Spencer Cooks Up a Storm in America’s Test Kitchen

Day 78, Grand Asia 2017

Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 – At Sea

Some things have changed since I last sailed on the MS Amsterdam in 2010. One is the culinary program. We used to sign up for a Culinary Arts Center experience – cooking in the demo kitchen with one of the chefs and eating what we had cooked. You had to sign up early, because the classes of about 12 people filled up. As I recall, we paid $30 each and in addition to the cooking class, we received an apron and wine with our meal. I still use my aprons.

In the intervening years, food sanitary preparation rules on board the ship have tightened. We no longer eat what we cook, and now we don’t usually cook at all.

The change I like best is the partnership with America’s Test Kitchen. If you watch its weekly show (on PBS in Dallas), you know that they are obsessive about using science to find the best way for home chefs to cook each dish. They also publish Cooks Illustrated magazine.

Holland America is listed as one of the promotional sponsors of the show, but the real connection comes on the ships. Every ship now has an America’s Test Kitchen program, offering cooking demonstrations through the cruises (on sea days). In addition, they usually have at least one hands-on workshop for a smaller group. It is a perk for five-star Mariners.

I would say we have had at least a dozen different shows during our 40 sea days. Spencer is our ATK chef, and his show is interspersed with short video clips of other ATK chefs explaining some of the science behind the cooking. I’m going home with a thick stack of recipe cards.

Because this grand cruise has so many sea days (compared with typical Holland America cruises), they have filled in with cooking demonstrations by the half-dozen guest chefs who have come aboard during the cruise. On other days, chefs from the ship’s kitchens show us how to make some of their specialties.

Today Spencer showed us how to make pasta. Actually, I didn’t learn because I couldn’t go. The 1 p.m. show conflicted with a Mariner’s Brunch I was invited to a few days ago. I must confess I did stop by just before brunch to pick up the recipe cards. Spencer said he would have one more show the last day of the cruise. I’ll be there.


Two Mariners Brunches were needed to accommodate all the passengers. I had another excellent filet mignon along with the complementary sparkling wine. So it was no surprise that I wasn’t hungry for dinner and skipped the special Dutch dinner. My friend Joyce, who is Dutch, said most of the dishes were not really Dutch. Besides, I didn’t have anything orange to wear, as we were directed. I had a light dinner in the Lido after packing one bag.