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A Riverboat Chef With Big Ideas For His Tiny Galley

While on the move, executive chef Max Beyer of the Viking river boat Heimdal takes regular visits to local markets. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

While on the move, executive chef Max Beyer of the Viking river boat Heimdal takes regular visits to local markets. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

Cooks have long been travelers, moving from royal court to papal conclave, and Austrian-born Max Beyer is a great example of this restless spirit. Although still in his 20s, he has been executive chef of the Viking River Cruises ship Heimdal for two years now: a seven-day-a week, 12-hour-a-day job. He heads the kitchen of a boat that sails the Rhône River from Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, down to Avignon, capital of medieval popes.

Max began in the family restaurant in Linz in the valley of the river Danube. “It was simple cooking, schnitzel, roast pork, that kind of thing. Grandma baked plum cake and strudel at the weekend, and I always helped. In Austria, we all know the basic pastries; they form part of so many of our dishes.”

After leaving school, Max followed an apprenticeship of both school and practical work, ending in the kitchen of a 50-year-old star chef. “He had 35 years more experience than me,” says Max. “It was amazing what he knew.”

The secret to shopping

A "rosette" de Lyon is not a showcase prize but a firm, pink pork salami that is quite simply delicious. A dozen stands in the covered Marché Paul Bocuse display rosettes beside the football-sized Jésus de morteau, packed in a pig's bladder. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

A “rosette” de Lyon is not a showcase prize but a firm, pink pork salami that is quite simply delicious. A dozen stands in the covered Marché Paul Bocuse display rosettes beside the football-sized Jésus de morteau, packed in a pig’s bladder. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

On the Heimdal, Max guides an 11-member kitchen staff in providing three meals a day and constant snacks for 180 guests. A more gastronomic route could hardly be imagined, but how do you transfer such specialties as the pink pralines and the “rosette” dried sausages of Lyon, or the candied apricots and oranges of Provence, or the goat cheeses of the nearby Loire valley to the tiny galley kitchen of a large river boat? “You must know how to shop,” says Max, and his round face beams.

“We’ll go to the market, we’ll see some good things,” he declares, and thus ensues a deeply gastronomic afternoon. This proves to be no ordinary expedition. Les Halles de Lyon de Paul Bocuse is a covered market renowned throughout France for its more than 50 retailers clustered in aisles beneath a soaring roof. Chef Bocuse, who is often known as “l’Empereur,” had much to do with its development in the heart of Lyon city. “These are all artisan producers,” explains Max. “Restaurateurs shop here, but local residents drop by to collect their supper too. Everyone enjoys the market.”

From pork to cheese stands

Bread dough can be the basis of much, much more than just a plain baguette. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

Bread dough can be the basis of much, much more than just a plain baguette. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

Nearly half of the merchants specialize in pork — Lyon is one of the sausage capitals of France, and it features dozens, hundreds probably, of versions of air-dried “saucissons” of raw, ground pork. Max goes into conference with the seller, who is clearly a friend. Half a dozen varied firm, dry sausages are plucked from the overhanging racks. Max pinches them: “We want them firm, but not too dried out, either” he says. He takes a sniff: “These seem just right.” In the chilled case below are ranged pigs’ ears, sweetbreads, tripe, pigs’ tails. Max casts a wistful glance but this is not ship’s fare.

On to the cheese stand and another huddled discussion. No question about it, cheese is my favorite food, and this display of 50 or more different cheeses makes me sigh. I used to live in Burgundy, not far north of Lyon, and the cheese display makes me sigh nostalgic. “Let’s have some goat cheeses,” says Max. “Valençay is shaped like a pyramid, and the St. Maur has been rolled in vegetable ashes; they both taste different. Then there’s the blue Roquefort that everyone wants, though I personally would go for Fourme d’Ambert or perhaps Bleu d’Auvergne at half the price.” I nod in agreement.

Challenges and chocolate cake

Chef Max Beyer also gives onboard lessons in making a chocolate lava cake. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

Chef Max Beyer also gives onboard lessons in making a chocolate lava cake. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano

Back on the ship, Max lugs his purchases to his miniscule galley. The restricted space is used day and night, organized following the classic guidelines established by Escoffier more than a century ago: saucier (who is also sous-chef), entremettier (vegetables and smaller side dishes such as soufflés and crêpes), garde-manger (salads and cold kitchen) and dishwashers — “they have my admiration,” comments Max. “We all help each other. Last week I was peeling asparagus with the rest of them.”

Cooking on a ship

Cooking on a ship has its challenges, from tight spaces to the occasional loss of water. Credit: Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Cooking on a ship has its challenges, from tight spaces to the occasional loss of cooking water. Credit: Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

I ask about the problems of cooking on the move. “Let’s call them challenges,” says Max. “Just this morning the water was cut off, so we cooked with bottled water.”

Cooking is just the beginning of Max’s responsibilities. He keeps in close touch with guests, touring the dining rooms at each meal and keeping an eye on service. He gives a cooking class too, whipping up a popular recipe for chocolate lava cake one afternoon. Some brisk work is involved, and Max proves to have the gift of the gab. “You know, my grandma used to use a hand whisk, but faster!”

Anne Willan’s trip on the Viking Heimdal was a gift from Viking River Cruises to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her marriage to Mark Cherniavsky.

Main photo: While on the move, executive chef Max Beyer of the Viking river boat Heimdal takes regular visits to local markets. Credit: Copyright 2016 Miguel Altamirano



Zester Daily contributor Anne Willan has more than 50 years of experience as a cooking teacher, author and culinary historian. The founder of famed French cooking school La Varenne, Anne was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Hall of Fame for her "body of work" in May 2013.  In July 2014, Anne was awarded the rank of Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for her accomplishments in promoting the gastronomy of France. Her more than 30 books include “The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, the Writers, and the Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook,”  “Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen: 50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs to Know."

3 COMMENTS
  • Nancy Zaslavsky 8·17·16

    Lovely story, Anne. I tasted those market sausages and cheeses right alongside both you and Chef Beyer. Once again, Happy 50th Anniversary to you and Mark!

  • Maren Beyer 8·19·16

    You have given me great pleasure.
    Your story about my son Max Beyer has made me very proud.
    I wish you every success in your profession.
    Greetings from Austria

  • Cathy Arkle 8·23·16

    I am about to travel on a riverboat in France and this article gives me a whole new appreciation for the crew. Lovely, thank you. Happy Anniversary, glad to see you celebrated in style.

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