A languid lunch on the MSC Sinfonia – and a recipe for seafood risotto

Louise in front of the MSC Sinfonia which visited the port of Port Elizabeth this week. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

By Louise Liebenberg

ONE tends to think of a cruise ship as a floating hotel but, with several thousand passengers from around the world on board, it is far more like a floating global village. And making sure that the up to 2180 guests of the MSC Sinfonia which visited Port Elizabeth this week remain happy, healthy and well-fed is a responsibility not to be underestimated.
The 251-metre Sinfonia left for Cape Town harbour on Wednesday night and is already hitting the home stretch on its northbound journey back to Europe as the season draws to a close.
Salvelio and I were lucky enough to land an invitation to step on board for lunch on Wednesday, meet MSC Cruises’ marketing manager Allan Foggitt and PRO Ingrid Roding-Tudor and also chat to the ship’s cool, calm and collected food and beverage manager, Hinesh Nensee.

F&B manager Hinesh Nensee in Sinfonia's Manhattan cocktail bar. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

The 716 crew members are largely Italian, just like the entire MSC cruise fleet’s super-wealthy owner, Gianluigi Aponte. The Italian influence is thus evident in all its menus, decor and public areas – including the Sinfonia’s stately Il Galeone main restaurant where we enjoyed our meal over a pleasant chianti from Tuscany.
Hinesh, however, is not Italian but hails from Bombay in India, adding to the cosmopolitan nature of the crew represented by some 39 nations. He spent eight years with the famous Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay and two before that with the city’s Hilton before joining MSC 13 years ago.
Being an “F&B manager” as they call  themselves in the trade was daunting enough on land, but the responsibility was so much greater at sea, he said.
For instance, food safety standards of the highest order are critical and the ship’s  kitchens must be “surgically clean” to avoid the risk of people falling ill in the middle of the ocean, so far away from hospitals.
Provisioning is another of Hinesh’s key roles. Some food-stuffs like olive oil and certain cheeses are brought in from Italy but the rest have to be sourced in their “home port”, which this time was Durban.
“We can’t buy too much or too little. Space on the ship is very limited but because our menus are pre-determined we may not run out. Planning must be spot on,” he says.
Between 7000 and 8000 meals are served daily in Sinfonia’s two restaurants alone – that excludes the buffet area which particularly in South Africa is extremely popular with at least half of the guests typically eating there, he said. On top of that every single plate has to be picture-perfect and completely standardised in its presentation.

Main restaurant Il Galeone where we enjoyed a lazy, Italian-themed lunch. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

The ship’s second restaurant is Il Covo while the buffet area on the pool deck also has a pizzeria and a grill flanking it. Then there are the six bars and four cafe areas to service, not forgetting guests also may call for room service 24 hours a day. No wonder you need to more patient and organised than most to do this job, as Hinesh suggests!
Cruising is said to be the world’s fastest-growing tourist industry. MSC Cruises, whose 12th liner, Divina, is being christened in May while the 13th, Preziosa, will take to the seas next year, is the fourth largest cruise company in the world. It also boasts the world’s most modern fleet – these ships are so modern they don’t even have rudders anymore, which means they are “manoeuvred” rather than “steered” in the old-fashioned sense.

Cruises heading our way

Good news for cruising fans is that the uber-elegant MSC Opera, Sinfonia’s slightly larger sister ship, is heading to South Africa in mid-November, including for a six-night cruise that will also visit Mozambique’s Portuguese Island and new destination Anakao in Madagascar, while its new year cruise will visit Reunion and Mauritius. There are several other options to come, including the quirkily named “cruises to nowhere” which sound idyllic on any day!
Sinfonia will also be back towards the end of this year including for a six-night new year cruise that will call at Madascar and other destinations as well as an 11-day cruise including Walvis Bay and the island of St Helena (where Napoleon was exiled) in January 2013. For details  about these and other cruises visit msccruises.co.za

Sinfonia’s splendid chef

THE MSC Sinfonia’s executive chef is Pasquale Scarpati, Italian of course, and he has agreed to share a recipe on The Global Table blog today. The recipe is for a creamy seafood risotto with prawns and fresh tomato (I had this as a first plate and found it scrummy, the risotto perfectly al dente and the prawns beautifully cooked!) We were also going to share a second recipe, for a main course dish of succulent Marche-style leg of lamb which Salvelio enjoyed during our lunch, but the ship’s PR headquarters in Geneva supplied the wrong recipe and so we’ll just stick with the risotto instead.
Chef Scarpati was born in Torre del Greco in Naples in 1959. He started his career in the Lauro fleet and in other cruise companies, and in 1995 embarked for the first time on the MSC Monterey as sous chef. He continued his career at MSC Cruises, reaching the position of executive chef in 2008 on board the MSC Rhapsody which was is also no stranger to South African waters.
Chef Scarpati has travelled extensively on all the itineraries of MSC Cruises and he got to know South Africa well from being on board both the Sinfonia and the Rhapsody for two contacts each.
He is married and has two sons, one of who has also started a career as a naval officer with MSC.

Seafood risotto with prawns and tomato. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Recipe: Seafood risotto with prawns and tomato

The quantities given are for one serving only, which can be a challenge for home cooks! However you should manage it if you have an electronic scale at home. I did a trial run of the recipe in my own kitchen over the weekend and have adapted it ever so slightly so it would make sense not only to an Italian chef, but to the home cook as well! I found the Italian it had been translated from rather charming, by the way – for instance calling for “tomatoes bunch fresh fillet without seeds”!  Remember the secret of risotto is to make sure your stock is very hot and also to keep stirring the risotto until done.

2 teaspoons olive oil; 12g chopped onion (about half a a smallish onion); 5g chopped fresh garlic (about 1 medium-sized clove); 50g ‘Roma’ rice (you can just use short-grained arborio rice); just under 2 cups of good seafood stock (I used an Ina Paarman fish stock sachet from her new range with just under 2 cups of boiling water); 20ml white wine; 20g mussel meat (about 2 heaped Tablespoons); 30g cooked shrimp meat (about half a cup); 20g prawn meat (I used 2 nice big prawns, blanched and shelled and which I then gave a quick fry in a bit of garlic butter right before adding to the risotto at the end of the cooking time); salt and white pepper to taste (watch out for too much salt if the stock is quite salty); 20g unsalted butter; another teaspoon of olive oil for; a few fresh rocket or basil leaves for garnishing


Follow the preparation of a basic risotto: Heat the 2 teaspoons of oil, fry the onion and garlic for about two minutes, then add the rice and mix through for about a minute so it is coated with the oil. In the meantime you will have added the wine to the stock and heated it all together to make about two cups of liquids in total. Make sure it boils for a bit too so the  obvious alcohol taste can be tempered. Now start adding ladle-fulls of the stock to the rice bits at a time, stirring all the while and only adding more as it gets properly absorbed. In total from the time you start adding stock to the time the risotto is done it should take about 20 minutes – you can set a kitchen timer when you start to make sure you stay on track. Once you are almost at the end of the 20 minutes’ cooking time, add the mussel and shrimp meat and the prawns to heat through; ditto the tomato. By the time you’re done the rice must be creamy but still a little al dente. Check the seasoning and stir through the butter (I forgot to weigh it but only used about a teaspoon) and the extra teaspoon of olive oil to make it even creamier. Garnish with the rocket or basil and serve right away.

More pictures of the MSC Sinfonia

The MSC Sinfonia in all her evening splendour before departing for Cape Town from PE Harbour. Picture: Mike Holmes

Alessandro di Costanzo, the friendly and helpful guest relations manager from Naples, in the ship's La Baroque coffee shop. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Allesandro (right) and two of his colleagues from guest services - Thomas Ten from Perugia in Italy and Jamie Lee Clark from London. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Connecting with friends and family back home is a mouse-click away. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

The Sinfonia's passageways exude swish elegance. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

The ‘Duetto Imperiale’ appetiser of smoked salmon rosettes and prawn tails with Marie Rose sauce. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Salvelio's main course of Marche style leg of lamb serve with prettily barreled new potatoes, tomato au gratin with aromatic herb bread topping and a rich, meaty jus. I had the beef fillet with green peppercorn sauce served with fanned out grilled lettuce. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

The chef’s ‘Gâteau Opera’ is a rich chocolate and coffee cake. I loved that it wasn't overly sweet but had a lovely, intense espresso punch. Salvelio had the apple crumble for pud. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

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4 Responses to A languid lunch on the MSC Sinfonia – and a recipe for seafood risotto

  1. Natasha says:

    Hi Louise

    We really enjoyed your blog. Would you mind us linking from our Sinfonia page to your blog and using one of your pictures? You can view the page here: http://southafrica.to/transport/cruises/Starlight/Sinfonia/MSC-Sinfonia.php5

    Regards, Natasha
    Cruise Consultant
    South Africa Travel Online

    • Hi Natasha, you are more than welcome to link from your page on Sinfonia to our blog – and feel free to use a picture as well. Please just credit Salvelio Meyer for the picture unless you use the one taken at sunset by Mike Holmes, in which case you can just give him a byline. Glad you enjoyed the blog – Sinfonia is lovely and it was fun to be on board!

  2. helene says:

    where can this recipe be found?

    • Hi Helene, I have posted the recipe for the seafood risotto which we enjoyed on the ship on Wednesday. I also tested the recipe in my own kitchen this weekend and adapted the text a bit so it would be clearer for the home cook. Unfortunately the ship’s PR headquarters in Geneva did not supply the correct recipe for the second dish, the Marche style lamb, so we are only running the risotto recipe at this stage. It’s a good one though so do try it out! Next time I make it I will double the quantities though because seafood risotto is best shared in the company of someone you adore and over a lovely glass of chilled wine or bubbly!

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