The complications of running a cruise ship kitchen are often incompatible with the emphasis in Tuscan cooking on simple seasonality. For instance, when the chef on a Classical Cruise ship wants to order food, he must send a fax to headquarters in Athens, which faxes the local shipping agent, who contacts the chandler in the port of call. When a Tuscan chef like Pino Luongo needs ingredients, however, he goes right to the source, scouring local markets for the best foods and then letting them determine his menu. So last summer, when Luongo led his first weeklong Classical Cruise trip along the coast of Tuscany, it could have been quite a culinary culture clash.
Fortunately, it wasn't. While we made stops on the islands of Elba and Giglio and sailed north to the neighboring region of Liguria, Luongo--a New York City chef and restaurateur who was born and raised in Tuscany--was able to share his philosophy of Tuscan cuisine. He performed cooking demonstrations on the fly, guided impromptu tours of local markets and acted as a genial master of ceremonies at vineyards and restaurants. Luongo made sure the trip accomplished, more or less, what he wanted: to explain a region and its way of life through its food.
The ship was the Harmony, a 170-foot yacht with room for 40-odd guests, no bigger, really, than some of the private yachts docked in the Tuscan marinas we visited. Its four levels included a kitchen below decks; guest cabins, a dining room and a lounge on the two middle levels; and a large sundeck on top. My cabin was modern and minimalist, with twin beds on either side of a night table and with a smoked-glass door leading to the bathroom. I found the decor spare but elegant, though some guests complained that it was excessively spartan.