Chef Celebrates Local Produce; And...Ah, Those Baguettes

ISLES DES SAINTES, Guadeloupe -- Executive chef William Hall is on a mission.

He has figured there is just enough time after breakfast has been served aboard Wind Star to make it to the best bakery in the Caribbean, place an order for baguettes to be served at dinner, tender back to get lunch under way and take his post at the fresh, made-to-order pasta station.

Just off the porch of the open-air clapboard store, French teenagers in bikinis whiz by on Vespas, past the wafting aroma of fresh-baked goods mingling with the perfume of bougainvillea and hibiscus.

Hall seems oblivious of the surroundings for the moment, however, because he is talking about the bread.

Wind Star's staff does all the baking on board throughout the voyage, but the baguettes here are different, Hall said.

It has to do with the French method of using a yeast, flour and water "starter."

"It doesn't matter if there are 100 people waiting outside. They do this to get the quality of the taste. It's just like Paris," he said.

It is that kind of passion for detail that typifies the dining experience aboard Wind Star.

"They keep this yeast starter in a covered container in the refrigerator. When you open it up, the smell is -- wow. But it makes the loaves really crusty on the outside, and the inside is soft and full of flavor," the chef said.

The dough is prepared about three hours before baking.

Hall revels in having had the opportunity to develop relationships with the vendors at the small markets in the ports where Wind Star calls, so that each day, he can procure entirely fresh produce for each day's meals.

"There is just an abundance of tropical fish, vegetables and fruits, dairy products and yogurts that we obtain locally," he said.

In addition, each week, the ship receives a container of choice U.S. meat and poultry from Miami.

Apparently, the tiny islands on this itinerary, however, have proved a virtual Epicurean playground for Hall, presenting varieties of foods a landlocked chef would never see.

"There are about five to seven varieties of mangos -- long ones, fat ones. We taste them all and experiment using them in dishes. I just picked up a passion fruit the other day, and we're working on using that," Hall said.

Hall, who began his career 12 years ago, acknowledged that he is living a chef's dream by being in an environment where he can see the creative process through from start to finish -- from going to market and preparing the food to serving it to guests and seeing them enjoy it.

And all this effort is not lost on Wind Star's passengers.

On a recent sailing, guests lingered at the pasta station asking Hall where he is from (Youngstown, Ohio), where he has worked (Chef Allen's in Miami, the Stadt Casino in Baden, Switzerland, to name two), and, perhaps most important, to have him explain his special touches with the linguini primavera in the skillet before them.

Under Hall's direction, the staff of 15 repeatedly impressed Wind Star guests. There were dishes such as roasted duck breast and creamy corn mash with green beans and hamhocks and fresh jerked flying fish with a spicy remoulade and yam fries.

Perfect versions of standards such as herb- and pepper-seasoned prime ribs with baked potato and horseradish sauce also were pleasing.

Even vegetarian dishes, particularly the gateau of auber-gine with a light tomato and tarragon coulis, had guests stumped trying to guess how Hall and staff could raise a few simple ingredients to such heights.

Furthermore, the "sail light" menu -- including desserts -- designed by the "queen of lean," cookbook author Jeanne Jones, rivaled the rest of the entrees when it came to flavor.

For example, a typical sail- light selection for one evening consisted of an appetizer of Moroccan roast-pepper and tomato salad; an entree of bastilla (puff pastry stuffed with chicken), and a luscious, crustless pecan custard pie, for a guiltless total of 611 calories and 16.8 grams of fat.

For Hall, this phase of his career is more than just a line on a resume and a path to opening his own restaurant. It also has an organic quality.

"I love the water, the mountains and food in its natural state," he said, "and to mix colors with textures and ingredients that complement each other. And I can have some fun at the same time."

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