of the dish. It looked raw so I thought my spoon would pierce it and all the wonderful golden ooze would swirl into the soup. Turns out, looks are deceiving; it was actually slow-cooked, so evenly that the whole thing was just a super soft pillow, like spooning up mashed potato laid by a Burford Brown Hen. This was paired with Saint Veran Roger Luquet Chardonnay 2005.

Jeruselum Artichoke & White Truffle Veloute 2

Before the next course, I was brought to the kitchen to watch their smooth operation and observe the cleanest kitchen I had ever seen. To make food of this caliber for this size was astounding. I think it was something like 150 cooks and chefs worked on this James Beard Luncheon.

When I returned to the table, a beautiful plate awaited me. The Roasted Tenderloin of Veal was cooked perfectly and beautifully stuffed with a morel, but my mom and I didn’t feel like the meat itself had any flavor. The demi-glace was needed with every bite and it did help. It was just a garnish but I like the detail of the herb pressed between phyllo. (Mental note: must copy that one!)

Roasted Tenderloin of Veal

The scallop was seared perfectly. I could have eaten several more, but I was not a fan of the molded (perhaps with gelatin) mousseline. It was essentially creamy, seafood-y jello. Eek. My mom didn’t care for the Celeriac and Boston Bibb underneath, where I was indifferent; I did enjoy the spiced oil that also added a nice splash of color. I declined the red wine that was paired, a Marques de Murrieta Rioja 2000.

Veal, Scallops, and Mousseline

My favorite course was the dessert. First, the Espresso Semi-Fredo with Sabayon and Marsala Jelly, expertly architected with a European’s level of sugar (read: not overly sweet), varying textures and temperatures. It was just fun to eat. This was paired with Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2005, which was wonderful. It smelled like a passion fruit pate de fruits.

Sabayon, Espresso Semi-Fredo and Marsala Jelly 3

Then the friandises, usually so cute and pleasing to see and not particularly exciting taste-wise, were, in this case, both pretty and delicious. One was like a tender coconut brownie bite, another a smooth mousse, the triangle was a super rich truffle with nuts. I should’ve just tried the last one, but I was so full and already the little piggy of the table.


This meal was prepared especially for The James Beard Foundation so I don’t know what the meals are like as a passenger on the this ship.  As a Beard luncheon guest, I was impressed by the level of skill they showed, particularly with cooking everything to the correct doneness. At times I thought things were under-seasoned and some dishes were not perfect, but plating and the level of difficulty were on par with a fancy restaurant. I am certainly now curious about sailing with Cunard and hoping to be invited to many more James Beard events.

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