New dining concept slated for soon to debut Celebrity Eclipse hopes to "Eclipse" the Competition
|This is a report from our cruise culinary editor Janice Wald Henderson. Janice has been a longtime contributor to many magazines, including Bon Appétit Magazine and Brides. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Eating Well, Cooking Light and numerous other publications. Janice is also the Los Angeles editor of the Essential Restaurant Guide at epicurious.com. Janice Wald Henderson Cruise Culinary Editor|
As a food writer for some, gulp, 30 years, I like to think I bring a soupçon of experience to the table. When I hear someone suggesting a reinvention of the culinary wheel, my instinct is to suppress a yawn. So when Celebrity Cruises unveiled its new restaurant concept for the 122,000-ton Eclipse (debuting in April 2010) via teleconference this morning, I initially listened in with reservation. It didn't help that Celebrity describes its restaurant Qsine (pronounced Q-zine) as "uniquely unordinary." Huh?
Okay, as a journalist, I have issues with that description. But moving on, I like that Qsine is the brainchild of Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity's vice president of culinary operations since 2007. Van Staden is a chef with serious credentials. For starters, he trained with the late great (and my personal friend) Jean-Louis Palladin at the legendary Jean-Louis in Washington, D.C. Van Staden was nominated as a "Rising Star of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation (Oscars of the culinary world) and was executive chef at Citronelle, a top Georgetown eatery.
Still, I worried that Van Staden had too many sea days while developing Qsine. Especially when he spoke of taking every aspect of dining (even the mundane meatball) and giving it a 180-degree different approach. But he quickly reassured the collected writers that he is not doing anything crazy. He's not going fusion (dishes combining different cooking styles, such as Eurasian) or even, molecular. (Molecular cuisine chefs add science to the culinary arts and can change the chemistry of a dish, like making solids liquid or the reverse.)
Instead, he is making dining a creative, interactive - and yes, playful - experience for passengers booked at the stylish 82-guest Qsine restaurant, which will only appear on Eclipse, the third of five ships in Celebrity's $3.7-billion Solstice Class fleet. The well-conceived elements Van Staden is introducing (some I've seen in play at various land-based restaurants) will make one revolutionary cruise ship dining room.
Rather than present the typical list of appetizers, entrees and desserts, Qsine will have a savory menu with no course dividers. Think continuous script, with many plates for sharing. Passengers will need guidance with this approach, so Qsine servers (called chefs and garbed in modern takes on chef wear) will be trained to take the lead.
Signature dishes include sushi lollipops with soy sauce centers, with wasabi served, not in the traditional ball, but as a mousse. Pickled ginger pops up in a radish salad, rather than as a condiment on the side.
"Trilogy of meatballs" sounds clever. One is made from Kobe-style (highly marbled, richly flavored) beef filled with a liquid Wisconsin cheese center. (Okay, a little molecular gastronomy here.) The second meatball is veal Marsala, transformed into a round; and the third is prepared with turkey and has a liquid cranberry center.
To accompany Black Angus sirloin tacos (shells are shaped into rectangles via a custom mold), guests will receive a mortar, pestle and the ingredients to make their own guacamole, as spicy or mild as desired.
Whimsy abounds, particularly in dish design. Van Staden spent some two years working with manufacturers to create the vessels and stands to suit Qsine's style. Spring rolls are served in vertical holders made with stainless steel springs. (Springs, spring rolls, get it?) Mezze (Middle Eastern small plates, traditionally presented in a lengthy row) go vertical, served in a box with multiple windows. (Think that old TV show, "Hollywood Squares," only with food.)
The dessert menu is printed on a hinged, twistable cube. Turn and open to discover the available selections. (A traditional menu is on-hand for guests with physical challenges.) Not only is the dessert menu interactive, some of the sweets are, too. Passengers can decorate their own cupcakes. Cookies come in individual jars; tablemates reach in and grab the ones they want.
If guests want a traditional wine list, they'll get it. But what fun to receive an iPod Touch, which not only lists the wines, but also, offers handy descriptions. The Qsine wine selection includes 100 primarily organic, modern wines. (In other words, don't come here for old Bordeaux.)
Reservations should be booked in advance. Like when you book a cruise on Eclipse. As you might imagine, Qsine will be a hot ticket and guests will probably be clamoring for reservations once onboard. The cost to dine in Qsine is $30 per person. There is no age restriction. And while there is no limit on the amount of dishes guests can order, it is recommended that "chefs" guide passengers into three selections. (No matter how you phrase it, it's still like three courses to me.)
THE LAST WORD
Qsine clearly stands for quirky. I like that. It's time to fuse the edgier nuances of land-based dining into cruise ship restaurants. The advent of Qsine will surely impact how other cruise lines look at alternative dining.
Chef Jacques Van Staden has clearly spent a vast amount of time, energy and creativity into developing the Qsine concept. It sounds delightful. And in time, we will see if Qsine turns out to be, well, D-vine.