IT'S Saturday night on the MS Volendam.
Executive chef Troy Wastell has joined our table in the signature restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill.
Nearing the end of a 14-day Holland America Line (HAL) cruise and after travelling along New Zealand's east coast, we're crossing the Tasman back to Sydney.
For more than eight years, Troy, 37, has been travelling the world on any one of HAL's 15 ships. Overseeing production of more than 11,000 meals a day, training staff and ensuring standards are kept, his unflurried, good-fun manner doesn't seem to match the enormity of his job. His easy-going, amicable nature must stem from his Rockhampton upbringing.
Troy was lured into the culinary world when his passion for the industry and food was recognised at Pacinos restaurant in Rockhampton where he trained. After working as a chef for five years, at 23, he took his first head chef's job in Brisbane, developed his own style and flair and won a best in formal dining award.
With a desire to travel, Troy left Australia to work in exclusive restaurants in London but found he didn't enjoy England.
"I moved to Italy and worked in Genoa for two years, which I really loved," he said.
"Not wanting to come home when my visa expired, I decided to take a job on a cruise ship and found the lifestyle really suited me."
Further shaping his style and depth of knowledge over the years, his promotion to the corporate role of executive chef has been a natural progression. "For me, it's bringing joy to other people - I love cooking for others."
He conducted a kitchen tour (where food for 1400 guests and more than 600 crew members is prepared) and in a culinary class, he showed guests how to cook Le Cirque lobster salad.
Tonight we are experiencing an "Evening at Le Cirque", created by HAL's master chef Rudi Sodamin and executive chef Craig Hopson of New York's famous Le Cirque restaurant. Troy says this night is a highlight on all HAL ships. HAL partnered with Le Cirque restaurant to recreate the dining experience on board - from serving the cuisine on whimsical orange Le Cirque china to featuring the restaurant's renowned creme brulee and partnering the perfect wine.
Fine dining has long been a given pleasure of cruises and with a seafaring Dutch tradition, stepping on board a HAL ship is like entering a time-shell where all sense of time and the outside world is blissfully lost.
On the Volendam, the shock of the old is everywhere. Grand trimmings, soft tapestries, impressive artwork and giant vases of fresh flowers deck the interior spaces.
And we are spoiled by good old fashioned, impeccable service from an attentive crew who clearly love their jobs. Throughout this cruise, in between taking part in the diverse mix of on-board and on-shore activities (from mild to wild), we enjoy delicious "as you wish" meals across a range of dining venues. We frequent the main dining room, the two-tiered Rotterdam (also serving silver service five-course dinners), visit the Lido Restaurant for a casual option, the Canaletto for a little bit of Italy and we love The Terrace Grill for an alfresco, poolside lunch - the impossible choice is ours.
While Troy takes the sea life in his stride, for us, docking along the way at Oban, Port Chalmers, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland, the thrill of being at sea, the sense of adventure and the lovely luxury of this midsized ship is hard to contain.
Balancing his culinary career at sea, Troy takes long vacations, renting apartments around the world (Spain and Italy are favourites) where he invites friends and family to join him.
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