One of the biggest surprises many first time cruisers face is the outstanding quality of cruise ship cuisine.
Career Cruise Line Chefs Rather than hiring a part-time celebrity chef as a consultant, some cruise lines have executive chefs who are also fulltime food and beverage managers.
Karl Muhlberger is a chef who has worked aboard Silversea, became the head corporate chef for Cunard soon after Queen Mary 2 was launched and is now director of culinary operations for Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Rudi Sodamin is another executive chef who has worked in the cruise industry almost forever. He started out on NCL's Vistafjord when he was 23. He now works for Holland America but has also worked for Cunard and Royal Caribbean in the past. Rudi has worked for every major cruise corporation. Rudy has his own cooking school and has written 10 cookbooks, including "Easy and Elegant Cooking" and "A Taste of Excellence."
Princess takes a different approach. Each ship has its own executive chef who is responsible for menu creation. This means the cuisine is more tailored to the region where each ship is cruising - a nice touch, but it also means a little less creativity in terms of cutting edge cuisine. Princess tends to have good, basic food.
Consulting and Executive Chefs There are many titles of chefs in the culinary world, and naturally they are not exact. I have been using "consulting chef" because the celebrity chefs mentioned above do not work on the ships, but in their own kitchens they would be "Chef de Cuisine," a title for a chef who invents original recipes and menus.
An "executive chef" is usually the one chef in a kitchen who is in charge of making sure everyone is doing their job. Another title for this person is "head chef."
But a "chef de cuisine" may or may not work in the same restaurant nightly, while the world-famous consulting chefs may design the recipes on cruise ships, the question of their continuing influence still remains. "I think you can safely say it runs the gamut," says Janice.
Even if you walk into a "name" restaurant on a cruise ship, like the coming "Jacques" named after Jacques Pepin on the new Oceania Marina, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that Pepin himself will be in the galley supervising.
One of the few restaurants that will have a celebrity Chef de Cuisine onboard full time will be the new Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean has hired Keriann Von Raesfeld for the alternative restaurant 150 Central Park onboard.
Von Raesfeld is not yet of the stature of most of the other chefs in this article, but at only 23 she is the first American and the first woman to win the title "Best Young Cook in the World" at the World Association of Chefs Societies Congress held in Dubai in May 2008. She also led Team USA to its first gold medal at the Scothot Competition in Scotland. She was also a part of the Team USA's regional team that won their first ever gold medal at the Culinary Olympics in Germany.
She will be designing the entire menu for 150 Central Park. A $35 surcharge for an unlimited menu makes this one of the best gourmet bargains in the world. I will be one of the first people to try her restaurant in its full glory with my reservation already set for December 3, the third night of the first revenue cruise.
Summing Up Cruise Ship Cuisine So, how much influence do these celebrity chefs have over the cruise lines? My research suggests that while it runs the gamut, on average it is probably more than you would expect. These are not just branding opportunities for clever marketers; these chefs care about their reputations - which are only as good as the last meal created in their names.
The chefs with the most cruise line involvement appear to be Keriann von Raesfeld first as the only onboard Chef de Cuisine in the group. Jacques Pepin of Oceania is very compelling since in recent interviews his namesake cruise ship restaurant is the only project he talks about.
We also know that Nobu and Selvaggio travel on Crystal on a regular basis. And even though the main dining rooms on Crystal do not have celebrity chefs, the food there is still some of the best in the cruise industry.
Since Seabourn just put Odyssey online we have heard Charlie Palmer saying he was involved in designing the galleys as well as the cuisine.
Georges Blanc's affiliation with Carnival was just reaffirmed a year ago.
Unfortunately, Daniel Boulud's (one of the best) affiliation with Cunard appears to be over. Many knowledgeable gourmands say Boulud deserved to have a namesake restaurant onboard Cunard ships rather than Todd English, but it didn't work out that way.
I can't wait for the CruiseMates Culinary Cruise with Chef Matt Sigel on Norwegian Epic, departing Oct. 30, 2010. Matt opened my eyes to the world of cruise line cuisine - an area I didn't focus on much before. I also want to thank Janice Wald Henderson, based in Los Angeles as a regular writer for Bon Appétit Magazine.
This is a topic that some readers may already know well, and we welcome your input at this message board: Cruise Cuisine
Our final piece of advice, as Janice Wald Henderson points out, is to look to the alternative restaurants onboard for the most amazing, cutting edge cuisine on cruise ships. Cruise lines have to be very careful about changing the food in the main dining rooms, which means consistently good food in many cases but with far stricter limits on experimentation.
And remember, even in an alternative restaurant you can't beat the price of gourmet food on a cruise ship. A meal from most of these chefs will cost you more than $120 per person onshore, especially if you include wine. On a cruise ship, few restaurants cost more than $30 per person, and the main dining rooms are always free.
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Chef Matt Sigel's Cruise with CruiseMates
Join us on the brand new Norwegian Epic for a unique culinary CruiseMates cruise Epic 10-30-10. Our guest chef is Matt Sigel, a contestant on season four of Hell's Kitchen on the Fox Network. Great recipes, cooking tips, insight into the life of a chef, discussion of cruise line cuisine and the comradery of your great CruiseMates readers.