by Paul Ellis, Executive Chef, m/s Paul Gauguin
A hallmark of sailing with Paul Gauguin Cruises is dining on cuisine that is every bit as extraordinary as the islands we sail to. And my mission every voyage is to create menus that are inspired by and infuse fresh, locally-sourced ingredients from French Polynesia.
Tasty & Timely: Fresh Local Fish
One great thing about being a Chef here on The Gauguin is that the fresh fish is amazing. The local fish we provide for our guests is top quality and never frozen. And in French Polynesia, it’s always abundant.
The beginning of the cruise in Papeete is when we acquire the fish. Depending on the number of guests and the length of the voyage, we load anywhere from 1,000 to 2,600 pounds of fresh fish. The varieties found most frequently on board The Gauguin are yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo, papio, pomfret, and moonfish.
To me, the most unusual fish here in French Polynesia is the moonfish. At the beginning of each cruise, we do a moonfish presentation. We talk about the quality and history of the fish, and then give a filleting demonstration. At dinner that night, of course, the moonfish is the feature fish on the menu!
Fish isn’t the only ingredient we source locally. We have a farm-to-table aesthetic and try as much as possible to buy local produce in the islands that we travel. There are a few challenges to this, as we require a large quantity to feed our guests and crew on a weekly basis.
One valuable resource is a farmers’ cooperative set up by produce companies within the islands. Through this cooperative, produce from throughout all the islands is sent to Tahiti where we are able to purchase it for our sailings. It’s a great idea that helps promote farming in the outer islands while also providing an income for the island people. There’s also a hydroponic farm on Tahiti that provides our lettuce, when available.
During our voyage throughout the Society Islands, we continue to gather fresh produce. We receive fresh coconuts for our barbecue on Motu Mahana from the island of Taha’a. There are no proper coconut farms there, but our supplier hikes into the forest and gathers the coconuts and delivers them to the pier on the morning of the ship’s arrival.
Because the region is tropical, Bora Bora is a surprising source for fresh watermelon. Bananas are another popular ingredient from this island. The variety grown here is known as finger bananas: short in size and very sweet. And you can’t prepare Polynesian food without ginger, which we also obtain here.
Moorea is the pineapple capital of French Polynesia. The pineapples are a beautiful golden yellow and super sweet. In an average cruise, we go through about 900 pounds of pineapple. Our limes also come from Moorea.
Other Local Specialties
Let’s not forget breakfast! One of the most important ingredients in our food preparation is eggs. We source these locally from Taravao in the southern part of Tahiti. On a 7-night cruise, we consume roughly 38 cases of eggs! A local company has recreated the recipe for American-style bacon and breakfast sausage, and breakfast also features locally produced yogurt and jams from Lycée Agricole d'Opunohu on Moorea—French Polynesia's only agricultural school.
Our Guests’ Favorite Dishes
Our guests often marvel at how much selection we offer for such a small ship. Because they are faced with so many options, I've often been asked for my advice on what to order. Of course, I’m proud of everything that comes out of our galleys. But everyone’s taste is different— and each dining room has its own distinctive cuisine. In our main restaurant, L’Etoile, for example, our guests most often request grilled yellowfin tuna or moonfish, beef Wellington, beef tenderloin, and broiled, stuffed lobster tail with shrimp and scallops.
Our guests’ favorite entrées in La Veranda include: green asparagus salad with mascarpone quenelle perfumed with white truffle; a duo of escargots and mushrooms on a poached egg topped with potato foam; Kaipara oysters, and a pairing of seared foie gras with tuna sashimi.
For Le Grill, there are several dishes our guests love to order. These include: Hawaiian ahi poke with fresh local yellowfin tuna marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil; grilled fresh fish with grapefruit marmalade; and a New York strip steak marinated in local Polynesian flavors.
All three of our dining venues showcase a number of vegetarian options ranging from salads and fruit bisques to vegetarian paella, risotto, fried rice, Indian dishes, and satay. We pride ourselves on providing each of our guests with an authentic and exciting dining experience, which perfectly complements the warm scenery and friendly people of the South Pacific.