Vasile Aelenei was eight years old when he decided to cook pancakes while his mother was at work. The result was a big mess.
“When my mama came home, she was very surprised. I had flour and milk everywhere,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
But that kitchen experience whetted his appetite for learning how to cook. “No one in my family was a chef but I decided that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
Along with learning how to cook, Vasile said he had to learn how to speak English. Born in Brasov, Romania, Vasile said he wasn’t taught English in school and had to teach himself.
“I listened to songs. I listened to people who could speak English and I took classes,” he said. “They all thought I was funny the way I spoke English but I learned.”
He went to culinary school in his hometown and later in Tampa, Florida, along with learning through the kitchen school of trial and error.
Today, Vasile has excellent English and he also is the talented executive chef on the M/V Corinthian for Grand Circle Cruise Line. Engaged to another Grand Circle employee on the cruise ship M/V Clio, Vasile works four months on and two months off.
After working on international cruise liners and in specialty restaurants for most of his 20-year culinary career, Vasile joined Grand Circle in December and appreciates the small size of the ship, the chance to see the world and to meet interesting passengers.
“I learn something every day from talking with the passengers,” he said. “I try to talk with the passengers as much as I can.”
Indeed, Vasile is one of the most high-profile chefs I have ever seen. At breakfast, he often is slicing bread, fixing toast and chatting with passengers. For lunch he keeps his eye on the buffet to make sure everything is in order while he greets diners. At dinner every night, he goes from dining table to dining table to see how the day went for passengers and to ask if they need anything.
Whenever a passenger birthday is celebrated, Vasile helps lead the lighted birthday cake parade and sings with the servers and restaurant manager Sheldon Antao. Seating is not designated so one night I was sitting at the table of a birthday boy and got to enjoy some of his delicious cake. Everyone at the table does.
Vasile also is free with compliments for his nine-member culinary team. “They are the reason we can do what we do,” he said. “They are the best.”
Many of the dishes on our cruise reflect the theme of our itinerary – “Maritime Jewels of the British Isles & Ireland.”
“People want to try the food from the places they are traveling,” Vasile said, adding that he and his team also prepare special foods for passengers with dietary restrictions.
Although he was a great believer in scheduling his life when he was younger, the 42-year-old chef said he has learned to relax and enjoy the journey.
“I used to make plans before but I don’t anymore,” he said. “Now I live my life the way it comes and I look forward to every day.”