A cooking class in a ship’s galley with a well-known chef while on board a cruise ship…how much fun would that be? It was definitely one of the highlights of our Savor Your Destination culinary cruise in December 2011, featuring guest chef Dena Marino, on board the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse.
This hands-on cooking class and lunch at Murano, one of the specialty restaurants on the Eclipse, was one of the many culinary events we attended during our week long culinary cruise with Celebrity Cruises. While some of the participants in our class were quite adept in the galley, others were there to just enjoy the great food and wine and have some fun. Assisted by Executive Sous Chef, Olivier Trividic from France, the experience was not only fun, but educational as well.
We were also able to spend time with Chef Marino on board the ship to discuss her culinary philosophy and her next exciting business venture. You can read more about her career history at the bottom of the article.
Chef Marino, with her bubbly personality and passion for cooking combined with tons of energy, was the perfect host to instruct our cooking class. Our lunch menu reflected her philosophy and style of cooking; “Modern Italian Cuisine”, which combines the freshest ingredients with Old World techniques. This style of cooking originates from her Italian roots and cooking with family, but it is also inspired by her early career experience working alongside Chef Michael Chiarello as Sous Chef at Tra Vigne in Napa Valley. Modern Italian Cuisine will also be the concept at her new restaurant in the Miami Design District, MC Kitchen (opening March 2012).
Marino prefers “cooking in the seasons” to “Farm to Table” and says she is truly a seasonal chef. She said, “This is not a new concept and cooking is supposed to be this way. I am sure you heard the same comment from John Besh.” She is correct. In our discussions with John Besh, he made a point that local and seasonal ingredients should be the focus and that it is about time that chefs are embracing this style of cooking.
While she tries to purchase all local and seasonal ingredients and make as much in-house as possible (ricotta, mozzarella and Charcuterie), she is also focused on sourcing the best ingredients she can find that meet her standards. “I cook very simply using three or four ingredients. An amazing piece of fish doesn’t need much. Cook the vegetables right and add a light sauce…maybe something citrus. That is all you need. I am also big on texture. I like a bit of crunch at the end to add zing.”
“I love to cook by layering in the flavors. I caramelize the onion to that right color and then add the garlic and cook the garlic with the onion to the proper caramelization and then add the next ingredients.”
During Marino’s time in Aspen, journalist Tom Passavant wrote in Aspen Magazine, “Marino has the uncanny ability to add just one more element that not only pulls a dish together but lifts it up on its tiptoes and makes it dance.”
The simplicity and elegance of her cooking was evident in the dishes that we prepared in our cooking class. We prepared a beautiful fresh Idaho Trout stuffed with Parma Prosciutto and Sage that was elevated to another level with a lovely Roasted Lemon Caper Sauce.
This theme was continued throughout the class with dishes like Fresh Mozzarella with Oven Dried Tomatoes, Pine Nut Pesto and Micro Arugula and beautiful fresh blanched and lightly sauteed vegetables. Each element of a dish was simple to prepare, yet when brought together, had incredible flavors. Our dessert, a Marsala Wine Semi Freddo, prepared in advance by Chef Marino, provided the perfect ending to our lunch.
Marino, a former contestant on Iron Chef in a battle of figs with Masaharu Morimoto, has mixed emotions about Reality TV and chefs. Marino, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in 1993, has worked as a chef since then and has owned her own successful restaurant, Ellina Restaurant in Aspen. “Television is amazing PR, but some of the people on these shows are not chefs. Cooking on television is nothing like being a chef in a restaurant.” As we know, television cooks and chefs have to make one good meal while restaurant chefs have to deliver an excellent dish every time.
“I worked thousands of hours for free early in my career. A number of chefs I became close to at the Food and Wine Festival in Aspen are the real deal, like Mario Batali and Michael Symon. They didn’t come out of culinary school, go on television and think they are some amazing chef. Tom Colicchio just did a video talking about this. He said that most kids coming out of culinary school today are lucky if they are a sous chef in ten years.” We have heard this from most of the chefs that we have interviewed. It makes you wonder about the economics of culinary school as well as where this is all headed.
Marino is not only a busy chef who is opening a new restaurant, she is also a mother and a wife. How does she achieve balance between work and home? It is hard to achieve, especially since her husband works with her at the restaurant. “We are both workaholics and I am not a good balancer.” Now that her son is in school full-time it is easier, but it is always a challenge. Since cooking with family is very important to this chef, my bet is that her son (who was on the ship with her) will be in her kitchen very soon.
We were so pleased to meet and get to know Chef Marino. She is truly delightful and very talented. She has been on board two Savor Your Destination cruises with Celebrity Cruises and is now in conversations to do a third in Europe in 2012 (dates and itinerary to be released soon). She will also be very busy opening her new restaurant, MC Kitchen in Miami.
Here is a short video to highlight some of the culinary events we attended during the Savor Your Destination cruise, the new friends we made along the way and our cooking class with Dena Marino.
Chef Marino has allowed me to share her recipe for Stuffed Idaho Trout with a Lemon Caper Sauce with my readers. This is a simple, yet sophisticated dish that is perfect for a dinner party. Use only the freshest fish to prepare the dish. The fewer ingredients in a recipe, the more important it is to use the highest quality ingredients.
More about Chef Dena Marino
Dena Marino, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, started her professional career at Caesar’s Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Starting with a short externship, Dena was then promoted to Sous Chef for the culinary team at Caesar’s, working alongside Chef Ron Ross.
It is amazing how one evening can change your life. Following a dinner at Tra Vigne during a family vacation in California, Marino asked Chef Michael Chiarello if she could spend a day working with him in the kitchen. Three weeks later she was packing her bags and moved to Napa Valley for the next three years where she became a Sous Chef at Tra Vigne.
The next stop for Marino was Aspen, Colorado, first at Ajax Tavern where she was quickly promoted to Executive Chef. In late 2005, Dena was asked to open a restaurant called D19 where she was followed by her loyal patrons of Ajax Tavern. By 2009 she realized her dream, Ellina Restaurant. She was in Aspen 13 years before moving to Miami , Florida to pursue a new business venture.
Disclosure – We received a media package from Celebrity Cruises to experience the Savor the Destination culinary cruise. I am not compensated in any way for any articles written about the trip and the opinions expressed are my own.
Stuffed Idaho Trout with a Roasted Lemon Caper Sauce
Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Chef Marino suggests that you eat the crispy skin of the trout rather than discard it. This adds texture or "crunch" to the dish. It is also where many of the vitamins and minerals are in the fish.
2 each 8-ounce whole trout fillets
7 ounces Extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole lemons
6 each Parma prosciutto, sliced
8 whole sage leaves
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
1. Turn the oven to broil.
2. Cut the whole lemons in half and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle about 1 ounce of olive oil over the halved lemons. Place under the broiler until the tops of the halved lemons are charred. Remove and set aside to cool. When the lemons are cool, juice each half. The roasted lemon juice will be thicker than normal fresh squeezed juice and much tastier.
3. Gently open the whole trout fillets and season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Lay the slices of prosciutto neatly onto the whole trout fillets (3 slices each). Then layer 4 whole sage leaves over the prosciutto. Drizzle about 2 ounces of olive oil over the top of the whole trout fillets.
2. Heat a medium to large saute pan with two ounces of olive oil. When the oil is almost smoking, place the whole stuffed trout fillets in the pan, skin side down. Let the skin get crisp and then flip the whole trout fillets over to cook the other side. Take each whole stuffed trout out of the pan and place on a baking pan into a preheated 350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
3. While the trout is cooking, use the same pan that the fillets were seared in, heat the pan and add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Let the butter brown until the milk solids come out of the butter and brown. That is the best flavor in the butter. Then deglaze the pan with the roasted lemon juice. Add the capers. Bring the sauce to a simmer and quickly add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, lightly stir and remove from the heat. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Lay the whole stuffed trout fillets on a platter. Drizzle the Roasted Lemon Caper Sauce over the top of them
Chef Dena Marino
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