Holland America Line-Approved: Playing With Food and Making Faces

April 6 is the one day of the year you’re encouraged to play with your food.

Chef Rudi Sodamin creating a food face.
Chef Rudi says a happy fruit face is a great way to start the day with a smile.

It’s Holland America Line’s “National Food Faces Day.” Designated in the National Day Archives, the day commemorates the culinary pop art created by the brand’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, whose birthday is April 6.

Chef Rudi’s “Food Faces” use basic ingredients to create cheerful characters on a plate.

My computer desk was turned into a makeshift kitchen counter this April 6, as I got to create my very own Food Face alongside Chef Rudi during a webinar hosted by HAL.

I sprinkled some strawberries, placed some peaches, laid out an orange and before I knew it, my palatable visage took shape.

Sodamin has been creating Food Faces for several years. It all started very casually in a shipboard galley, where he used quirky food faces to entertain team members. Today, it’s an integral part of the Holland America Line brand, and even a staple of Chef Rudi’s award-winning Sel de Mer seafood restaurant.

A collection of Chef Rudi's Food Faces.
Some of Chef Rudi’s Food Faces.

In 2018, he released the art-table book, “Food Faces,” featuring more than 150 vibrant images of his edible cast of characters.

“When I saw how my Food Faces inspired people and made them smile, I knew that this art was capable of something special. I want to spread that joy through these works of art created with food,” said Sodamin. “Food Faces can be made with anything edible, and I encourage everyone to have fun, be creative and let go while making culinary art.

OMG! I was on OWG’s inaugural flight – here’s how it went

It’s not often you get to fly on the inaugural flight of a brand new airline. So you can imagine my excitement when I got to do just that on Dec. 18. Not only would I be flying on OWG’s (Off We Go) first flight ever, but I would also be on the very first flight back to Santa Clara from Canada since Cuba closed its borders in March.

The new Montreal-based airline, a division of Nolinor Aviation, has partnered with tour operator Hola Sun (Caribe Sol in Quebec) to exclusively operate flights to Cuba. The inaugural flew from YUL to YYZ, and on to SNU. Hugo Rocha, Sales Director at Hola Sun, tells me the tour operator plans to expand the destinations offered in Cuba throughout the season.

The aircraft (a Boeing 737-400 with 158 seats) is sleek, colourful and stunning. The livery is navy blue and red with “Caribe Sol – Le Specialiste de Cuba” and “OWG” emblazoned on the side in white. I also love OWG’s logo.

Here are some additional features I noticed:

Free bag: Passengers get one free checked bag – a huge plus in my books!

Entertainment system: For $10, passengers can purchase access to the in-flight wi-fi entertainment system, where a selection of movies and TV shows can be watched from a mobile device. Unfortunately, seats don’t have a USB port or AC outlet, so if you plan on hitting play, make sure you’re equipped to deal with a potentially dead battery!

Food: The on-board menu is pretty standard, but crowd-pleasing. Options include a turkey sandwich, a four cheese pizza, a cheese tray, mac and cheese, as well as two Cuba-inspired items, a Croque Hola and a Cubano Sandwich.

Cabin interior: The interior of the cabin has been completely gutted and updated: cabin sidewalls were refurbished, the galley re-laminated and new carpeting installed. The cabin lighting has been enhanced with “LED MoodLites” that glow a faint blue throughout the flight. Altogether, it makes for a crisp cabin with a pleasant ambiance.

There are 18 “extra legroom” seats onboard the aircraft, which offer a seat pitch of 96 cm, as opposed to 73 cm to 76 cm for the standard seats.

Here’s another first: I was the very first tourist to cross the threshold of the Playa Cayo Santa Maria resort since it closed nine months ago!

True to Cuba’s warm and inviting character, we were greeted with much fanfare including dancing, music and mojitos to set up the sublime week ahead.

My 2020 Wanderlust Wishlist

With the holidays behind us and the new year officially underway, I always find myself in an auspicious state of mind, thinking of all the potential the next 365 (or, in 2020’s case, 366) days will bring. New words learned, books read, foods eaten, fears conquered and challenges overcome…

And also, new destinations discovered, whether it’s right here in my own backyard, or in the wider global backyard.

So here, in no particular order, are the top 10 destinations that I’d feel lucky to see in 2020 as part of my Wanderlust Wishlist.

Are any of these destinations on your own 2020 Wanderlust Wishlist, too? Where do you hope to travel in 2020?

  1. Slovenia
Bled, Slovenia. Source: Walkerssk via pixabay.

I first was intrigued by Slovenia watching an episode of the Netflix TV Show Chef’s Table about Hisa Franko, a restaurant in Kobarid, Slovenia. This mountainous country is still relatively off-the-beaten-path as far as Europe is concerned but that, along with tip-top hiking opportunities, picturesque towns steeped in culture and hearty food, is exactly what makes this a must-visit.

  1. Northern Italy
Brixen, Italy. Source: rottonara via Pixabay.

My heart belongs to the mountains, so you’ll notice a lot of peak-packed regions and cities on my wanderlist, with Italy’s Dolomites range holding a particularly high spot. For outdoor lovers, the Dolomites offer endless possibilities for adventures, waiting to be fuelled by risotto and red wine.

  1. Norway
Lofoten archipelago, Norway. Source: monicore via Pixabay.

There are so many reasons I admire Norway as a country: for its fidelity to democratic concepts, its environmental initiatives, and of course its untamed natural landscape. Norway also has a long, fascinating history filled with stories of Vikings, battles, shipwrecks and sagas.

  1. Russia
Moscow’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia. Source: Vlad Vasnetsov via Pixabay.

Thanks to its vast size, Russia offers up literally any type of experience to its visitors. It has beaches, mountains, picturesque city squares, geysers and mineral springs, ornate churches, thriving nightlife, even deserts. I could travel there over and over again and still be repeatedly surprised. A visit to the country’s two most prominent cities — Moscow and Saint Petersburg — would make a tasteful introduction.

  1. Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey. Source: Şinasi Müldür via Pixabay.

Straddling the modern and traditional, the trendy and the ancient, Turkey is a country of contrasts. On top of that, it’s friendly, beautiful, culturally rich and great value for money.

  1. Scotland
Neist Point, Scotland. Source: Katja S. Verhoeven via Pixabay.

If you picked out all the green hues from a box of Crayola crayons, it still wouldn’t be enough to draw the vast sweeping landscape of Scotland. Its charming medieval towns, rolling countryside spotted with Highland cattle and winding roads make the perfect backdrop for exploring.

  1. Colorado, United States
Vail, Colorado. Source: Michelle Maria via Pixabay

As far as lovely mountain towns go, you can find aplenty in the state of Colorado. From Aspen to Breckenridge, Ouray to Telluride, the wild character of the Rockies is showcased perfectly in these vibrant little towns at their base. Winter, spring, summer or fall, Colorado is worth roaming any time of year.

  1. Albania
Berat, Albania. Source: Ervin Gjata via Pixabay.

Croatia has dominated the travelsphere when it comes to the “Balkan” region, but neighbouring countries like Albania are no less spectacular. And best of all, they don’t attract nearly as many crowds. Albania touts an astonishing diversity in its landscape, ranging from the snow-capped mountains in the Prokletije (the Albanian Alps) with grade-A hiking opportunities, to the sunny seaside coast of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas and traditional Ottoman architecture in its cities. And, like its neighbour Croatia, Albania has its own share of breathtaking villages, like Berat, also known as “The City of a Thousand Windows”, or the UNESCO-designated Gjirokastra, with houses designed like small castles

  1. Vietnam
Tu Le Valley, Vietnam. Source: Dung Le Tien by Pixabay.

It’s no secret that Vietnam was considered a top foodie destination by exalted American chef Anthony Bourdain. In fact, he famously called Vietnam one of his favourite places on Earth. I’d be pretty happy spending my days indulging in feel-good delicacies like Vietnamese coffee and pho, gazing out at picturesque rice fields and searching for unique trinkets at the night market.

  1. Kenya
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Source: MonikaP via Pixabay.

There’s the famous quote that “if you can only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa – twice.” I think the same can be said for Kenya. It boasts more than 25,000 different animal species and is home to 11% of the world’s bird varieties. And like the popular movie The Lion King shows, creatures like warthogs or ostriches are sometimes equally as fascinating to observe as lions. The very backdrops where these creatures live, such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve, are themselves full of breathtaking vistas.

PY1: Through the Echoes – Has Potential, But Didn’t Live Up

What would you expect from the creative mastermind behind Cirque du Soleil?

Nothing short of spectacular, right?

Maybe it’s because of those high expectations that I was left wanting more after seeing Guy Laliberté’s newest project, PY1: Through the Echoes. But that’s exactly how I felt leaving the pyramid after seeing the show last week.

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Through the Echoes

A statement by the show’s production house Lune Rouge Entertainment (founded by Laliberté) called it “an immense 60-minute multimedia show. Audience members will be surrounded by lasers, 360-degree projections, kinetic video aerial scenery, atmospheric special effects and spectacular lighting. Immersed in high-quality soundscapes, they will explore the thread of space and time, from our origins to our possible futures, as if in a waking dream.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

And it does start out that way. After getting tickets checked outside, guests enter the first, smaller pyramid, which just has a merch section, before heading into the larger,25-metre-high one. This is where the action takes place. As soon as we entered, we noticed people before us grabbing bean bags by the door and getting comfy on the floor by a large, mysterious sphere.

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The mysterious globe represents the Earth.

We decided to do the same and, as we were one of the first inside the pyramid, got front-row seats, right in front of the embossed globe. (To be fair, in retrospect, I think the show is better experienced sitting at the back.)

We lay on our backs, looking up towards the pyramidion, calm, soothing music playing in the background. Colourful wisps of fog danced overhead, emphasized by colourful lasers. This was probably my favourite part of the entire experience. It was so relaxing, so utterly ZEN that I caught myself drifting off a few times.

The actual show is supposed to be “a technological and emotional odyssey which tells the story of life from the Big Bang until today,” according to Laliberté.

While I appreciated the fact that it truly was something unique, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, that story was entirely lost on me and overall, it wasn’t my cup of tea, especially considering the $50 price tag attached to the event (I’ve read that some people paid as little as $25, but our tickets, purchased online off the official website, came to $58.64 each after tax).

I found the imagery to be grotesque, overbearing and disjointed, without telling the story it was supposed to tell. I also expected more laser theatrics, but the show mostly featured imagery projected on the pyramid’s ceiling and walls. These images were often some sort of geometric shapes playing over and over in a sequence until the next “chapter” came on.

It felt like it was trying too hard to be innovative and cutting-edge that it crashed and burned in the process, feeling “gimmicky” instead of pushing boundaries.

That said, I felt the potential. With modern technology, we should be able to have new, mind-blowing experiences.

But this was just not it for me.

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MTL to MIA

Through the Echoes, intended to be a mobile showcase, moves to Miami in September… And it seems it won’t be missed here in Montreal.

I’m not the only one who found the show to be lackluster. According to a Montreal Gazette article published Aug. 9, the show has seen “sluggish sales”, to the point that Lune Rouge CEO Stéphane Mongeau said they have already made extensive changes to the show since it opened June 1 in Montreal.

Some of the changes include more seating, modifications to the music and the addition of augmented-reality headsets. Personally, I’m not so sure these switches will help much because for me, it wasn’t the lack of these elements that spoiled the show for me… It was the show itself.

The article does mention that the thematic DJ nights that take place at the pyramid every Friday and Saturday night have been a big hit. That’s actually an experience I’d love to check out — some good house music, a quirky setting, and an otherworldly feel.

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PY1 –  the two pyramids are quite a nice pop of colour against a dark skyline!