Celebrity chef Cat Cora christens Oceania Riviera

It may not be Greece, but on the other side of the Mediterranean, someone is saying Opa! That's because celebrity chef Cat Cora just christened the new Oceania Riviera.

Cora, a Greek-American, joined Deacon Ricardo Rodriguez-Martos of the Barcelona's Apostleship of the Sea for the ceremony bringing the sister ship to the Marina and line's fourth ship into service.

"I want to say as the mother of four boys, finally I have a girl, and isn't she a beauty," said Cora. "And the Oceania family, I feel like I share so many of their values of loyalty, friendship and excellence as well as the best of travel, food and wine."

Cora then said the christening mantra, "I name this ship Riviera. May God bless her and all who sail with her."

And with that, she threw down a lever letting go a 15-liter Nebuchadnezzar of champagne custom-made by Veuve Clicquot that slammed into the Riviera's hull smashing to bits.

Nearly 1,300 guests were on hand at the Spanish port to witness the event which saw an animated Michael Jordan-esque fist pump from Oceania Cruises founder and Prestige Cruise Holdings Chariman and CEO Frank J. Del Rio as the bottle made the as-expected break (which is good luck), and confetti burst forth to the tune of Enrique Iglesias' song "I Like How It Feels."

"Today, the baton as the world's premiere ship has passed to Riviera," said Del Rio. "When asked, I've repeatedly said that it was going to be hard to improve on Marina's perfection, but I didn't say it would be impossible. And we have done just that -- improved on perfection."

The line's first ship, the Regatta, was also named in Barcelona back in 2003, and in drawing a comparison to the city, Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani said "Riviera is a work of art herself, and designed to bring the beauty of the world to our guests."

The Riviera, much as sister ship Marina that debuted in February 2011, is a ship that caters to foodies. So Cora, the first and only female Iron Chef was the perfect choice to officially name the 1,250-guest vessel.

"Cat Cora's passion for fine cuisine and her focus on the dining experience captures the essence of what we do every day," stated Kamlani. "We are all excited to have her christen our newest ship and are proud to welcome her to the Oceania Cruises family."

The Riviera features 10 dining venues, six of which are gourmet restaurants, and also features a Bon Appétit Culinary Center for the inner chef in its guests plus La Reserve by Wine Spectator for wine tastings and pairing dinners. The line will also begin offering Culinary Discovery Tours at more than 25 ports worldwide allowing passengers to experience local food markets in small groups accompanied by an expert chef.

The Riviera will now sail on her maiden voyage on May 16, a 10-day cruise with stops in Venice, Kotor, Corfu, Monemvasia, Crete, Santorini, Kusadasi, Delos, Mykonos and Athens. The ship will continue Mediterranean sailing through summer and fall then reposition to the port of Miami for winter Panama Canal and Caribbean cruises.

Culinary Discovery Tours will launch this spring in Europe aboard Riviera and Marina and can be booked prior to departure. The program will roll out in Asia, South America and the Caribbean in winter 2012-13. Prices start at $175, including the escorted market tour and cooking class.

Chef Cora's footprint continues to grow this year. She's made several guest appearances on Bravo TV's Top Chef in recent years and just this week began hosting her own Bravo TV show in May, "Around the World in 80 Plates" alongside Chef Curtis Stone. She also operates four restaurants including Kouzzina at Disney's BoardWalk in Orlando, CCQ in Costa Mesa, Calif. and Cat Cora's Kitchen in San Francisco, Houston and Salt Lake City International Airport. You can also spot her name on cooking essentials like olive oils and sauces as well as cookware, a collection of wines and of course her best-selling cook books.

Oceania Cruises chose Chef Cora as godmother to Riviera not only for her mastery of cuisine, but also in recognition of her philanthropy, such as the group she founded, Chefs for Humanity, which she started in response to the deadly Tsunami that hit Indonesia on Christmas Day in 2004. The organization is dedicated to reducing hunger worldwide by supporting humanitarian relief and promoting nutrition education.

"It's an honor to have been asked to serve as the godmother for the beautiful Riviera," said Cora. "Oceania Cruises has done an incredible job of developing ships custom-designed for food lovers, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it all."

The line now has four ships, with the Marina and Riviera the largest of the fleet. The Oceania Insignia recently was chartered to Hapag-Lloyd, but could return to Oceania in 2014.

rtribou@tribune.com, 407-420-5134

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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