Two hours into a tour of Seattle's Pike Place Market, chef Duskie Estes gave her rallying cry. As we brushed maple doughnut crumbs from our chins, wiped the plum pulp from our hands, and finished our samples of Washington State cheese, she exclaimed, "Time for cocktails and crab cakes!"
We were on an 11-day cruise from Vancouver to San Diego aboard the 212-passenger Star Legend, one of six annual sailings with the James Beard Foundation that lure a guest chef and beverage expert to join the fun. On my trip, it was Estes, a Sonoma-based chef and James Beard Award winner, and Michael Metzger, of the Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners consortium, who led the way as we docked in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Monterey. Between the demonstrations, Q&A sessions, and multicourse dinners, Windstar's corporate executive chef Graeme Cockburn admitted, "We work the guest chefs as much as possible."
I visited with Estes and her husband, co-chef, and business partner, John Stewart, in the kitchen one afternoon as, in near-gale-force winds, they prepped a handkerchief-shaped pasta called fazzoletti. Theirs was made with spoils from Pike Place: ground mushrooms in the dough, roasted pumpkin stuffed within. Stewart had to patiently maneuver each batch through the hand-cranked pasta machine eight times.
"I'm nervous about how it's going to turn out," Estes said, fighting seasickness. But Cockburn and his cooks displayed an ease that comes only from preparing 1,200 meals on a ship every day. By the end of dinner, with seas and stomachs settled, Estes and Stewart emerged to a round of applause.
We paired our pasta, like every meal, with an impressive selection of West Coast wines. Metzger graciously educated us about prized California vintages from the likes of MacRostie Winery Estate House, in Healdsburg, and St. Helena's Markham Vineyards. "There's a reason that Jesus turned water into wine," he enthused. "It's the best damn drink on the planet!" Any nonbelievers would become convinced by his private estate tours, taking us behind the scenes at places like Argyle, in the Willamette Valley, and Napa Valley's Robert Mondavi winery.
The night before disembarking, Estes and Stewart bantered while prepping star-anise duck for the farewell dinner. "We've got this," said Estes, before allowing herself a break to challenge a guest in backgammon. After serving the last helping of fried apple pie, the couple celebrated with their well-fed guests — many of whom were now friends. E-mails were exchanged, promises made to stay in touch. We toasted our future reunions over Pinot Noir and porcini pasta.
To book: windstarcruises.com, seven-day James Beard Foundation sailings from $1,599
A version of this story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline All-Star Chefs, Ahoy. Windstar Cruises provided support for the reporting of this story.