An interview with Windstar executive chef Graeme Cockburn

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My first glimpse of Windstar's Corporate Executive Chef Graeme Cockburn was at a cookery demonstration during a travel show in London in September. He was making seared oak-smoked salmon with honey whisky barbecue glaze, and his audience was totally captivated.

It's always reassuring when someone with such a grand title as Corporate Executive Chef so clearly relishes getting back to his roots and actually doing the hands-on cooking. Scottish born Graeme's amazing CV includes some magical names: he trained with Michelin-awarded chefs Michel Guerard and Michel Roux, and learned the ropes at Glen Eagles and the Royal Scotsman, as well as working at Boodles, the Connaught and the Waterside Inn.

"It's all about your basic training - hard work and mastering the techniques. It took me seven years to reach Chef de Partie. After that, it is easy to move up if you are prepared to put the hours in."

He refers to his childhood in Perthshire watching his grandmother cook as his early inspiration. 'During the war she needed to be very thrifty', he remarks, so learning how to make the most of basic local ingredients was key. As Graeme says, old fashioned food is now very fashionable, and he is able to draw on so many influences when planning menus for the Windstar Cruises fleet.

Windstar Cruises - Cuisine at the AmphorA restaurant

Graeme's job nowadays includes overseeing operations and planning for all meals across the six ships in the Windstar fleet, and giving rein to the talents of each chef, as they introduce new recipes and products and make the most of fresh local ingredients. Within his remit are menu and recipe development; culinary talent retention, recruitment and training; culinary partnerships, standards and procedures; and innovation on board all ships.

Each vessel boasts a main restaurant and alternative speciality restaurant, and interesting developments are afoot at Windstar (watch this space...), so the opportunity is exciting. It's time consuming work, and requires great teamwork. He points to the size of the Windstar ships as one of the great pluses from a dining perspective. The opportunity to prepare dishes à la minute and to introduce local dishes strategically is something a huge galley is unable to do.

Windstar Cruises - Two yachts in Mykonos

Windstar's collaboration with the James Beard Foundation is close to Graeme's heart. This American institution was created to recognise and celebrate the chefs, writers and restaurateurs who advance America's culinary arts, with an emphasis on innovation and excellence. The Foundation focuses on sustainable food advocacy, and identifies the vital influence that leading chefs and restaurateurs have in their communities.

On board the ships, culinary events, demonstrations and restaurant menus enhance the experience, and Graeme is particularly excited about how this will play out during the new season of winter Asian cruises.

Graeme's job, based at Windstar's head offices in Seattle, requires him to travel the world, joining the various ships in the fleet and overseeing on board operations and challenges. I wondered if that gave him a bit of a wanderlust, or whether his perfect holiday would be something else altogether? He dutifully referenced France and in particular Brittany and Bordeaux, but when pushed admitted that nothing could be more perfect than to spend his precious leisure time in Perthshire with his family, pottering about, and cooking whatever comes to hand in his virtually empty fridge!


Find out more: Request a Windstar Cruises brochure

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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