Chef Jon Highlights Some of the Things that Make Sunday Cooking a Breeze, and His Own Crystal Memories
Nearly every Sunday since April, many of our Crystal Family members have come together over food, just as we have so many times aboard our favorite ships. The “host” of these shared feasts has been Chef Jon Ashton, who has also been part of the Crystal Family for many years. Every Sunday, we welcome him and his lovely wife, Erica, into our homes as he welcomes us into his kitchen and treats us to an inside look at his expert preparation techniques and recipes for what have become some of our favorite dishes. Also part of these interactive segments are recommended tools that Chef Jon uses for each dish, as he holds it up for the camera enthusiastically while also specifying, “I don’t work for the company, but…” Many times, guests comment with compliments or questions about one item or another.
This week, as Crystal@Home takes a pause according to its new bi-weekly programming schedule, Chef Jon is sharing some of his top picks for properly prepping your kitchen. Again, Chef Jon does not represent any of the companies or items included here, but is happy to share his favorite things with the Crystal Family during this holiday season. He’s also sharing some Crystal memories of his own and what he looks forward to in the journeys ahead.
Holiday Kitchen Prep from Chef Jon Ashton
JA: The Sunday cooking show has been such a joy to be a part of. Each week our guests from around the world join my wife, Erica, (aka Mrs. Spielberg) and me for a 30-45 minute cooking show. But it’s more than just a show, it’s almost like a family getting together around the kitchen island. We laugh and we learn. A couple of our guests take a sip of wine every time I say, “Oh Sausages!” The greatest compliment is when our guests have great success making the recipes and they share the creations online.
Many guests have complimented my baking sheets and cooking pans during these episodes. To start, I’ll say that most of my baking sheets are by Cuisinart and the baking pans are by Le Creuset. Good quality cookware is the essential beginning to great food. Some other items I can’t live without in my kitchen include…
Never purchase a knife block. You only need three knives at home: paring knife, chef’s knife and serrated knife. I have so many expensive knives, however I really love my Victorinox Fibrox Pro Knife, 8-Inch chef’s knife. It’s relatively inexpensive, but it’s a work horse and never lets me down. I also recommend purchasing a Victorinox Swiss Army Cutlery Handheld Manual Knife Sharpener to help keep the knife sharp.
I always use a thermometer because it takes any guesswork out of cooking. Whether I am baking cookies, grilling a piece salmon or slowly roasting a pork shoulder, I always use my Thermapen. As a bonus, it has a great grip and backlit for easy use.
I use a Cole & Mason pepper grinder. Whenever I give a cooking class, one of the first lessons I share with guests is to never use pre-ground pepper. When I purchase a pepper mill, I choose one with a clear front so I can see how many peppercorns are inside. Isn’t it a rascal when you are in the middle of cooking and you run out of peppercorns? A good pepper mill should easily adjust the texture of the grind from coarse to fine.
I use my chopping board every day. I think it’s one of the most overlooked tools in the kitchen. If you can, please avoid using a glass cutting board, as it tends to dull your knife. When looking for a new chopping board, choose one that is large enough to provide ample space for carving, chopping etc. If you do choose to purchase a wooden chopping board, please be sure to consistently rub with mineral oil.
Microplane Rasp Grater
There are many rasp style graters on the market, however, I find Microplane to be the best! I use it on garlic, citrus, and chocolate. It’s the perfect tool for fibrous ginger, hard nutmeg and Parmesan cheese.
What is the best meal you’ve had while traveling and in what city/country was it?
JA: Over the past 14 years of working with Crystal, I have been blessed to have eaten many fabulous meals. However, I shall never forget Hotel Il San Pietro Positano on the Amalfi Coast. I accompanied 16 Crystal guests for lunch in Italy. Can you imagine a hotel suspended from a cliff, looking like it is ready to fall at any moment into the ocean? With elevators excavated into the stone? Few hotels worldwide can boast a position as stunning as that of Hotel Il San Pietro. It is nothing short of magnificent.
The outdoor dining room is where I sat for our delicious four-course lunch. It was excellent, but nothing compared to the panoramic vista of nature at its best. I felt like a rock star in this surreal setting. Soon after being seated, a glass of crisp, buttery white wine was served. Waiters, dressed in tuxedos, brought three amuse bouche: a smoked fish and tomato soup, prosciutto wrapped around a crisp bread stick and a fried ricotta stuffed courgetti blossom. It was a melody to my taste buds. I was left with a hint of fragrance from the perfect amount of white truffle in the blossom. Mesmerized, I found myself marveling at the view, and then the cannelloni stuffed with spinach and cheese arrived, which I remember as being satiating and light. Like a magician, I made them vanish in no time. Before the entree, besotted with the environment, I took a stroll around the deck and back garden, peering out at the ocean. Yachts sailed by and fishermen were returning with the catch of the day. My entree was local snapper served with a roasted cherry tomato sauce and two perfectly boiled potatoes. Delicious! I felt myself getting full, so I decided I’d decline dessert, a lemony delight. Mrs. Spielberg has never been to the Amalfi coast, and I cannot wait to take her.
Where are you most looking forward to traveling to for the first time when it’s time to explore again?
I am truly looking forward to boarding a Crystal Cruise and hearing those special words, “Welcome home!” I am looking forward to seeing all the team members and cooking with the extremely talented culinary team. There is no better food anywhere at sea and our awards prove it. I am excited to reunite, laugh and sing with our guests. Many Crystal guests from all over the world that have become lifelong friends.
What favorite destination do you most look forward to returning to?
As mentioned above, I am looking forward to taking Mrs. Spielberg to the Amalfi coast and also heading back to stunning Santorini. I love the Med in the summer and the Caribbean in the colder months. I am really looking forward to our River cruises in 2021 & 2022. And I cannot wait to meet our newest vessel, Crystal Endeavor!
Crystal’s Crystal@Home: A Virtual Cruise Experience program brings several elements of the renowned Crystal Experience directly to guests, wherever in the world they are. “Sunday Cooking with Chef Jon Ashton” represents the culinary excellence found aboard Crystal ships, as some of the greatest travel memories are created over the greatest meals.