The reason for our first cruise was to enjoy a gourmet dinner cooked by Nenad Mlinarevic. Back in summer, the Sunday paper featured an article about chef Nenad Mlinarevic, who is head chef at the Parkhotel Vitznau on Lake Lucerne. His philosophy intrigues me as he follows the same guidelines as I do when cooking. His gourmet food isn’t about lobster and oysters, it’s about regional and seasonal food. It’s about serving fish and meat which have been raised where people care about their welfare, and fruits and vegetables which are grown in the area. He serves only Swiss products.
On the opposite side of the article was an advertisement for gourmet river cruises and Milnarevic was one of the chefs featured. We took a closer look at the price and decided that the offer was to good to be true. We quickly booked and then eagerly awaited the cruise. Come October, Milnarevic was named Gault Millau Chef of the Year 2016. He has 18 Gault Millau Points and two Michelin stars.
The day started with a bus ride to Strasbourg, where we went on an hour river cruise around the city before heading to Kehl where our boat, “Excellence Princess”, awaited us. After an introduction and coffee and cake, we were on our own to enjoy the beautiful weather on deck. From Strasbourg to Basel there are 8 locks to pass as the boat makes its way upstream along the Rhine.
Once we passed the first lock, we decided it was time to inspect our room. The “Excellence Princess” was built in 2014 and is virtually a brand new ship. The salon and rooms are tastefully decorated and everything is so quiet you can’t even tell you’re on a moving ship. We had to enjoy the view from our room until it was dark since it was too good to miss.
And then came the culinary highlight: Drinks were served in the salon and Nenad Milnarevic came out to speak a few words before rushing back into the kitchen. It was interesting to find out that he eats very little to no meat. He would like to offer only vegetables on his menu, but since restaurant guests expect meat on the menu, he serves it. We made our way to our table and got ready to enjoy our 8 course meal. Each course had one word defining what we ate, plus additional words describing the flavors. Each dish was a piece of art and harmonized within itself. At the same time there was one piece of the dish which pulled everything together and gave a burst of flavor which gave it that certain something. Be it pickled ramps or black garlic. I was served a vegetarian or fish option in lieu of the meat dishes.
- Bread: sourdough with roasted buckwheat and sweet butter with smoked salt
- Chicken: liver mousse with braised red cabbage and caramelized apples
- Whitefish (“Felchen”): as tartar and smoked mousse with mustard vinaigrette, pickled ramps and raw cauliflower
- Salmon trout: sous-vide with celeriac and celeriac puree, dried tomatoes and coriander oil
- Saffron: pumpkin, smoked ricotta and saffron sauce
- Angus beef: sauteed, onion puree and roasted daikon radish
- Veal: braised cheeks, Jerusalem artichokes, walnut and black garlic paste
- Goat cheese: whipped creamy cheese with herb sorbet, rapeseed oil, salted anise crumble
- Beets: dehydrated and rehydrated with beet juice, walnut ice cream, dark chocolate mousse and walnut crumble
The food was delicious and it would be hard to say what I liked best as each dish had something special about it. Nenad Mlinarevic is a chef I’d like to be able to cook with for a day and ask him all about his pickling and fermentation methods, why he chooses a certain flavor combination and basically fool around with food. His approach is a breath of fresh air, and I think many chefs should see him as a role model and use more regional and seasonal foods.
Waking up in Basel the next morning was a bit sad as we knew our gourmet journey was over, but we lucked out on this beautiful light before taking a tour around Basel in an old street car.